G’day, mates! (I hope you read that in a pitifully done Australian accent because that’s certainly how it sounded in my head.) I’ve come to you today with the purpose of having a wee discussion, and in order to do so, it’s going to require that we all put on our practical pants. Can we agree to do that? Fabulous! I’ll give you a minute to locate yours and change.
On the heels of our discussion in the last blog post about New Year’s resolutions, I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of improvement, especially with regard to our lives. So many people have such incredible intentions when it comes to resolutions and such, but then life gets in the way, plans peter out, and by March we’re all right back to doing whatever it was we were doing in November when we decided THINGS ARE GOING TO CHANGE! I’m always curious to see what people decide to change about themselves and their lifestyles, and more often than not, the resolution or goal or “lifestyle change” (I’m pretty sure every time someone uses that worn-out phrase a vegan is force-fed a hamburger) is in such contrast to how that person lives now it’s no wonder people go back to their same old ways.
In order to make this topic less massive and in an effort to focus it toward the area of our lives that’s most important, I want to talk with you today specifically about goal-setting in your spiritual life. Maybe you’ve not been where I have, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve set goals to read my Bible more, to wake up and pray before I start my day, to journal all my prayers and catalogue each way I see God throughout my day only to have these things either 1) not happen AT ALL or 2) not stick around must past February. In examining why I found myself struggling so much to maintain these useful–albeit lofty–new “habits” I discovered that I cared much more about the action itself than I did about the result I was getting from it. In other words, my focus was on the time on my clock (that I woke up at 5:30am or that I spent at least 15 minutes praying); it wasn’t on whom I was supposed to be doing all this for: God. And in addition to that, I wasn’t even taking into consideration my personality (um, yeah, 5:30am is NOT gonna happen for this gal). So my chance of success was already greatly endangered before I ever got my resolution or goal off the ground. I’m guessing something similar has either happened to you before or is maybe even happening to you as we speak. Without judgment, let me ask you this: being fully honest with yourself, how is that resolution working out for you? Has it lost some of its newness already? Can you feel it shifting from an exciting, bold “lifestyle change” to a tedious, burdensome “one more thing to do”?
So with regard to spiritual goal-setting, maybe we can take a second and discuss just a couple of things really quickly. I pray that as we do, it will be relevant to the good you’re doing in your life, the changes you’re making to honor God, and that it will help keep those changes on track long after all your buddies stop going to the gym. First, I think it’s important that we discuss what types of goals it’s necessary to set if you want long-term success. Now I know we all had roughly 2.5 “guest speakers” during our school years who attempted to bestow upon our less-than-interested teenage selves this information, but you and I both know we were writing notes and folding them up in weird not-quite-origami shapes instead of listening. Hopefully it all makes a little bit more sense (and is actually applicable) this time around. So without further ado, here is what I think goal(s) must be in order to even begin journeying toward success:
Spiritual goals must be
*reasonable/realistic for YOUR personality and schedule
*measurable–do you have a way to determine if you are or are not succeeding at your goal?
*rational and/or practical (look, you get to wear your practical pants again!)
Now, to make this as clear as a I can and hopefully as concise as I can, let’s apply these requirements to spiritual goals in three main areas: Bible reading, praying, and finances/tithing.
Let’s pretend that you’ve decided that 2020 is going to be the year that you read the ENTIRE BIBLE front to back. It’s a good goal, right? It’s measurable. Check. Is it practical? We’ll, let’s see. Do you have reading plan? No? Okay then. Do you know what time of the day you’ll read? No? Okay. Do you own a Bible? Yes? Oh okay, great. That’s a good start. So, tell me about your current Bible reading. How often to do you read the Bible? Zero, you say? Let me make sure I understand. You currently do zero Bible reading and without any type of reading plan or pre-planned method of attack, you’re going to take out the entire Bible when you’ve somehow not managed to even read a single chapter up to this point? Hmmmmm. I mean, I am well aware of the abounding sarcasm here, but how well do you expect this to go? Friends, you and I both know this just ain’t gonna happen. How do I know? Because I’ve tried it!
My intentions were good. At the time I wasn’t a Bible reader and I wanted to fix that. I read A LOT, but I had never read the Bible cover-to-cover and I thought that since I had recently entered my 30’s, the time had arrived. I was going to get up early, I was going to magically shake off the sleepiness, and I was going to make it through with no problem. Well, I did this about five or six times before I realized that I had a tendency to sleep-read and 5:30 was really dang early. And do you know what I did when my goal failed? I beat myself up over it. I felt like my Bible reading HAD to be done in the morning; I felt like God wouldn’t speak to me clearly if I wasn’t reading my Bible the very first thing every day. But, y’all, I did that to myself. Sure, it’s wise to start your day with the Word, to have it fresh in your mind so that as your day presents itself, with all its struggles and surprises, you’ve got Truth fresh in your mind. What I’m here to tell you today, though, friend, is that GOD JUST WANTS YOU. He’s not upset if it’s on your lunch break. He’s not angry because your Bible reading happened in the car waiting in the pick-up line. He just wants your heart tuned to His frequency during your day. He wants to bless you with the peace and encouragement that you absolutely cannot get anywhere but in His Word. If you’re in a season of life where you can’t do early morning Bible reading, cut yourself some slack. Find the time that works for you (FYI—I still don’t do mine first thing) and commit to being more interested in the Bible you’re reading than the time of day that you’re reading it.
And one last thing about Bible reading goals before I move on. Try not to get caught up in the specifics: what book to read, how long to read, etc. I started out by getting a devotional so that it could help me work my way through the Bible. Then, after I did a devotional or two, I began feeling more comfortable forging my own way through various chapters. You can’t go wrong with Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, either. Again, God isn’t sitting on His throne, stop-watch in hand. Ask Him for His help in finding the time, try out various times of the day and various reading plans, and keep at it. You’ll get there.
A few years ago I decided that I was going to wake up every morning at like 5:15 or 5:30 or some other dumb time and I was going to pray before I started my day. Seemed like that is what preachers always talked about doing and I was pretty sure that’s what both Joyce Meyer AND Beth Moore did, so obviously by not doing this I was already terrible at this Christian walk thing. So, I set my alarm and when it went off each morning, I would flip on my lamp, lean back in bed against my pillows, and pray. Y’all. I did this for about two weeks and NOT ONE TIME did I stay awake. Not once! I had a very young child who barely slept and it was a time in my life when I got very little rest and/or sleep. Was this goal a rational, reasonable, realistic goal for me? Well of course it wasn’t. It was another r-word: ridiculous. Yet another spiritual goal I failed because I was so busy focusing on these crazy rules I’d put on my walk with God. Self-regulating instead of God-regulating my prayer life was never going to lead me to success.
If you’re here too–or if you’ve been here before and since just given up on the whole thing altogether–there’s a really simple way to do this. Talk to God about it. Pray more. Let that be your motto. Work prayer into your day at a variety of times. Practice taking your issues to God when they crop up throughout your day instead of ignoring Him until 5:30 each morning when you utter two words to Him and then promptly fall back asleep. God just wants to be with you, to be invited in. With His help, start slowly and reasonably. Decide that instead of listening to a podcast or satellite radio on your way to work each day, you’re going to pray. Struggling to stay focused? Switch your regular radio out for praise music and then pause for two minutes on your way out of the car and into work to thank God for something in your life. Starting small isn’t insignificant. And I’m telling you because I know from experience, friends, God will bless even the smallest efforts when the desire for Him is genuine and present.
Watch out, everybody, Lindsey’s talking about money!!! Run for your lives!!! Calm down, you nutballs. We’ll save the “to tithe or not to tithe” post for another day. Today, let’s just assume some of you have set the spiritual goal of giving back to either your church or other worthy charities/causes that further the gospel. If you have never ever tithed, or if you’ve resolved to do so only to take that money and put it toward other things after the “new” wore off, let’s apply that same logic, reason, and practicality to this goal as we have the previous two. So yes, the Bible states that a tithe is to be 10%. However, given what I know about God, about His love and His compassionate understanding and His slowness to anger, I’m going to go out on a limb here (insert sarcasm emoji here) and say that if you go from giving nothing to giving something smaller than 10%, you will not be struck down dead where you stand. If 10% seems astronomical to you, if the whole concept of tithing is hard to get your head around but you feel God prompting you to start somewhere, then do exactly that. Start somewhere…somewhere small. Okay, so maybe 10% gives you hives. Does 5%? Still feel like you’re wearing a sweater your great-aunt Nadine knitted you? Then what about 2%? Surely by now you’re starting to see my point with regard to ANY spiritual goal you set for yourself: it’s not about the rules, it’s about the relationship you’re building in the process. Talk to God about your finances. Ask Him to show you where that money can come from. Ask Him to bless your giving. Ask Him to show you that your tithe counts toward good. I can tell you from SERIOUS personal experience many, many times over, God WILL show up. He will bless your efforts, and He will take pride in helping you move from a 1.567% tithe to a 10% to a who-knows-what percent.
**Okay, money talk is over. You can stop covering your eyes.**
While I know many of you probably don’t need this post because you’re knocking it out of the park in these areas, maybe it’ll be something you can apply to other ones that aren’t going quite so well. I find myself sometimes getting certain aspects of my walk with Christ on track and then losing ground in others. Sometimes I can need to be reminded that these concepts–be realistic, measure your progress but don’t harp on it, start small–can be applied to a variety of goals, skills or areas in which I’m attempting to strengthen my faith. Whatever you are doing well or blowing up completely, friends, God loves you with an unstoppable love. You are NOT disappointing Him, even when you disappoint yourself. When we stumble in our efforts to do better, He’s not there waiting to chastise us and remind us of our failures. He wants to offer His hand, His help up, and His love. Let’s be mindful of the goals we set; let’s cut ourselves some slack; let’s get right back on track when we get off. And most importantly, let’s remember why we’re doing this in the first place: Jesus. Not once has He ever left someone to better themselves on their own. Let Him help. Oh, and one last thing, let’s try wearing our practical pants a little more often. 🙂
Dear Lord, thank You so very much for Jesus, that He’s available to help me as I try my best to mature my walk with You and strengthen our relationship. I ask for Your help, God, because I know that I can’t readjust my life without Your help. I want to do better in many areas, and I offer those up to You today. Help me to stay consistent in my Bible reading, Lord, but help me also to be more interested in what I’m learning about You than I am about how much or how long I read. Father, I ask too that You would help me come to You more often in prayer. I want to talk to You throughout the day, Lord, but I also want that important time alone with You as well. Help me to take an honest look at my life and my schedule so that I can better use it on what’s most important: You. And lastly, Lord, be with me and my finances. Help me to see my money as Yours. Help me to give it cheerfully, knowing You will bless me, Lord. Right now tithing seems like giving away money, but I know that it’s really just handing back to You what’s rightfully Yours. Be with me, Father, as I learn this tough lesson. Help me to see the fruits of my labor. I love You, Lord, and I know that You love me, too. Draw me closer to You. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.