The 30 day holiness plan

I’ve discovered the secret to holiness!

Sort-of. It’s found in two techniques runners have: training segments, and the specificity of training.

Training segments are blocks in your calendar where you’re focusing on a particular thing. Right now I’m in my base building period (getting my strength, speed and aerobic capacity up) before the 16-18 weeks training segment of my marathon, in which I’ll be specifically focusing on the marathon.

Specificity is the rule of training for your event. If you want to run a marathon, running lots of 5k’s simply won’t do. The marathon places specific demands on your body, so you need to train your body to handle those specific demands. Likewise, it is no use only running along the promenade if you are wanting to race a fell run.

This is helpful in the spiritual life, too. Training to help fight anger will not help you become more generous. I think Paul has this in mind when he writes about “training” for a holy life and where he writes “put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (Colossians 3:5). We need to make a concentrated effort to not sin. I know some people would say that the more we fall in love with God the less we will want to commit any of these sins and that this is a natural process. I see their point, but I can’t ignore the phrase “put to death.” Consider the implications if Paul had used the phrase “let the following die off…”

This is easier said than done, because sin is so prevalent in our lives. If I was likely to only commit one sin, I could easily have the time and mindfulness to watch for and combat that sin. But read this passage about what sins look like. And another, where Jesus speaks about what comes out of the heart. Personally, I am likely to commit any of these. Cripes. In the day-to-day busyness of life, how can I concentrate on killing all of my evil desires as soon as they crop up? If I started doing that, I would have no time for actually living my day-to-day life. Which means I’m gonna keep on sinning. True, the bible says we won’t be perfect in this life, but if I don’t do something about I won’t move away from those sins and into the spirit-filled life God wants me to live. More cripes.

So we have a dilemma. How do we train for holiness if doing so would not allow us time to actually live life in the real world? Is it possible to mass kill all of our sins at once? What is the median between fostering growth away from all of our sins and merely hoping for growth?

Remember the training segments and the rule of specificity? I try to bring these together, and aim to focus on a particular sin for a particular period of time, dedicating time to gain insights about how that sin affects me and my life.

Trivial example: When I realised I no longer fitted into my kilt something had to be done. The first thing I did was observe myself for 30 days. This made me notice I had a terrible habit of putting 2 or 3 sugars in my coffee and that I had sometimes 4 cups of coffee a day, that I was only doing this at work because the coffee was terrible and because I needed the energy. I was then able to tackle the sugar problem, which was also a sleep and diet problem, head on. The specificity of training for sugar reduction in coffee enables me now to have a better general awareness of my sugar intake (which admittedly does not necessarily translate into reduction). I doubt I would have changed my habit if I hadn’t taken the time to look at myself in this way.

Non-trivial example: A few years ago, I took 30 days to work through anger. I got angry a heck of a lot during those 30 days. But I learnt a lot about what gets my goat, how I respond, what helps me calm down, the difference between frustrations and anger, how to control my emotions when angry so that I don’t act out or stew (equally dangerous things), as well as the ability to recall scripture when angry. Do I still get angry? Of course. But I’m much better at processing it in a healthy way. The specificity of this training segment allowed me to practice techniques for those unexpected times when I’ll get angry. It enables me to put to death my anger quicker than when I would have been able before. I could have plodded for decades and not realised any of this.

Why 30 days? I think because having a timescale means it’s achievable but forces you to focus on the issue and not meander through life not thinking about it. Yet it is long enough to build a new habit. As I write, I’m about to embark on another 30 day focus on a particular sin. I won’t be rid of it by the end, but I believe the chains of it to be loosened and my ability to resist stronger.

I encourage you to try the challenge. 30 days. It’s not long. But those 30 days will (probably) pay dividends in 30 years.

If you’re tempted (this is a good temptation to have) but don’t know where to start:

  • Pick an issue that keeps coming back in your life. This shouldn’t be too hard. It’s the one/s you say “not again…” to yourself afterward.
  • Find a devotional book that focuses on that issue. There are many online and on bible apps which take you through passages of scripture focusing on that issue.
  • Pray about it. Ask God for forgiveness, and that He would enable you to trust in that forgiveness, and that he would give insights and help you combat it.
  • Books can be helpful. Often they give scientific and psychological explanations on the issue, which help blow the lid off it. Some explore how it affects others.
  • Journal. Jot down the times when you give into that sin, and look for any contributing factors. Tiredness, hunger and not enough exercise all factor into mine with alarming regularity. Scribbling this down can be done during or at some point after.
  • Speak to someone. Sins often hide in darkness, and speaking with a trusted friend can break its power.

Are you listening?

Sunday’s sermon was about the sewer, the soil, and the gardener(Mark 4:1-20). Though I couldn’t concentrate, I did pick up on a few important details. My minister never mentioned smartphones, but one practical upshot of the lesson is that I am updating my personal smartphone-in-church policy.

There are three options.

1. Put it on airplane mode, use it for sermon notes and the bible. This is my current policy. It allows me to have well organised and legible notes, and also having less to carry. However, it is a pain when the sermon is based on either multiple passages or even a passage that goes over two chapters. This also requires the discipline to limit the use, and sometimes I just don’t have that discipline (and sometimes I don’t have the desire to have the discipline).

2. Switch it off, but keep it with me.
This would require going back to pencil and paper notetaking. I have screeds of such notes which I am wanting to digitise because at the moment they are sitting unused, and will merely move from attic to attic when we move home.

3. Leave it in the car. This seems drastic. What if someone tries to get ahold of me with some important news? What if someone wants to arrange a coffee with me? My unwillingness to choose this option tells me I’m probably addicted to my phone. But all it does is remove one problem and create another distraction.

I suppose there are benefits to having the phone, but the real question comes down to the notes. That is, why do we take notes, and what is the best way to do so? I discovered since Sunday that scribbling a few phrases and letting my thoughts wander slightly is helping me really take those points in. Isn’t this better than than studiously writing everything down only to forget it all?

The fewer distractions we have, the better. We should be trying to focus fully on God. I can check facebook anytime. And I know that I struggle with this in my day-to-day life. Maybe by switching my phone off before church, that action becomes a reminder, a springboard to prayer and of focussing on God, and maybe this will seep into the rest of my life. Number 2, I choose you!