“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)
January 1st means resolutions abound. Holiday feasting over, many flock to gyms and health coaches in hopes forming workout habits; others restock the fridge with healthier choices. These goals and life changes are worthwhile. Most, however, will fail within the first few weeks. The truth is, while many people see value in making positive life changes, fewer are willing or know how to make those new habits long-lasting.
As a pastor, I notice similar trends in the spiritual lives of people in our communities. I constantly hear phrases like:“Oh, I’d really love to get back to church,” “It’s been too long, maybe I should start worshipping again,” or “I’ve always wanted to join a Bible Study, but just never got around to it.” And just like a well-intentioned New Year’s Resolution, many people who want to jumpstart their faith never do. Some make an earnest attempt for a few weeks and simply fall back into other patterns of behavior and other priorities.
This article is not a criticism of those who fail to follow through with their spiritual development! I fall short constantly of my own aspirations. You see, I believe that God longs for all of us to regularly grow in faith, and I am convinced that following Jesus is not a temporary fad but a lifelong commitment. The Apostle Paul likened Christian life to a long-distance athletic training (1 Corinthians 9:27). Sometimes faith and faith priorities come easy, and other times the struggle feels exhausting. Here is the wonderful thing, though: the eternal prize of knowing Jesus Christ is worth all the effort (1 Corinthians 9:24)!
So how about a New Year’s Resolution recommendation from Pastor Ryan? Commit to Connecting to God through worship, Growing in faith through small group study, Serving in Christ-like ministry, and Going to tell others about Jesus. Here are a few simple goals to stepping up the game in 2017.
Worship: If you struggle to attend worship every week, challenge yourself or your family to go one additional day each month. So, if you aren’t attending somewhere regularly, resolve to make it once a month. If you go mostly three Sundays a month, try to stretch to that fourth one.
Study: If Bible Study is a struggle maybe your hurdles have been too large. Try leaving your Bible on the kitchen table and reading a few passages with your bowl of cereal. Don’t know where to start? Give Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Proverbs, or Psalms a go.
Prayer: Do you want to be a stronger “prayer warrior?” Take out that smart phone and schedule in your prayer time. Set an alarm. Color code it. Then when the alarm goes off, take a quick retreat to a quiet spot, and have a few moments with God in prayer.
Plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz proposed in the 1960s that new habits take 21 days to form. Newer research from a college in London suggests that new habits need more than two months to form (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-clear/forming-new-habits_b_5104807.html)! If you want to create new spiritual habits, do not be discouraged. The processwill take work and will take effort. But the effort is always worth it. And don’t be discouraged if you miss the mark on your goals. Take a deep breath, write down some new goals, and try again next month. God is faithful, and I believe that Jesus will bless every attempt we make to deep our relationship with him.