“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” Proverbs 16:3 (NIV)
God not only sees who we are right now, but who we are becoming, and He is in the business of transforming us into who He has called us to be. “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands” Psalm 138:8 (ESV). What a beautiful picture: We, brothers and sisters, are the “work of His hands.”
If you have resolved this year to develop new habits or divest yourself of some unfruitful habits or hang-ups you’ve been holding onto, consider that perhaps God has called you “for such a time as this.” Has God asked you to do something new? There is holiness in doing hard stuff. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he had begged God to rid him of a “thorn in the flesh.” Scholars debate what Paul’s “thorn” may have been. But whatever it was, Paul persisted in his ministry despite it. He was consistent. He kept moving forward in spite of the difficult obstacle he faced. “But he said to me, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV).
God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. When we embrace our difficult assignments and acknowledge our own insufficiency, we can experience the all-sufficient grace of Jesus Christ, and we can keep moving forward in the purpose God has given us. Any weaknesses we may have in our humanness can be overcome by the “power of Christ” as we persist through the hard stuff. Ask God for His abundant grace to help you as you walk into the plans He has for you, building new habits, breaking old chains, and becoming the person He has created you to be.
My friend, Mandy, chooses a “word of the year” every January. She uses this one word as a filter for her choices, resolutions, and plans throughout the year. One year, her word was “healthy;” another year it was “community.” One year it was “be” and this year, she’s chosen the word “brave.” She’s using this word as an opportunity to lean on the encouragement of Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (ESV).
I love the idea of choosing just one simple word because the sheer number and variety of resolutions we make each January often paralyze us into inaction. Our perfectionism gets in the way of our progress. When we experience a setback, we consider our setback to be a failure, making it easy to give up. Mandy’s trick of choosing just one word means that a setback isn’t an insurmountable failure…it’s just a tiny, but necessary part of the process of growing and becoming a better version of herself. She can maintain her consistency, and she can keep moving forward—even when she messes up.
Sometimes, we let our pursuit of perfectionism become a permanent barrier to what God wants to do in our lives. Perfectionism will always result in disappointment because we can’t obtain perfection of our own doing, and we become discouraged when we try. But God hasn’t called us to perfectionism; He is calling us to Himself, the One who is working in us to make us more like Jesus. This year, instead of trying to be perfect, what if we decide to just do everything “to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). When everything we do is for His glory, our plans become simple: Follow Jesus, and when (not if) you stumble, you’ll be stumbling in the right direction.
In 2012, I gave up soda. I had been drinking 4-6 sodas a day, quite literally since I was in preschool. It’ll be six years this year, and while I don’t ever think about drinking soda at all anymore, I vividly remember when it was a daily struggle to say “just water for me, please.” I kept saying it, though, even when I didn’t feel like it, and one day I turned around and realized that I had replaced a bad habit with a good one.
I saw a quote on Facebook the other day: “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up, and never give up.” It’s simple and catchy, but it’s also wise. The Bible is full of people who showed up when they probably didn’t feel like it. Noah showed up to build a giant boat, even though he was mocked for it. David showed up to defeat Goliath when others were too scared. Esther showed up to deliver her people from Haman at great risk of personal peril. I imagine that Noah, David, and Esther were a lot like most of us. Some days, they probably didn’t feel much like “showing up,” but despite their feelings, they got up, they put themselves together, and they went where God called them to go.
Perhaps God isn’t asking you to build an ark, take down a giant, or save a nation, but maybe He is asking you to build a habit, take down an insecurity, or save money for your future. When we consistently “get up, dress up, show up, and never give up,” our efforts will bear fruit. Big or small, what is God asking you to consistently “show up” for?
When my daughter was learning to ride her bicycle—a full two years after most of her friends had mastered it—I got to see a picture of what self-discipline can do when it’s consistently applied. She wanted to be able to ride her bike so badly, but she kept falling down…failing. I don’t think I could count the number of times she came inside in tears, but there was nothing I could do to help her short of offering her encouraging words and telling her not to give up.
We hate failure. In fact, we hate it so much that we often don’t even try because the fear of potential failure is more compelling to us than the possibility of potential success. About ten minutes before her “breakthrough moment,” she came inside and declared, through tears, “I give up! I’m never learning to ride my bike! I don’t even care about it anymore!” She still remembers what I told her that day (and can recite it to me!): “One day, your determination will conquer your frustration, and that’s when you’ll learn to ride your bicycle.” She walked back outside, and the next thing I saw when I peeked out the window was her blonde hair whipping in the breeze as she did laps around the back yard on her blue bike. She was white-knuckled, her cheeks were tear-stained, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wider smile on her face.
We have a choice: we can endure the pain of consistently applying self-discipline to our lives, or we can endure the pain of never growing. There’s pain in the process, but the pain is an important part of how we grow. The Bible tells us that God refines us like silver (Malachi 3:3)—a process that puts us through a metaphorical “fire.” We are also compared to clay being transformed in the hands of a potter (Isaiah 64:8)—a process that takes molding, shaping and re-shaping. When we resolve to consistently do things that are difficult but meaningful, we give God room to refine us, to shape us, to grow us.
When I was in college, I worked as a lifeguard at a YMCA in Raleigh. I used to work the “critical shift” which was the very early morning shift. I would drag my lifeless, groggy teenage body to work at 5am and work until 9am. Despite the exhaustion, it was the best time of day to be there—not just because you could make an extra $2 an hour for signing up for that less-than-desirable shift, but because that’s when our group of elderly water aerobics folks came in. I loved them…all of them. They made those early mornings so much better, and they didn’t mind that I would probe their brains with a barrage of questions about life and love. As misguided as I often was when I was younger, I managed to be smart enough to realize that “wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days” Job 12:12 (ESV).
One of my favorite questions to ask older couples has always been, “What’s the secret to a marriage that lasts?” Ms. Mildred was warming up for her class in the pool one morning when I asked her this question. She looked up at me and smiled and said, “Sweetie, you just have to be committed to commitment.” Her husband, C.A., who was also there, heartily agreed. The feeling of “love” will come and go (and, ideally, come back again), but during the hard times, you have to dig in your heels and renew your “commitment to commitment.”
I found out last February that Mr. Dillon had passed away. I searched for his obituary and, misty-eyed, read and re-read the line, “He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Mildred...” Sixty-one years.
A river rock isn’t polished by good intentions. It takes years and years of consistent…persistent...water rushing over the rock to make it smooth and beautiful. This week, where can you resolve to be more committed to your commitments? Your Life Group? Your family? Your job? Your marriage?