A Recess & Rhetoric Blog Post by Evan Covell, Athletic Director
An important reminder when thinking about spiritual disciplines
There are some things you need to know about me in order for this blog post to make sense. I am an athlete at heart. I am competitive; I really enjoy winning. Because of those two qualities, I tend to be hard on myself. I desire to be good at everything I do and when I start to make mistakes, I beat myself up for them. I truly value being disciplined, particularly with my physical training and my work.
Often when I think about spiritual disciplines in my life, I spiral out of control. I start to think about how I’m not reading the Bible enough, praying enough, taking Sabbath rest consistently enough. I begin to beat myself up, thinking lowly of myself for not being good enough for God.
Then I take a pause … and I remind myself of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I will never be enough, I will never live up to God’s glorious standard. And just knowing that truth brings wonderful freedom. Because I know the rest of the story; that because I am human, a broken, messy human, Jesus Christ, who lived the perfect life I can not live, died the death that I deserve. And the story doesn’t stop there. Jesus defeated death, gifted me the Holy Spirit, and joined the Father in a perfect union that he freely offers me.
This Gospel truth reminds me that cultivating spiritual disciplines has no impact on my eternal salvation. Scripture is clear, we were dead in our sins and God rescued us: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
When I think about this truth, an image often comes to mind. I picture myself struggling to keep my head above water when Jesus reaches a hand out to grab me and I take hold of his hand. He saves me, right? No. I don’t think this image conveys the actual truth. A truer image would be me, already dead, floating lifeless in the water. Jesus gets in, drags me out, resuscitates me, and miraculously brings me back to life. You see, in this image, I have absolutely nothing to do with my salvation. That’s the way it truly is. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” (Ephesians 2:1 and 2:4-5).
I want to offer this truth to you, too. As we look at the life of Jesus and the way he modeled spiritual disciplines, remember that even though we seek to live like Christ our salvation is not dependent on our success. Our salvation is securely safe in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Now, let’s look at three disciplines Jesus modeled for us: prayer, rest, and community.
In fall of 2019, I was feeling disconnected and discouraged in my relationship with God. I decided to retreat for a half day to a place that is special to me: a little turnout on Mountain Drive. I parked my car, set out a blanket, sat down, and opened the Bible. I decided to read through Luke’s gospel and take some notes. As I was reading, I started to make note of how frequently Jesus was recorded doing just what I was doing that day. I counted at least 10 instances recorded in the Book of Luke where Jesus retreated to solitude to pray to God.
Clearly, this was an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle for Jesus; time spent alone in prayer, cultivating his relationship with God the Father. Jesus set his followers a goal to bear fruit. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). The way that we are guaranteed to bear fruit is to abide in Jesus. Abiding means staying connected with him. We can do this through consistent prayer and conversation with God.
This conversation with God can extend beyond carving out time in our weeks to find solitude and to practice focused prayer. I teach my athletes something I call “breath prayers.” Essentially, they are prayers you can say in one breath: “Lord, help me” or “thank you, God” or “here I am, Lord.” These small prayers can recenter us and remind us of God’s active grace in our lives. Try it out, if you’d like.
Sabbath rest is a glorious gift from the Creator of the world. God knew from the beginning that we humans would need to rest in order to thrive. I do not consistently keep Sabbath, but I wish I did. And when I do get in a good groove with taking a day of rest each week I recognize a difference in my mood, energy, productivity, and kindness to those around me. Initially, the idea of taking an entire day off from work seems impossible, especially to high school student-athletes. There’s homework to do, tests to study for, and seemingly not enough time in the week to get it all done. I often surprise students with a suggested 24-hour period in which they could Sabbath: Saturday sundown to Sunday sundown. By being efficient with weekend homework on Saturday morning or midday, students can set themselves up for success and simply put in some finishing touches on Sunday night. Try out this schedule to see if it blesses you.
I often get too fixated on Sabbath rules, which really are rules that I set for myself. So I remind myself to simplify Sabbath-keeping by focusing on activities that are life-giving, recentering my focus on God, and refraining from activities that I consider “work”. For me, “work” includes laundry, cleaning, emails, writing practice plans, etc. I don’t consider exercise to be “work,” because, for me, exercise is life-giving. I recommend taking some time to create a list of life-giving activities and “work” activities to help you structure a Sabbath day.
Finally, I want to touch on Jesus’s knack for creating and investing in a community. I think this is a key spiritual discipline for cultivating a healthy lifestyle. Jesus surrounded himself with people, unless he took a deliberate break for solitude. He called his disciples to follow him closely and to live life together with him. He consistently shared meals with others and generously served and accepted being served by others. Demonstrating love and compassion for friends was a staple characteristic of these communities. I am forever astounded by Jesus’s kindness and love for others. I strive to follow Jesus by showing kindness and love to others, and there is no more important place to do this than within my consistent community.
My wife and I have fervently sought community throughout our four years of marriage. We know that it is crucial to our well-being that we have friends to hold us accountable, who check in on us, who we can share our lives with, from joking around to praying for each other. I highly recommend finding a group of friends who share similar values and meeting with them frequently. Your time together doesn’t need to be structured or formal. But it’s best to be as consistent as possible. We gather with our community once a week. For you, it might be once a month or twice a week. Whatever is best for you, I pray that you will find community and experience the love of Christ.
As broken, messy humans, practicing—not necessarily mastering—the spiritual disciplines of prayer, study, rest, Sabbath-keeping, solitude, and community, among others, lead to a healthy, Christlike life that blesses us as individuals and the people around us.