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

The Reliable VIM

From 2002-2006, my wife and I did intense work at an inner city ministry. Leah ran the kitchen and I volunteered with various ministries and efforts. One thing that I tried to do was meet with some of the men who had recently become followers of Christ. We tried to meet a couple of times a month to read scripture and learn more about what it means to follow Jesus. As so often happens, our meetings kind of fizzled out and we were not meeting regularly. A few months later, one of the guys, who I had not seen in several months, came back around and reminded me of some of the things that he learned from our small group. This guy was barely literate but the one thing that he remembered was the VIM pattern of change.

VIM is an acronym created by Dallas Willard in his book, Renovation of the Heart. V stands for Vision, I stands for Intention, and M stands for Means. Willard calls this a “reliable pattern of change” that can be found in virtually all successful programs working on changing patterns of behavior such as AA or Weight Watchers. I have used VIM in changes involving fitness, career, and spiritual matters.

In order for individuals to change they must have a Vision for what their life will look like when the change becomes a reality. You must see yourself a an ex-smoker or a Spanish speaker or a 5K runner. Next, the individual must Intentionally decide that this change is so important to them that they will do everything they can to make it become a reality. This isn’t a wish for change but a conscious decision to make it happen. Finally, the individual finds the Means to turn their vision into reality. These means can include books, classes, support groups, exercises, journaling, etc. Whatever is used to cultivate the vision is considered a means.

Maybe you have started a Spiritual Enrichment Workout or a New Year’s resolution involving scripture reading or prayer. Perhaps you would like to start a new ministry or small group at your church. By implementing the VIM pattern, you will have the best pathway to achieving your goals.

One last note of warning, the most important aspect of the pattern may be the Intention. We all can see ourselves changed and are well aware of the means that are out there for achieving the change but until you have made a firm decision that your changed self is worth pursuing then the means will do you no good. I can think back in my own life when efforts to change failed and point to a lack of intention as the culprit.

Try out the VIM pattern and see if it helps you move your vague notions of change into improved patterns of behavior.

Do You Care More About Your Weight Than Your Spiritual Health?

As we take another look at the Barna study on New Year’s resolutions we see the following set of numbers:

Among those planning to make resolutions, the top pledges for 2011 relate to weight, diet and health (30%); money, debt and finances (15%); personal improvement (13%); addiction (12%); job and career (5%); spiritual or church-related (5%); and educational (4%). Personal improvement responses included being a better person; giving more; having more personal or leisure time; organizing their life or home; and having a better life in general.

From reading this, I can’t help but be reminded of one of my favorite verses. From 1 Samuel 16, “People look on outward appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Our obsession with our outward appearance could be one of the most unhealthy aspects of our American culture. But what is really sad when looking at these numbers is the afterthought people make of spiritual things.

What made all of the difference in the world to my relationship with Christ was discovering Jesus’ teaching on life found in the Sermon on the Mount. I realized that Christ wants to show me how to live my life. That even now, he can teach me how to handle relationships, be a better Father, employee, and church member. That Christ has something relevant for my life at all turns. I began to understand that human problems rarely have human solutions and that I needed to let Christ change me if I wanted to overcome all that this world presents to me.

When I consider Barna’s findings, it becomes obvious that American’s do not have the same high opinion of spiritual growth as a solution to the challenges in their life. David Kinnamen, President of the Barna Group had this to say about the findings: “Only 9 out of more than 1,000 survey respondents – that’s not quite one percent – mentioned that one of their objectives for next year was getting closer to God in some way. Even in the rare instance when people mention spiritual goals, it is often about activity undertaken for God, rather than a personal pursuit of God or an experience with God.”

The point is that the best path to personal change and achievement is through spiritual change. That by allowing God to change us from the inside out then some of the other problems that we face will be less insurmountable and frustrating. Solutions to these problems will seem achievable and simple all because we have taken care of the most important aspects of ourselves first, the renovation of our heart into Christlikeness.

In the next post, I will talk about some of the personal changes that have occurred in my life simply because my relationship with Christ grew stronger and more impactful.

Do you need to rewrite your New Year’s resolutions?

3 Myths of Spiritual Growth

Have you made a New Year’s Resolution?

According to George Barna, only 19% of Americans are definitely planning on making resolutions  in 2011 despite the fact that 61% have made resolutions sometime in the past. Barna’s report also states that 49% of those who have made resolutions in the past have seen no lasting change.

One of my goals in publishing this blog is to help ordinary Christians, like myself, make progress in their Christian living. When I look at some of the numbers from Barna’s study I realize that the way that we go about making changes in our life is all wrong. Here are three myths regarding change that apply to the spiritual life and other areas as well.

1. All it takes is more will-power. Go try to live out 1 Corinthians 13 today on will-power alone. See how long that lasts. You can’t white knuckle your way to patience and kindness and overcoming envy.  You can provide ways that God can transform your heart so that these virtues become a reality. Change in our pursuit of Christlikeness is an inside out process.

2. I have to do it alone. One of the most dangerous mentalities of American Christianity is its unwieldy emphasis on the individual. Everything from our “quiet time” to personal witnessing to Bible reading has to be done on an “on your own” basis. Yet, the most effective method of change that we have seen in the last 100 years, Alcoholics Annonymous, succeeds because of the emphasis on a support group, accountability, and mutual encouragement. Why can’t we apply this to our spiritual life?

3.  It is only up to God to change me. Paul, no doubt, had many rich encounters with God in his life but only one Damascus Road moment. His “thorn in his flesh”, whatever that may have been, was not immediately removed by God. We cannot sit around waiting for God to zap us into change. God most certainly could create instant change but he usually chooses not to. Jesus says that “Without me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5) but as Dallas Willard points out “it is also true that if we do nothing it will be without him.” Real change is a partnership with God in which we have a role to play to help in the process. This is where the spiritual disciplines come in such as scripture memorization, worship, silence, fasting, etc.

So go ahead and make a New Year’s Resolution but if you want to see it make an impact in your life you better be aware of the myths above.