We’re in the second week of a series called “This Year Will Be Different.” The series is about creating long-term change in your life. It’s about taking your New Year’s Resolutions to a new level—not just making a stab at them for a few days and giving up after you fail a couple of times, but persistently and strategically pursuing them all year long (or as long it takes) to make your life better.
Most often, change doesn’t come easily. It takes hard work. The more ingrained a bad habit is in your personal life, the more effort it takes to get rid of it.
People sometimes ask, “Why doesn’t God just remove this sin from my life once and for all? Why doesn’t he just take away my temper, or my desire for alcohol, or my addiction to food, or my lustful thoughts?” And then they’ll say, “I saw a guy on 700 Club who had been addicted to heroin for 20 years and he prayed one time and God delivered him from heroin on the spot and he hasn’t touched it since. Why doesn’t God do that for me?!”
Sometimes God does that. Sometimes he moves in a person’s life and eradicates a sinful habit once and for all. Sometimes he does that, but more often his method for making you holy is to take you there one step at a time. Last week we read from Philippians, which Paul wrote toward the end of his life, and he said, “I haven’t yet become perfect, but I keep pressing on toward the goal.” (Philippians 3:12) It didn’t happen for Paul overnight and it probably won’t happen for you overnight. Creating change takes time.
God intends for it be this way, because he wants your relationship to him to be an ongoing process. The Christian life isn’t about flashes of occasional spiritual brilliance. It’s about day-to-day consistency. Flashes of brilliance come and go, and they are wonderful to experience, but spiritual growth takes place in the realm of daily consistency. What we need to do, then, is develop a daily routine that will take us where we want to go.
If you take a close look at your life right now, you will see that your life today is the result of your daily routine over the past years and months. Are you 50 pounds overweight? It didn’t happen because you ate a 50 pound pizza last week; your weight gain has been an ongoing process for months, maybe years. Are you succeeding at work? It didn’t happen because last week you decided to start putting forth a little effort; your success is the result of daily decisions you have made throughout your entire career. All of the things in your life that are working or not working are the result of your daily routine up to this point. If you want to create lasting change in your life, then you need to build into your daily routine actions that will generate that type of change, and then do those things day after day after day.
I could easily, off the top of my head, give 150 good examples of how this works in our lives; due to time constraints, I’ll just give a couple, starting with an easy one.
Let’s say that when you look at your life right now you realize that you’re overweight, you’re tired all the time, you don’t have any energy, it seems like you’ve always got a cold, you either can’t sleep at all or you sleep all the time, and you don’t feel healthy. You decide that you want to make some changes. You want to be healthy. You want to feel better. You want to take care of the temple that God has given you. If these changes are going to happen, they have to happen on a daily basis. You can’t, for example, go to the gym exercise real hard one day and say, “That’s it. I’m done for the year.” You have to do it on a daily basis.
You have to build habits into your daily routine that will take you in the direction of becoming a healthy person. You have to walk and/or work out every day. You have to turn off the TV at night and get some sleep. You have to eat salad for lunch instead of greasy food. Eat fruit instead of ice cream. Eat steamed vegetables instead of pizza. (Okay, I think I went too far on that one. But you get the idea.) As you build these habits into your life day after day after day, you will find in time that you become a healthier person. That’s the way change takes place.
This applies to our spiritual life as well. If you to grow closer to God...if you want to be more like Jesus...if you want to become holy...it’s a step-by-step, day-by-day process.
At this point I want to make one thing very clear. Some things in the Christian life happen instantly, some things in the Christian life happen only when we work at them consistently. When you ask Jesus to come into your heart and save you, it happens immediately. When you ask God to forgive you, he does it immediately. When you pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit, you are filled right then. These things happen instantly, but spiritual maturity is another matter. Spiritual maturity takes time. Holiness takes time. Becoming a better person takes time. You have to work at it consistently.
This is the principle of repetition. You do the same thing again and again and again, and the more you do it the stronger it becomes. This works on both a negative and a positive level, so you need to use this principle to your benefit. Make sure that the things you do on daily basis are things that move you in the direction of making your life better, not worse. Make sure that the things you do on a daily basis are moving you in the direction of your goals.
In the book of Psalms, David says,
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
In the Living Bible this verse is written:
Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should. (Psalm 90:12 LB)
David is saying “Every single day counts, and how we spend each day adds up to the sum total of what our life becomes.”
A question we’re often asked is, “When you die, what do you want people to be able to say about you?” Whatever your answer is, it has to be built into your daily schedule and done consistently day after day in order for it to become true in your life.
The name of this series is “This Year Will Be Different.” It’s about creating lasting change in your life. You change your life in one day increments. Here’s how you do it.
1. Decide what is you want to accomplish. 2. Decide which actions need to be taken to reach that goal. 3. Work those specific actions into your daily routine. 4. If/when you get off track, you get back on track as fast as you can and keep going.
The only way you can fail at this is to quit trying altogether. If your goal, for example, is to be a great husband, then you make a list of all the things that that encompasses—what you need to do to have a great relationship with your wife—and you work that list into your schedule. When you get off track, you recognize it, repent, and get back on track. Start doing the things on the list again.
Some people say “It’s not that cut and dried; it’s not that easy.” I will agree that it’s not all that easy to do this, since it takes tenacity to pull it off, but it is that cut and dried. Others may say, “Your plan sounds rather clinical and calculated.” Exactly. It is. Creating lasting change in your life requires a calculated, methodical approach. It won’t happen by accident. You won’t wake up one day and discover that your life has magically come together over night: “Oh my, isn’t this amazing? I’ve lost 30 pounds, I’ve doubled my income, my wife and I are back in the honeymoon phase, and my children are suddenly well-behaved and well-adjusted. I don’t know how it happened, it just sort of fell into place.” I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t happen this way.
Many people live their lives as if they expect change to take to place just like that. There are millions of married people in the world who want to revitalize their marriage, but they’re not doing anything to bring new life into the relationship—so they keep drifting further and further apart. There are millions of parents out there who see their relationship with their children slowly deteriorating, and they know things need to change or they’ll lose their kids to rebellion, but they don’t implement daily changes into their lives. So they keep making the same mistakes and nothing ever changes. Some of you here today have been believers for many years, and you wonder “Why isn’t my relationship with God as fresh and exciting as it was when I first became a Christian?” You’re hoping God will hit you with a thunderbolt from heaven, but what he wants you to do is make a daily commitment to growing closer to him. If you want to create long-term change in your life, you have to create a daily routine that moves you in that direction.
Now, as you seek to do this—to build a daily routine that takes you in the direction of your goals, there are three principles from the book of Proverbs that I want you to keep in mind. First of all...
1. Recognize the Power of One
Everything in the world is made up of ones. If you have a million dollars, your fortune is made up of a million one-dollar bills. If you walk 500 miles, the journey consists of hundreds of thousands of steps made one at a time. If you live 70 years your life is made up of about 255,675 days—lived out one day at a time. If you take $1 out of your account once, or twice, or three or four times, you may not miss it. But if you keep doing it and keep doing it, eventually you’ll be broke. Even though it’s only a dollar, when you squander it, it adds up and can come back to haunt you.
The biggest lie we tell ourselves—the one that prevents us from experiencing lasting change—is: “This one time won’t hurt. It’s only one dollar, I’ll never miss it; it’s only one little piece of pizza, and one little piece won’t make me obese; it’s only one little ball game, one dull band recital, so what if I missed it? My kids will understand. So I didn’t work out today, what will missing one day of exercise hurt?” And on and on. We keep telling ourselves this, and the ones begin to multiply, and pretty soon we’re back where we started, and nothing in our life has changed.
On the other side of the coin, many times we don’t do what we know we should because we think, “What good will it do? What good will working hard today do? I’m so far behind I’ll never catch up.” or, “What good will it do to spend quality time alone with my spouse; this relationship is too far gone.” We lie to ourselves about the power of one, and we use that as an excuse never to take action.
In Proverbs 13, Solomon teaches a very simple principle. He says...
He who gathers money little by little makes it grow. (Proverbs 13:11)
He’s saying you don’t become wealthy overnight, you have to build your fortune a little at a time. And he’s talking more about financial management here. He’s talking about life management. The same principle that takes you from rags to riches takes you from disobedience to obedience, from the brink of divorce to a re-ignited romance, from rebellious children to a tight-knit family. It happens little by little, step-by-step, day-by-day, one day at a time.
We often want to see immediate results; God wants us to walk in faith day-by-day and let the results come in his timing. It takes great faith to be consistent, because the results don’t happen overnight. So you can’t lose sight of the power of one.
Have you ever been watching a ball game where one team was blowing out the other, and the team that was winning made a mistake, and the coach on the sidelines went ballistic and started yelling at the player who committed the mistake? You may want to say, “What are you so upset about? You’re winning the game! One little mistake isn’t going to change that!” But the coach isn’t thinking about the score, he’s thinking about that one play. He realizes that, regardless of the score, that play is important to the overall development of the team. Whether you’re winning or losing, each play is important. Recognize the power of one. Secondly...
2. Recognize the Power of Momentum
Bible teacher Steve Brown refers to this as “the principle of the greased tracks.” When you’re moving in one direction, the longer you move in that direction, the more speed you pick up and the faster you go.
You see this often in business. A company is moving in the direction of success, sales are up, revenues increase, they expand, sales increase even more, revenue goes up, they expand even more, sales escalate, revenues skyrocket, profits soar. With each day it seems like success becomes easier and easier. Wal-Mart and Microsoft are two obvious examples of this.
It works the other way, as well. When a company is on the skids, they stop thinking about expansion and start focusing on survival. They cut back advertising, which decreases sales, which eliminates profits, and on and on.
It’s the principle of momentum. You’ve probably seen it work in your own life. Once a relationship, or a job situation, or a particular habit gets momentum in one direction, it’s difficult to reverse the trend. But, if you start moving in the right direction, even though changes may be difficult to come by at the beginning, the longer you keep moving in that direction, the more speed you pick up along the way, and the easier it becomes.
Solomon addressed this when he said,
Laziness brings on deep sleep. (Proverbs 19:15)
Have you ever noticed how true this is? The less you do, the less you feel like doing? The more you lay around the house, the more you want to do nothing but lay around the house. That’s the principle of momentum—or in this case, the lack of it.
A physical therapist once told me, “Energy begets energy. If you want more energy in your life, you have to spend what you have. You’ll get more.”
When you’re trying to create change in your life, your first efforts may seem pitiful, feeble, almost laughable. But if you keep moving in the right direction, you’ll begin to pick up momentum, and you’ll begin to see progress.
If you make a resolution to have a daily time alone with God, your first few efforts may seem forced and dry, like you’re just going through the motions. Keep going through the motions. Keep at it. With every day you’ll pick up speed. With every day you’ll gain momentum. With every day you’ll come one day closer to creating lasting change in your life.
Recognize the power of one; recognize the power of momentum, and thirdly,
3. Recognize the Power of Persistence
Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth. (Proverbs 10:4)
Again, he’s not just talking about money. He’s talking about life. He’s saying if you keep working towards your goal, and keep working, and keep working, eventually you’ll get there.
The only way you can fail in the goal of making this year different than all the others is if you give up. If you keep trying you’ll eventually make it. That means if you blow it one day, you pick up where you left off and start again. Persistence means doing it as long as it takes to get the job done.
I have a friend who has been pastoring the same church for more than 20 years. For 16 years the church averaged less than 250 in attendance. In the last few years they have begun to grow; they now average more than 1000 each Sunday. I asked him, “What changed? What did you start doing differently to create this kind of growth?” (I was thinking he might say, “I subscribed to Sermon Notes,” but that wasn’t part of his answer.) He said, “Basically I’m still doing now what I’ve been doing for the last two decades. It just took a long time to see results. But it was well worth the wait.”
If you want to create lasting change in your life, you can. But remember, you change your life one day at a time. You have to create a daily routine that takes you where you want to go. Do you want a close relationship with God? You grow closer by walking with him day by day by day. Do you want to revolutionize your family life? You build your relationship to your spouse and your children day by day by day. Do you want to take control of your finances, or get in better shape physically, or build a business or ministry to the glory of God? You do it on a daily basis. That’s how God wants us to number our days and make them count for eternity. If we remember the power of one, the power of momentum, and the power of persistence, it will help us spend our days doing what we need to do in order to create the lives he wants us to live.
Steve May has been a pastor to pastors for more than 20 years, helping preachers and teachers to become more effective communicators of the gospel.