Looking to Jesus: The Perfect Model for Spiritual Disciplines

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. 

Prayer

Providence faculty members Taylor Hurt (left) and Evan Covell (right) beginning a new school year with prayer.

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.

Rest

Providence Lower School students take time to reflect and write in their journals on a spiritual retreat.

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.

Community

Coach Covell enjoying community with a team of Providence Upper School students as they serve the younger students with organized carnival games.

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.

Evan Covell
Evan Covell

Before being named Providence School’s athletic director in 2021, Coach Evan Covell was already deeply involved in the Providence community, having trained the track and field and cross-country teams for the previous four years. He continues to coach those teams while directing all Providence athletics programs. Coach Covell is wholeheartedly committed to the power of athletics to build character and instill strong Christian values in both athletes and coaches.

Taking a Moment: The Key to Compassion

A Recess & Rhetoric Blog Post by April Torres, Sixth Grade Teacher


Take a moment to remember

Who God is and who I am

There You go lifting my load again . . . .

His yoke is easy and His burden is so light

I’ve been listening to these words from a song, “Take a Moment,” by United Pursuit over and over again the past few weeks and have been struck with the idea that the heart of compassion—something we all need to practice and to receive— can be characterized by the first three words of this song: Take a moment. 

I invite you to listen with me as you read this blog post.

Compassion and taking a moment

Two concepts of compassion emerge from the Old Testament.

First, compassion is the intense longing of tender love that can cause physical pain, extending from the innermost depths of our vital organs or the womb.

Second, compassion is the act of sparing someone from harm or pain or difficulty.

We see examples of these concepts of compassion many times in Scripture.

In Genesis 43:30, a prideful, favored son turned slave and prisoner finds himself lord over the entire Egyptian empire. Interactions with his starving, fearful brothers cause him to take a moment to allow his intense grief and tears to rise to the level of deep longing for restoration even after suffering grave offenses. After taking that moment, Joseph’s compassion leads him to extend his resources to save his father Jacob’s family—including the brothers who betrayed him—and thereby preserves the Hebrew family tree.

In Exodus 2:8, a privileged, protected, pampered princess takes a moment to notice a basket in a river and investigate its contents. She connects the cries of the baby she finds there to the Hebrew families who must sacrifice their children to obey her father’s commands. She spares the baby, a direct descendent of the once-favored Joseph, not only out of the basket, the river, and death, but to a lifetime of care and protection. Pharaoh’s daughter spares Moses with multifaceted compassion that hinges on the moment she took  on the banks of the river. 

A personal experience with taking a moment

Recently, a young woman kept popping up in my mind. I eventually texted her a short message: “Hey, thinking of you.” It turns out, her mother had just passed away from COVID pneumonia. She was on a sudden three-day trip to Georgia to meet with her sisters and say goodbye. She so appreciated my tiny kind words. When she returned, we walked along the harbor while she shared her memories of her mother and the mysterious struggle with grief. It only took a moment to activate compassion. 

How do we help students learn, practice, and value compassion?

Providence School, where I teach the sixth grade class, has a mission, motto, and various “habits of the mind” we strive to develop, with the goal to see them flourish in our graduates. Compassion is one such habit.

Recess-time provides the perfect arena for spreading wings of compassion. Students leave the routine and structure of their classrooms and race toward relief, freedom, and recreation. They move their bodies and renew their minds running across the field or climbing up slides and ladders. Most of the time, partnership and laughter prevail.

At other moments, students jam their fingers, scrape their knees, struggle to compromise, find their ideas are not chosen, or even are ignored. Their eyes dim; their shoulders droop. In that moment, another student may reach out with help and comfort. These daily experiences provide the perfect opportunity to learn and practice compassion.

Teachers are moment-makers, hoping one day these children will be moment-makers on their own. Our goal is that they will take a moment and help someone, apologize, love someone, or lift someone in Christlike compassion.

Daily life on the playground and in the classroom provides students the arena to nurture compassion through consistent practice. Extended isolation and too much privacy short-circuit opportunities for bending, adjusting, and showing preference for the needs of others over oneself. With social interaction, our students have built-in motivation for extending second chances and a gracious perspective.

What about adults in the school setting—and elsewhere?

At Providence, as well as at other distinctly Christian schools, we who encourage students to take moments for compassion must ourselves actively practice compassion. Words of kindness, offers for support, encouraging texts, or reassuring calls make a big difference in the lives of our communities. 

Over the past 19 months, COVID has impacted our efforts for active compassion, at school and elsewhere. Deep relationship history and loving trust are tested by each families’ unique needs and perspectives. More than ever before, we are tempted to isolate, grumble, or make judgments that might strain or even break opportunities to cement lifetime friendships. Birthday parties, play dates, and parent events have to pass through complicated steps to reassure safety for participants. 

We must reestablish markers of trust and respect and acceptance after months of letting go and prioritizing protection. The forbearance we extend each other demonstrates the active, wise, and loving compassion of Jesus within us.

We must cultivate, care, and respond to the moments around us. I know I couldn’t have made it through this last year of teaching without my loving and prayerful colleagues. Teachers need teachers. Moms need moms. Dads need dads. Kids need each other. We all need friends we can count on. Take a moment to embrace the vast resources in your community, as we are so blessed to have at Providence.

And, finally, what about Jesus?

I routinely ask my class, “How does this biblical story, verse, or concept point to the person and work of Jesus?” 

In Matthew 9:36, Jesus sees the multitudes fainting and scattered, harassed and helpless, without a shepherd and hungry. He takes a moment to invite his disciples into his compassion for these followers and feeds them bread. Jesus broadens love to action and we can do the same with our meager offerings, comforting and preserving the people we do life with.

In Luke 23:39, as Jesus endures death on the cross, he takes a moment to speak with a fellow prisoner. He recognizes repentance and humility and hope in the person next to him. As the crucified One offers forgiveness to the crucified criminal beside him, Jesus offers us his compassionate mercy and grace and the reality of paradise, despite his own agony, blood, and labored breath. 


Take a moment.

What do you see in the eyes of the person next to you? Do their shoulders, walk, or posture show signs of pain, weariness, conflict, or doubt? When we extend the mission and vision of Jesus’s compassion into the moments of our day, we will bless those around us with an easier yoke and a lighter burden. Habitually offering active compassion releases good into our days.

As you lift the loads of others, the Lord will lift you.

<strong>April Torres</strong>
April Torres

A 6th grade teacher at Providence School in Santa Barbara, CA, she enjoys leading students through core content areas that activate discovery, discipleship, and human creativity inspired by God, shepherded by Jesus, with significant purpose in the Holy Spirit.