Saturday, December 29, 2012

Making Life Change Stick

The New Year is quickly approaching and with that comes New Year’s resolutions, ugh! What is it about New Year’s resolutions that make them so hard to keep?  Why is it so hard to commit to a resolution that you know will make you a better person?  

Whether you want to lose 30 pounds, finally pay off your credit card debt, stop smoking, spend more time with the family, read the Bible in a year, or truly give your life to Christ; these aren’t just resolutions, each of these tasks will require a certain degree of life change.  But life change can be difficult and many people will fail at it.  Why? Why is it so hard?   What makes changing your habits, patterns and life style so difficult?  And if failing is inevitable why even try?  But try we do, so if we’re gonna try, how do we make it work?  How can you make life change stick?

Are you ready for the answer?  Are you ready for the 10 steps it will take for you to change your life forever? Say good bye to your old sinful selfish life and start new, lose the weight, pay off debt, say good bye to cigarettes forever, and open your heart and mind fully to God.  These steps are going to change your life forever!  Are you ready?  Let’s get started…

I think you know… I don’t have the answers for you.  There are no steps.  Life change isn’t easy, it CAN’T be easy, it isn’t supposed to be easy.  God never intended for it to be easy.  He told us in Mark 8:34 “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” That’s a difficult challenge.  You have to DENY yourself.  This goes against what we innately want to do.  We need to cease to make ourselves the object of our own life and actions.  Deny ourselves the rewards and privileges we feel we deserve and follow Him.  That is not easy and not everyone can do it.  God tells us “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14).  Why?  Why is it so hard to live the life we want to live?

There are several reasons.  For one, our current culture tells us it’s OK, the life we have, we don’t need to change.  It’s OK to overeat, overindulge, over spend your budget.  It’s OK to spend all your down time in front of the TV, we all need to relax don’t we?  It’s OK to engage in sex outside of marriage, it’s OK to have a “me first” attitude because if you don’t look out for yourself who will?  Our current culture tears down contentment and it pushes us to want, grab and get more.  

But in your heart of hearts don’t you know better?  Don’t you know that all those things aren’t really satisfying?  Haven’t you felt it for awhile now?  And that’s why you make the resolution, the goal to change your life.  You want to live differently.  You want “more” out of life and you know you will get “more” by wanting “less”.  So you try to change your life.  And you make a goal.  But nothing changes, you don’t change, life doesn’t change, why?

I have this friend named Paul, you may have heard of him, he was an apostle, one of the greatest Christians (I think) to live since Christ walked this earth.  He’s the author of at least 7 of the New Testament books, and he puts it this way, in Romans 7  he says “ 14For we know that the Law (he’s talking about God’s law) is spiritual, but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

How many of us can identify with Paul here?  We know what we NEED to do, what we are SUPPOSED to do, but DOING it is so much harder and we find ourselves doing the very thing we are trying to avoid.  (overeating, being lazy,  not exercising, living life on credit cards, watching TV instead of reading the Bible, avoiding family time, focusing our mind on fantasy instead of the reality of life and the reality of Christ).  If a Christians as strong as Paul struggled with this, what are we to do?  How can we get away from this and is it even worth trying?

The answer is yes, it’s worth trying, you have to try.  God call us to try to live our lives differently.  He calls us to live our lives not for ourselves and our earthly desires but for Him and for eternal glory.  Whatever life change you are thinking about entering into, continually battling with, or forever failing, you need to know that God isn’t finished with you yet.  Whether you are 2, 12, 20 or 60 God isn’t finished with you yet and you still have a lot of growing to do.  It is God’s plan for us to continue growing to look more and more like his son.  Don’t give up.  God knows what the finished project is going to look like.  He already knows what we are going to conquer and what we will always struggle with.  All we can do is keep on trying.  Learning, growing, changing is hard, but God wants us to try.  Because every once in a while, we get it right, and we become, stronger, smarter, kinder, more like Christ.

So how do we do it? How do we get it right?  How do we change?  How do we make a resolution or a life change stick?  Well there are some practical tips that many experts: psychologists, counselors, life coaches all generally agree are helpful.  Things like 

  1. Chose something you really believe in:  If you aren’t emotionally invested in it you will rarely accomplish it.  Ask yourself whether you really want to change a habit or behavior pattern, or whether you feel obligated to do so. If your heart isn't in it, you won’t be successful. 
  2. Set realistic goals and write them down.  That last part is really important.  It makes it so much more concrete when it is written down on a piece of paper or in a journal that you can come back to.  And aim for gradual change. You are more likely to follow through on something that blends naturally into your current life. Don’t go out and say you are going to quit drinking caffeine and start cold turkey. I’ve tried it, it doesn’t work.  Instead, break it down into smaller steps.  
  3. Make your goals measurable. It is not enough to say “I’m going to spend more time with my family.”  Make it measurable “We will have 1 family night a month consisting of dinner, games, prayer.” Or “we will eat 1 meal together per week, no phone calls and no TV”.  Having a measurable goal will allow you to know when you have accomplished your goal and can make it easier to break that goal down into steps. 
  4. Don't expect perfection in your behavioral changes - but don't allow yourself too much leeway, either. If you expect perfection, you'll tend to give up after the first time you deviate from your plan. If you allow yourself too much leeway, you'll find yourself gradually reverting back to old habits.  If you set out to read the entire Bible in a year and you fallen off track by February don’t give up.  I’m guessing the real motivation behind your goal was to more fully understand God’s word so maybe you settle for studying 1 Book a month in detail.  Instead of the entire thing in a year.  Recognize and remember the motivation behind the goal.

While these are all concrete and practical advice I would be greatly impressed and a little surprised if they were enough to bring about significant life change.  I don’t think we as humans are strong enough to do it on our own and I believe that if we want to make a difference in our life.  If we want to change what we do and how we do it we can only do it with God’s help.  

If I wrote my own steps to “Meeting your New Year Resolutions” step one would be “Take it to God.”  Talk to God about the change you want to make in your life and turn it over to Him.  Let Him be the influence in your life to make the changes you know you need to make. Life involves a series of choices that you are in charge of making.  But when those choice get too hard for you, God can help.   He is right here and he is willing to help you make good choices.  He asks us to lay all our burdens and cares upon Him and to seek His wisdom in our lives.  When you are entering into a time of life change, you may often find yourself overwhelmed with “choices” you have to make every minute of the day.  Moment by moment you must to decide if you are going to follow your new goal and desire in life or are you going to go back to your old ways.  And when that decision gets to difficult for you to make I suggest you ask God to help you make it.  There are 4 things you can specifically ask Him for…

  1. Ask Him to show you what resources you have.  What or who has He put in your life to help you overcome this battle right here and right now?  He doesn’t intend for you to change all by yourself.  He has given you all the resources you need.
  2. Ask Him what your alternatives are right now in your given situation.  You could eat the cake, be full, feel guilty.  Or you could not eat the cake, be hungry, a little grouchy, but tomorrow feel stronger.  You could watch TV or read the Bible.  You could smoke the cigarette, spend the money, say the angry words, sit on the couch… or you could not.
  3. Ask God to guide you to the best option and to show you WHY you should chose that option.
  4. Ask God to show you what to do next.  What is the next step in your life change.

These can seem like a lot of steps to take each and every time you need to make a choice.  And I’m not saying you have to do this for every choice you make.  My point is God wants to be a part of that choice, he wants the chance to win out over the sin.  He want to be victorious and He wants you to be victiorious.  God tells us that “all things are possible through Christ who strengthens me.”

There are no magic steps to life change.  There are times you will fail and there are times you will succeed.  And through it all God is with you.  Waiting to give you the help you need to make significant life changes.  Turning to Him in times of weakness may just be the step you’ve been missing.