Small Changes With Big Results Next Year

There is something about goal setting that gets me fired up and excited. Maybe it’s the prospect of doing something awesome in the upcoming year, like running a marathon, or reading through the entire Bible, or finally writing that book I’ve been thinking about. Or maybe it’s the prospect of finally kicking those bad habits I have, like getting up too late, or regularly eating things that will probably shorten my life in the long run. I like to set big goals that will challenge me.

But in the last couple of years I’ve started to notice something about myself: Small goals coupled with faithfulness produce the biggest results.

One example: I don’t think I’ll ever run a marathon. I would like to, but I’ve got a bad knee and I don’t have the time required to train for a marathon. But, with God’s help, I can discipline myself to run for 20-25 minutes a couple of times per week. Another example: I have a hard time reading through the entire Bible in a year. I’ve done it, but it doesn’t work particularly well for me and my personality. But, I can read the Bible and pray for 35-45 minutes most days before my day gets going. One last example: I don’t have hours and hours to spend working on a book or a song or any other creative project. But I can find 20-30 minutes a couple of times a week.

I’ve started to see that seeking to be faithful in these little areas has wonderful long term results. The more I run, the better I feel. The more consistently I read my Bible, the more I grow in my walk with God. The more I work on writing, the better I become. I’ve got two small children with one on the way and I’m a pastor at a church. I don’t have huge amounts of time to dedicate to things. But I can be faithful, and God honors faithfulness, even to little things.

In Luke 16:10 Jesus said:

One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.

In Proverbs 13:4 it says:

The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

Over and over scripture emphasizes the value of diligence. God rewards diligence and faithfulness and hard work. We probably won’t see the results immediately, but over time we will. It’s like building a house. When you lay the first bricks, it doesn’t look anything like a house. But as you slowly and methodically work toward your goal, things begin to take shape.

So let me give you a few steps to take:

  • Determine one or two small goals that, if you regularly did them, it would make a big difference. Maybe it’s as simple as reading your Bible and praying for fifteen minutes every day, or trying to memorize one scripture per month, or write one worship song in the next three months.
  • Commit those goals to the Lord. Pray about them and ask God to help you be faithful, and to do these things for God’s glory, not your own. Ask God for the grace to be diligent, even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Let someone else know about your goals. It’s helpful to have someone else supporting you and praying for you and maybe even pursuing the goals with you. If you’re married, let your spouse know. If you’re not married, let a close friend know.
  • Try to find a regular time for working on your goals. Maybe it’s first thing in the morning, maybe it’s right before bed, maybe it’s on your lunch break. Have a set time and stick to it.
  • If you have a bad day or week or month, don’t beat yourself up. Delight in the gospel, delight in the free forgiveness we have in Christ, then get off your butt and get moving again.
  • Give thanks to God for the little successes.

Okay, now it’s your turn. What little goals will you pursue this year?

It’s Better To Be Faithful Than Gifted

 The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. Proverbs 13:4

We may “crave” to grow spiritually, but it won’t happen without diligent effort.  Of course we don’t work to earn our salvation or God’s approval or favor – that’s all of grace.  But we must be faithful to pursue God as well.  It is the diligent person – the one who keeps on plodding day after day, faithfully reading her Bible, praying, fellowshipping, listening to messages – who will have her soul richly supplied.

In the Parable of the talents the master expected his servants to be faithful with small amounts he gave each of them.  He said to each of the servants who had been diligent, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

There aren’t many superstars in the kingdom of God. Not many have super gifts. Most of us are just average.  Gifted in small ways. But if we are faithful to use the gifts we have and serve in whatever ways we can, God will increase us.

Even in the world diligence and faithfulness matter more than talent. Many of the most successful people have hundreds of failures in their fields.  But they keep trying and trying.

Here are a few quotes from The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue EXCELLENCE by Thomas J. Peters

(1) To succeed, you have to try more stuff than the other guy—fast. (2) If you try more stuff in a hurry, you’ll make lots of mistakes. (It’s an Iron Law of Nature.) (3) Hence, screwing up a lot is a very good sign of progress—perhaps the only sure sign. (4) If we aim to (more or less) maximize screw-ups, then we must do more than “tolerate” screw-ups. (5) We must “encourage” screw-ups. (6) We must cel-e-brate screw-ups!

As Les Wexner, founder of Limited Brands, once told me: “In fashion, your batting average is never anywhere near 1000. Your strikeouts will always, over time, surpass your hits—especially your home runs. So a buyer with no mistakes is taking no chances—the kiss of death in this business; and cause for a poor evaluation. The buyer who will hit home runs, like power hitters in baseball, will also have a bushel of swinging strikeouts. I will in fact reward those swinging strikeouts—as the price of the home runs that are required for our growth.”

“Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” —Winston Churchill

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” —Michael Jordan

If diligence and faithfulness are so important in the world, then let us disciples of Jesus be diligent to pursue him, use our gifts, and serve others.

It is better to read your Bible 15 minutes a day than once a week for two hours. Small acts of faithfulness add up over time.  If you give $1 a day  to the poor, that’s $365 a year.  In 10 years almost $4000.  Most of us could not pray for two hours straight, but 15 minutes a day is almost 2 hours in a week.  Read one page a day of a spiritual book or a biography – 365 pages in a year.  That’s a pretty big book.  One short encouraging email a day would be…well, you get the idea.

What is one small thing you could begin to practice today?

How To Cultivate Mighty Faith

I once had a garden. Well, you could loosely call it that.

I’d had this romantic notion about how good it would be to get out in the fresh air and get my hands dirty, get back to the earth, and all that kind of stuff.  I could picture how good it would feel to pluck bulging tomatoes and harvest basketball-sized green peppers and enter a 200 pound pumpkin in the state fair.

I was partially inspired by my next-door neighbor, Steve. Steve loved his garden. He was in it every evening puttsing around, weeding, watering, pruning, plucking. Steve simply loved being in the garden and working hard at it.

Though I had a romantic notion of a garden in my mind, there was just one problem. I didn’t want to work.

After I plowed the initial space, put down plastic and planted the original plants, I had no desire to be out there. I got no joy from plucking the suckers to make the plants stronger.  I didn’t want to weed.  It was even tiresome for me to water the garden in the evenings. It wasn’t like the garden was huge, I just wasn’t into it. I didn’t want to work at it.

Steve’s garden and my garden were separated by about 20 feet.  Yet at the end of the summer there was a huge difference in our gardens.  Steve’s was neat and laden with rich ripe vegetables. My garden was weed-infested and anemic looking.

I did have a pumpkin vine that was about 240 feet long and took up about half of my backyard, at the end of which was one lone pumpkin the size of a softball.

What was the difference between our gardens? They both got the same amount of sunshine and rain.  But Steve worked away at it every day. Little by little, one day at a time. Steve applied himself faithfully to his garden, whereas I didn’t.  After my initial efforts I expected the garden to produce all by itself with no effort on my part.

So what was the difference?  Diligence.

It’s the same with our faith. If we want to have strong faith healthy face, we must be diligent.

“Would you like to possess more faith? Do you find believing so pleasant, that you would like to believe more? Then take heed that you are diligent in the use of every means of grace—diligent in your private communion with God—diligent in your daily watchfulness over time, temper, and tongue—diligent in your private Bible reading—diligent in your own private prayers. It is vain to expect spiritual prosperity, when we are careless about these things. Let those who will, call it excessively precise and legal to be particular about these things. I only reply, that there never was an eminent saint who neglected them.” – J.C. Ryle via Erik Kowalter

“Do not neglect the means which the Spirit has appointed for help. Pray, meditate, hear, read, do your best, and expect his blessing. Though your ploughing and sowing will not give a harvest without the sun, and rain, and the blessing of God, yet the sun and rain will not bring a crop unless you plough and plant.” – Richard Baxter

Over the years, I’ve observed that the believers who do the best in trials, who seem to have mighty faith, are those who have been diligent to cultivate faith.  They’ve sown, watered and weeded.  Plodded and plowed.  Day by day.  Little by little, consistently reading Bibles and books, praying,  meeting together with the saints.

Excuse me, I have to go to the store now to buy some vegetables.

So What Are You Going To Try For God Today?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about one little word: try.

Christians should be those who are willing to try things for God’s glory.  We should be those who don’t quit trying.  The Bible calls us to be persistent, to not give up following Christ, praying, hoping, doing good, giving, loving, forgiving, working, and sharing the gospel.  We are to persist because God himself is our helper and he has created good works for us to walk in.

God doesn’t call us to be successful.  He only calls us to be faithful.

Which means to try.  The Master rebuked the servant he’d given one talent to for burying it – for not trying.  He commended the others because they took their talents and went out and tried to do something with them.

A fool says, “I can’t;” a wise man says, “I’ll try.” –Charles Spurgeon, Salt Cellars

There are at least 3 reasons we don’t try things – fear, unbelief and laziness.

Sometimes we fear we’ll fail.  Or we fear what others may think.  We fear going to a brother who is offended at us because of the discomfort we’ll experience, so we put it off again and again.  We fear being evaluated for our efforts, so it’s easier to not do things.  I battle this, even with songwriting, which I’ve done for many years.  I hesitate to send songs for critique at times because I fear that the guys I send it to won’t like them.

The only way to overcome your fears is to “do the thing you fear,” as Emerson wrote, “and the death of fear is certain.”  -Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog.

What great advice.  Ask yourself, what is it you most fear?  Is it letting your pastor know an area you’d like to serve?  Is it stepping out in a spiritual gift?  Going to a sister and asking forgiveness?  Praying out loud in front of others?  Ask God for grace to tackle that fear and attack it at your next opportunity.

At other times we don’t try because of unbelief.

We don’t pray because we don’t think anything will happen.  We quit trying with our children because we don’t think anything will change.  We don’t believe the gospel is powerful.  Or that God will use us.

“Satan strikes either at the root of faith or at the root of diligence.” – John Livingstone in David MacIntyre, The Hidden Life of Prayer

Prayer is a particular area we’re tempted not to try.

We’re tempted not to pray for God to heal because we prayed for someone once and they weren’t healed. We’re tempted not to pray because we don’t believe God hears us or that our prayers are effective.  We’re tempted not to pray because we have to wait for an answer.  Yet we should never quit praying even if we have to wait.

“To wait is not merely to remain impassive. It is to expect – to look for with patience, and also with submission. It is to long for, but not impatiently; to look for, but not to fret at the delay; to watch for, but not restlessly; to feel that if He does not come we will acquiesce, and yet to refuse to let the mind acquiesce in the feeling that He will not come.”  -MacIntyre

In other words, keep praying.  Keep expecting.  Keep asking Jesus to save your children.  Keep asking him to heal you. Keep asking your Father to provide.  Keep asking him to help you in that class.  Keep asking for joy.  Keep asking for strength to serve. Keep asking for opportunities to share the gospel.  Keep trying!

I like these 2 quotes by Brian Tracy in Eat That Frog:

Take action on your plan immediately. Do something. Do anything. An average plan vigorously executed is far better than a brilliant plan on which nothing is done. For you to achieve any kind of success, execution is everything.

Wayne Gretzky, the great hockey player, once said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

So what shots are you going to take for God today?

Stay Alert, Stay Alive – A Vietnam Vet Inspires Me

The other day a friend and Vietnam vet, inspired me with one of his experiences:

When I landed there I was assigned to the 101st airborne as infantryman and the sergeant of the squad (10-12 guys) said, ‘Jones (not his name) I want you to carry the machine gun,’ (an M60, which was one of the heavier weapons) and I said I’d rather not, I’d rather carry an M16.  He said, ‘you’re one of the bigger guys.’  Again I said I’d rather not, so he said, ‘OK, tomorrow you’ll be walking point.’

Walking point was probably the most challenging and dangerous position in the outfit.  The point man would be about 25 yards in front of everyone else. 10-25 yards back would be the slack man.  10-25 yards behind him would be the rest of the squad.  The point man would have to look everywhere for ambushes, trip wires, booby traps, snipers.  My every sense was on edge.  I was nervous, fearful.  In fact, everyone would be on edge – listening, looking around, ready for anything.  The motto every day was ‘Stay Alert, Stay Alive’ – we would hear that 100 times a day.  Guys would tell each other that.  Officers would say that.

In the jungle we didn’t talk.  We whispered.  We tried to keep the equipment from rattling. We’d stop and listen at anything that looked suspicious or out of place.  If the point man saw enemy footprints or a freshly cut trail, he’d stop and signal for us all to get down and lay quietly for a while.  We didn’t travel that fast or get very far in a day.

Most of the time we had to cut trails through the jungle with machetes.  It was hard work cutting through vines and having to be vigilant at the same time.  Lots of times it was pouring down rain in monsoon season.  It was hot, 90-110 degrees.  It was so wet that leeches would be on the vegetation and get on you as you brushed past.  You’d get leeches down your collar, up your sleeves, in your boots – you might have half a dozen on you at any one time of the day.  There were thick vines, we called ‘wait-a-minute’ vines that would catch on your weapon, your helmet, or your shoulder (woah, wait a minute).

Any way, I took the point that first day, and by the end of the day I went to the sergeant and said I’d carry the machine gun.  And I came to like it.

“Stay alert, stay alive.” If soldiers in Vietnam needed to heed this, how much more should believers be inspired to vigilance in this dark age.  God’s word says:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  (Eph 5.15-16)

“The days are evil.”  Our world is fallen, and all who don’t know Christ are darkened in mind, following Satan, and at enmity with God.  1 JN 5.19 says the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

But believers are “light in the Lord,” citizens of the age to come, IN the world, but not OF the world.  While here, we must stay alert because we have very real enemies. 1 Peter 2.11 says the passions of our flesh wage war against our souls, and Ephesians 6.12 tells us we fight against evil cosmic powers.

This is why Prov 4.23 says Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.  What we take into our heart and think about in our heart affects our spiritual life.

We must watch what kinds of entertainment we take in, who we hang around with, what we read, what kind of music we listen to.  We must check for any leeches of sin hanging on to us.  We must be careful not to be tripped up by any vines of anger or bitterness.  We must look ahead to see any possible ambushes of sexual temptation. We must pray and ask God to deliver us from temptation and sin.

Positively, we stay alert in this evil age by making the best use of the time. We should seize every opportunity to live for Christ. Regularly feed our souls with the Bible, preaching and spiritual reading.  We must be diligent to stay in fellowship, serve, encourage, worship with others.

We have one life to serve Christ. One life that could end at any moment.  Make the most of where God has you for Jesus.  If you’re a mom, glorify him by loving your children.  If a student, glorify Christ by studying hard and being a light in school.  If you’re in the workplace, do your work heartily and cheerfully as to the Lord.

Stay alert, stay alive.

photo: publicresource.org