How To Make Spiritual Goals Stick

Why do so many New Year’s Resolutions fail? Because most of the people who make them change nothing about their life in order to reach their goal. You might be saying, “Isn’t change what all resolutions are all about?”

The path that most people take when adopting a New Year’s Resolution is to make it about more – more Bible reading, more time with family, more exercise, more prayer, etc. All of these are admirable but what happens when you go and implement this plan of more without first

evaluating the status of other areas of your life. The reason people cannot sustain their resolutions is because they try to stack their resolution on top of the normalcy of the rest of their life.

So, Bible reading becomes about getting up 15 minutes earlier, time with family becomes about forced activity when you have no energy at the end of the day, exercise becomes about joining a gym, and prayer becomes about buying a book or a journal to write your prayers in. Do you see the pattern here? Piling on activities, throwing money at things, and adding products only adds more stuff and complexity to your life.

The best resolutions should be to determine what I need to eliminate from my life so that I have more time for Bible reading, prayer, exercise, and family activity. Where do I get the most distracted? Does my time and my commitments need to be overhauled so I have room for the things that really matter and will give me the most fulfillment? New Year’s Resolutions fail because they are seen as addendums to our life instead of priorities that need to reshape many of our other commitments.

Make a plan today to cut out a distraction from your life and open up some space for God or an important change in your life. Here are a few things that I do to keep me out of the “more trap”:

  • Only check email and texts twice a day
  • Never read more than two books at a time
  • Keep the Sabbath
  • Periodically fast from technology
  • Never trust how schedules look on paper; anything can look doable on paper
  • I don’t own a cell phone
  • limit TV watching to 1 hour per night
  • go outside
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Best of Christian Life Hacker: Eliminate to Illuminate

Since the past month and a half has been pretty intense here on Christian Life Hacker, I thought it might be good to revisit some of the posts that epitomize the Christian Life Hacker faith style.  This post makes the point that change starts with cutting out distractions:

Eliminate to Illuminate

If I am not careful, my stack of books to be read can grow by the day. I have never met an interesting website that I didn’t want to subscribe to. If I enjoy a blog or writer I am never satisfied with reading just a few things by them, I have to read their entire body of work. If I find a workout or nutrition program interesting, I want to follow it to the letter even though half of what is being asked doesn’t apply to me or requires too much money or time. Call me obsessive compulsive, a nerd, or even crazy, but what it really comes down to is that I consistently and foolishly think that I can add infinitely more to my life and that somehow that is a good thing.

The truth is, the only effective way to change is by first eliminating all that is a distraction, a burden, or time waster. No one followed Jesus without sacrificing something, maybe even something that was good. Even if we have many Godly things in our lives or Church activities that fill our schedule, we may need to cut some of these things out of our lives so that we can make room for God in an intentional way.

Over the last few years, I have stopped following every sport that showed up on Sports Center and streamlined the teams and events that I will let myself get fanatical about. I have tried to keep the list of books that I am reading at one time down to two so that I can take notes and fully consider what I am reading. I have stopped checking email obsessively and have become okay with emails gathering in my inbox or going unanswered. I no longer feel the need to read a magazine from cover to cover. I have been known to take whole months and devote them to one area of interest or activity instead of being thinned out by trying to keep up with multiple interests.

I mention all of this to possibly help you realize that if you have visions of including more prayer in your life, or reading through entire chapters of the Bible, or being more consistent with your Spiritual Enrichment Workout, you are going to have to eliminate something that you currently do. Piling on things to your already busy schedule cannot be sustained and will only lead to frustration and guilt.

My Elimination Experiment: Sports Fast

Texas Rangers (baseball)

Image via Wikipedia

Today ends my week long elimination experiment. In previous posts, I proposed that for one week we fast, or eliminate,  something that has an unusual hold on our attention or time. I chose to go a week fasting from sports. Here is how it went:

First of all, it was kind of a relief. With all of the hype and attention given to the Super Bowl I was ready for a break from 24/7 sports talk. Because I live in the Dallas area, I was interested in the analysis of DFW as a Super Bowl host city but I moved past that without much trouble.

What was really hard for me was not obsessing over the Michael Young saga. I am a lifetime Texas Rangers’ fan and a long time admirer of Michael Young. There is a possibility that he will be traded from the team that he has served faithfully for more than 10 years. Normally, I would follow all of the chatter and rumors surrounding this story and I did intentionally search this story out a couple of times but only to catch a headline about it and not to read every word on the topic.

What I found to be the most silly aspect was a sudden panic I felt last Thursday when I thought it was NBA All Star Weekend. I literally had this thought, “Oh no, am I missing the NBA All Star Game?” It was the exact same feeling I get when I miss an assignment or duty at work or forget to get an item at the grocery store; over a basketball game!

Honestly, I needed the break from sports and I think God knew what he was doing when he led me to do this. My life became really hectic and stressed this past week when our daughter when in for surgery, the class that I am teaching started to have papers to grade, and the small group that I am leading began. Plus, I am becoming more and more committed to pursuing many of the themes and emphasis of this blog and learning how I can share what I have learned with others. I appreciated the extra space in my life to see what God has in store for me in these areas.

Through my fast, I have, for a time, placed sports in its proper perspective while pursuing things that have broader meaning and significance. I haven’t decided exactly how I am going to break my fast officially but when I did turn on sports talk radio last night and heard talk about the NFL seven months in advance of its next season, I didn’t have too much of a desire to jump back into my previously sports obsessed existence.

How about you? Did you eliminate something last week? How did it go?

What Snow Days Tell Us About Our Spiritual Life

As I type this, I have just seen come across my email a notice that my work place will be closed today due to inclement weather. I

have also learned that my daughters’ school will be closed as well. What makes these types of days so much fun for kids, and adults too, is that our routines are broken up and the possibilities for fun and enjoyment seem endless.

We have all daydreamed while sitting at work about what we would be doing if we weren’t at work right then and we are not usually thinking about laundry or yard work. These snow days create a new reality for us, they allow us to think about our existence in a new way, they allow us to live out a day without the normal constraints that seem to hold such a tight grip on us. Sure, some of this thinking is false but for one day at least everything seems bright and relaxed and open to joy, all because of a simple change in our weekly pattern.

This is similar to what we allow to happen when we fast. We are not tortuously depriving ourselves to make us more holy or more austere. We are simply,  intentionally creating an environment that is different enough to allow our perspective on God and his work in our life to become more visible and meaningful. By eliminating something such as food, or anything that is routine or pervasive in our lives, even for a short time, we are giving our existence  just enough of a jolt that meaningful things such as our spiritual life, which usually gets pushed aside, can be dealt with and contemplated in a refreshing way.

Eliminate to Illuminate

If I am not careful, my stack of books to be read can grow by the day. I have never met an interesting website that I didn’t want to subscribe to. If I enjoy a blog or writer I am never satisfied with reading just a few things by them, I have to read their entire body of work. If I find a workout or nutrition program interesting, I want to follow it to the letter even though half of what is being asked doesn’t apply to me or requires too much money or time. Call me obsessive compulsive, a nerd, or even crazy, but what it really comes down to is that I consistently and foolishly think that I can add infinitely more to my life and that somehow that is a good thing.

The truth is, the only effective way to change is by first eliminating all that is a distraction, a burden, or time waster. No one followed Jesus without sacrificing something, maybe even something that was good. Even if we have many Godly things in our lives or Church activities that fill our schedule, we may need to cut some of these things out of our lives so that we can make room for God in an intentional way.

Over the last few years, I have stopped following every sport that showed up on Sports Center and streamlined the teams and events that I will let myself get fanatical about. I have tried to keep the list of books that I am reading at one time down to two so that I can take notes and fully consider what I am reading. I have stopped checking email obsessively and have become okay with emails gathering in my inbox or going unanswered. I no longer feel the need to read a magazine from cover to cover. I have been known to take whole months and devote them to one area of interest or activity instead of being thinned out by trying to keep up with multiple interests.

I mention all of this to possibly help you realize that if you have visions of including more prayer in your life, or reading through entire chapters of the Bible, or being more consistent with your Spiritual Enrichment Workout, you are going to have to eliminate something that you currently do. Piling on things to your already busy schedule cannot be sustained and will only lead to frustration and guilt.

So I would like to propose an exercise to be done starting next Monday and lasting one week. For this activity, I will be going on a Sports Fast where I will not read about or watch sports for one week. I will instead, try to use any extra time or mental storage space for meditating on God, spending time with my family, or praying and reading scripture. Your biggest distraction may not be sports. It may be political talk shows, or Facebook, or reality TV, or People magazine, or iPhone apps. Whatever it is that is teetering on becoming an obsession with you and it is getting in the way of  what is truly important you must eliminate it for one week.

My posts for this week will talk more about fasting and will be designed to prepare us for our upcoming Week of Elimination.