By Kari Hawkins, USAG Redstone January 22, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- A new year often comes with questions. January is a time to take stock, reflect on past accomplishments and lost opportunities, and determine the way forward. Creating more happiness, achieving a longed-for goal, and making changes that lead to better health and more resilience can be part of the new you in the new year.
While improving physical, mental and emotional well-being can involve much different considerations, there is one aspect of the human condition that ties each of these together -- spirituality.
"This is the time of year when a lot of ministers preach a sermon on spiritual resiliency," Chaplain (Col.) Scott Carson of the Army Materiel Command said.
"The message of spirituality is important because, whether they know it or not, everybody is searching for something spiritual in their life. Everybody has a God-shaped vacuum that only the Lord can fill."
Spirituality affects all aspects of life, regardless of what religion or faith a person practices.
"People are spiritual in nature and they need to feed their spirituality in some way," Carson said. "Building your faith to feed your spirit is very important for your understanding of God and also for growth of your spiritual resiliency in life.
"Everybody faces tough times and challenges. At some point, everyone asks, 'Why me God? What's up with this one?' I think people who seek to strengthen their spiritual life fare better with the issues of life."
Coming from the Christian perspective, Carson believes there are four resolutions that people can follow to build spirituality. These spiritual building blocks also apply to other faiths and can build a type of spiritual strength that can affect all aspects of a person's life. They are:
Resolution 1 -- Attend worship.
Alabama is squarely in the center of the nation's Bible belt. As such, one of the most popular questions newcomers are asked is, "Where do you worship?"
The Bible instructs Christians against "forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:25)."
"For the Christian, it is their responsibility to God to be part of a congregation," Carson said. "It's OK to shop around for the right fit. I'm convinced that God uses different church bodies to minister to different people. It's important to find the right place where God wants you to be."
Whether small, large or somewhere in between, churches and other faith groups offer a variety of different programs, emphasize different aspects of the faith life and minister to their congregations in different ways.
"Some people like smaller churches where they know everyone. Other people like the big church experience where a lot of programs are offered, especially for children," Carson said.
"Being part of the body of Christ is a Christian duty."
Carson has heard people say they can worship while on the lake or on the golf course. He has heard people say they feel close to God when hiking in the woods, enjoying their Sunday morning coffee on their deck and during their yoga class, and Carson said he, too, can experience the presence of God in these types of activities.
But the reality is, God wants believers to join together to worship him, to grow their numbers, to learn from each other, to support each other, to make lifelong friendships and to build each other's spiritual resiliency.
"As a minister, I'm convinced that the body of Christ is a living organism. It is not man-made. It is God made," Carson said. "The church was created by God himself for collective worship. When you find the right church, there is a special, spiritual thing that happens."
Most people find churches and faith groups through acquaintances, close friends and family members. And most churches have learned to reach out to newcomers with understanding and acceptance, Carson said.
Resolution 2 -- Daily faith reading.
Unfortunately, most believers don't seem to follow this resolution. Even Carson remembers a time in his life when he didn't read the Bible daily.
"As a teenager, I was a Christian and a faithful church-goer. I memorized scripture, and I enjoyed youth group and the choir. I even liked preaching. But I never read the Bible for myself," he recalled. "Even as I entered the ministry, I still hadn't systematically read the Bible."
During his early years as a pastor, God challenged Carson to "read my word," he said.
There are several online programs and cell phone applications that can help guide believers through faith reading. Carson enjoys the Seasons of Reflections Bible reading program, but there are many others.
"The important thing is to pick up the Bible and read," he said. "Read the Bible for 20 minutes at the beginning of the day. Let it stay with you during the day. Think about what you have read when you have an opportunity. Let God's word become a part of you."
Carson has read the Bible through each year for the past 35 years. It is possible to get through the Bible in 12 months, but he said if it takes longer that is okay, too.
The benefit of reading the Bible and other faith publications over and over again is that readings can speak to believers in different ways at different times depending on what's going on in their life.
"A passage I read in the past could slap me in the face with new meaning when I read it at another time," he said. "The scripture you read today applies to your life right now. God speaks to me in the moment through the scripture and how it applies to whatever issue is going on in my life right now. It is an amazing spiritual experience."
Psalm 119:11 says, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee."
"You can't have God's word in your heart if you don't read the scriptures," Carson said.
Resolution 3 -- Be involved with ministry.
"Something that can help your spiritual growth the most is being involved to a reasonable level in some outreach ministry of your church," Carson said.
He urges believers to be more involved in their faith group beyond attending worship services. Believers can also choose to attend Sunday school or a faith study group, sing in a worship choir, help with children's programs or volunteer with community outreach activities.
"Everybody has a gift for serving the Lord. It is the Christian's responsibility to find out what that gift is and then to use it for God. If you do that, it is a huge blessing in spiritual growth," he said.
Believers help to build the kingdom of God through their gifts. But, Carson also said that believers should keep from overdoing their involvement.
"Don't think God is hindered if you can't do something right now. There is always someone else who can do God's work. Don't think God is disappointed. You just have to be honest with God and yourself," he said. "Find the ways you can work for God with a happy heart."
Resolution 4 -- Surround yourself with the faith world.
Music, books, movies and television shows, friendships, experiences -- all aspects of life can be filled with the word of God, Carson said.
"For myself, I like to listen to Christian music. When there is a significant issue in my life, Christian music really ministers to my heart. God speaks to me through music," he said. "Music gives me the spiritual reinforcement that I need to face the issues at hand, endure through challenges and make it to the other side."
The friends we surround ourselves with often influence how we think and act, he said, so believers should look for friendship among other believers. Even in the workplace, employees can seek out other believers for advice and mentorship, Carson said, while also being aware that others have a right to their own faith.
"We should always treat each other with dignity and respect," he said. "We should respect other people's faith."