In Faith Leadership, Some Days We Walk Blindly

A personal experience

Recently I came across a journal entry from January, 2005.

I talked about some of the goals I had for the year and my progress and lack thereof towards meeting them. I shared some current frustrations I was having in ministry. I then asked God to help me be more disciplined.

Then I read the last sentence of that day’s journal.

I wrote, “God, at 41 years of age, some days it feels that I’m not accomplishing anything.”

Wow!

Looking back at my life now, I’m sure it was a one day “pity party”. Yes, even pastors have those.

The reason I’m certain it was, is because that was during a season when eleven core families were meeting regularly in our living room, preparing to launch a church. That would be our second plant, and this one would go on to be one of the fastest growing churches in the country and, even today, is accomplishing more than we ever dreamed possible for them as a church.

I don’t share this to bring attention to myself or our accomplishments. And, I wouldn’t suggest a church needs to grow at that pace to be successful. God may use you, as leader, in completely different ways than He has ever used me. God has a unique plan for every person’s life. I share my story because it points to an important principle in ministry which is true for all of us. I’ve seen it so many times. I wish I had a journal entry for each season.

We seldom see the good God is doing through us as we are doing it.

In fact, sometimes it can be months or years after our obedience before we realize the good God was allowing us to be a part of leading.

And, I’m not sure we’d be as successful – in God’s eyes – if we did.

Walking in the unknown keeps us humble. It keeps us in prayer.
And, best of all, it keeps us desperate for God’s hand to be upon us. It truly becomes His work and not our own.

Are you in the middle of a stressful season of ministry or life? Are you wondering if any of your efforts are making a difference?

I’m not suggesting you may not need some people speaking into your life. You may not be able to see the good you’re doing, but don’t falsely assume the silence of God is the approval of God either. Allow others to speak into your life. Remain teachable. Make sure you’re solid on God’s plan, but hold your own plans loosely. Others may have better ideas than you.

But, if you are striving to be obedient to God’s will as much as you know how, then stand firm. I’m praying He allows you to see some fruit – soon – from your labor, as you continue to trust Him. But, until then don’t give up! Stay tuned!

God is always up to things we can’t even imagine.

God is using you, Mighty Warrior! (Judges 6:12)

You simply are having to walk by faith. Faith walking is never for sissies, but always rewarded by God!

7 Things To Do in the Spiritually Dry Times of Life

Recently I wrote about what to do during the times God is silent. It seemed there was more to be said. As I read the Scriptures – and consider my own journey with God – those times are frequent for God’s children. Sometimes it is even more than the silence of God. Sometimes I am silent in my own spiritual life. I’m not growing. I’m not as passionate about my walk as I once was. Spiritually speaking, I am stagnated.

We should not be surprised when those times come. In fact, I even believe God works through those times to prepare us for times of great spiritual growth. But, what do in those seasons where we don’t wake up every morning anxious to dive into God’s word or join Him in prayer.

Elijah had been used of God to hold back rain from the people for over three years, because of their sins. Obviously, he was not well liked as a preacher. I have learned my sermon messages people love most are when I cover a sin someone else struggles with (other than the one who loved the message) or when I address a felt need of the person who loved the message. I don’t seem to hear compliments as much from the messages which challenge someone directly about the sin in their life.

I can only imagine the stress Elijah experienced during those years. Something strikes me, however, which seems to further complicate Elijah’s situation.

Consider 1 Kings 18:1 “After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.”

According to a couple New Testament passages, this “After a long time” was actually three and a half years. The famine was nearly four years long. For over three years, the people apparently continued to sin, but God said nothing. God was apparently inactive, not speaking, even to His great servant Elijah.

Now, I can only speculate here because the Bible doesn’t say anything about Elijah’s own spiritual condition. Obviously, he obeyed when a word from the Lord came, but I also don’t read he was crying out to God for a word either. We certainly read accounts of people of God who did in many of the Psalms.

Was Elijah just as quiet in his crying out to God as God was in speaking to Elijah? Could Elijah been spiritually dry? Again, I don’t know – and, I’m not suggesting I have any special insight here nor trying to make the passage say what I want it to say to make a point. But, I do know how it feels in my life when the fervor of faith isn’t what it used to be.

Have you ever been there? Has the silence of God in your life ever been eerily loud in your life? (You know, sometimes silence is so severe it’s almost loud.) And, maybe the silence isn’t just on God’s side of the communication. Maybe you are quieter than you once were in the relationship also. Have you been there?

Imagine you had been faithfully serving – God is using you – you are in constant communication with Him – and then suddenly everything is quiet.

The separation must have seemed unbearable. Elijah was disliked and unpopular. He was a social outcast from the people and the One he trusted most was seemingly absent. God would soon do a miracle through Elijah, but during this period, all Elijah could do was wait. And, how he waited during these days or how he responded to God – we simply are left to our imagination and personal experience to evaluate.

If you have been believer for very long at all, you have had periods where it seems God is nowhere to be found. And, you’ve had other periods where you weren’t looking very hard to find Him. Be honest. We often call these periods of spiritual dryness. Sometimes I refer to it as being in a spiritual funk.

What should we do during the times of silence, before the miracles of God come through for us?

(Of course, I must remind us, every breath we take is actually a miracle – and the grace – of God.)

If you are like me, you can figure out how to celebrate a miracle. You know how to deal with the spiritual highs. You don’t need much help doing those things. The tough part of our spiritual journey is figuring out what to do during the years of silence – during the years when miracles are nowhere to be found.

What do we do during the spiritual dry periods of life when we don’t hear clearly the voice of God – and maybe we aren’t listening very passionately?

Here are 7 actions I encourage you to consider:

Don’t ignore the silence.

Some of the biggest moves God has made in my life have come after a period of spiritual dryness – when it seemed like God was doing nothing in my life. And, maybe I didn’t even think I was growing. God almost always has a purpose in the quietness. Stay very close to God, even when you don’t feel like it. Go through the motions if you have to in your daily disciplines. Read the Bible – yes, even as a discipline. Attend church and fellowship with other believers. God’s power may be displayed when you least expect it. Look at the story of Elijah again. It doesn’t appear he was expecting God to speak when He did.

Confess any sin in your life.

This wasn’t the problem of silence for Elijah, as far as we know, but the problem for the Israelites was they were chasing after other gods and living lives in total disobedience to God. Sin may not be the reason you don’t sense closeness to God right now. But, just like in every relationship, if there is something you’ve done to injure it there will be a break in closeness. If repetitive and unrepentant sin is in your life it will affect your intimacy with God.

It’s never a bad exercise simply to ask forgiveness. Don’t be a martyr about it. You are saved by grace, not works, so live freely in His favor. Rest in the sufficiency of what Christ has done, but be humble enough to admit you are helpless apart from His grace.

Go back to what you know.

Get back to the basics of the faith which saved you. You’ll do it hundreds of times in your life, but you must remind yourselves of the basis of faith – the promises of God’s word. God is in control. He really is. Even when it doesn’t seem He is anywhere to be found – God is on His throne.

This is where I love to have some favorite verses in my memory to draw from when needed most. In these times I might listen to songs which were important during stronger times in my walk. Music has a way of drawing us back to another time. If I’m especially dry, I’m going to be reading in the Gospels, or some of Paul’s letters such as Ephesians or Galatians, everyday. It’s where my freedom in Christ is most clearly stated.

Choose sides again – if you need to.

You can’t adequately serve God and the world. Something happens in life, often sin, or busyness, or boredom, or a tragedy, but if we are normal, we have periods where we grow away from our close relationship with God due to the circumstances in our life at the time. God hasn’t moved, but if you’ve shifted in your loyalty to God and the place He holds in your heart, get back securely on the His side. (Remember the story of the Prodigal Son? The Father was waiting with open arms and ready to run at the moment of the son’s attempt to return.)

I find sometimes I need to rearrange my schedule to prioritize my time with God. I may need to get up earlier or spend a few lunch breaks fasting with Him. I may need to say no to some seemingly good opportunities because they are distracting me from what is most important in my life.

Trust more – Not less.

Times of silence may be filled with fear, but these times will definitely require more faith. Times come in our spiritual life when our enthusiasm isn’t as real as when we began our walk with God. This is not an indication to quit – it may be God is using this time for something bigger than you could have imagined. But it will require a deeper level of trust.

Again, this is where we need to focus on the foundational issues of our faith. I have a few sermons which ministered to me at the time and periodically I will bring them out and listen again. I want to rekindle and strengthen my faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. (Heb. 11:6)

Listen and watch closely.

Some day God is going to make His plans known to you. And, you don’t want to miss! Do you think Elijah would have wanted to miss what happened to him in 1 Kings 18? Go back and read the story if you need a refresher. When God does break the silence it will be good! You will want to hear what He has to say!

Keep in mind, God may come to your personally, through His Word, circumstances or another person. You’ll need to be in a position to know God is moving.

Prepare your heart and attitude to receive.

If you mope around in your sorrows, you’ll be less prepared to receive the good things to come. I see people (and I’m just as guilty) who view the world so negatively it would take a burning bush for God to get their attention. They’ve already decided in their heart and mind everything hopeless. I’m not sure they are reading the same New Testament I’m reading!

Not because of your circumstances, but because of your faith, clothe yourself in joy as you wait for God to bless you after the period of silence. Know that what you’re experiencing is a normal part of the Christian experience. It’s a normal part of being an emotional being in a fallen world. But, our response to the spiritual dry times may help determine how long they last and how devastating they are on us – and the people around us. Consider to these words of Jesus – and apply as necessary. “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (‭John‬ ‭15:11‭)

Are you in one of those periods of silence today? How do you handle these periods of time?

7 Things To Do While You are Waiting on God

I’ve spent much of my walk with God waiting.

  • Waiting for Him to give direction.
  • Waiting on Him to open doors.
  • Waiting on Him to make things clearer.
  • Waiting on Him to supply the needed resources.

Throughout the stories of the Bible we often find God’s people waiting. Think of Abraham who had to wait years for God to provide the promised son. Think of Noah and the many days he must have worked on the ark, yet he had apparently never seen rain. Think of the anointed David who had to wait to actually assume the position of king. Think of the disciples, taking Jesus at His word by following Him, but having to wait until they were released to do ministry. What about the followers of God who waited 400 years in silence between the Old Testament and the arrival of Jesus?

Waiting is a part of the Christian experience.

The waiting times are difficult to endure, especially if you are like me and generally struggle in the area of patience. Show me someone who has grown in their maturity in Christ and I can almost guarantee you they have had seasons where they were waiting.

I’ve learned, however, there are things I can be doing during the wait, which help me prepare when God chooses to act in my life.

Are you in a time of waiting? Perhaps some of these suggestions may help.

Here are 7 things we can do while we wait on God.:

Prepare my heart.

The ultimate goal of God in my life is to transform me into the image of His Son. He wants my heart and character more than even some of the great activities I could do for Him. The silent times are the some of the best times to be seeking the heart of God. During the waiting period, I find I need to increase my prayer and study time, preparing my heart to receive God’s instructions.

Learn all I can.

I learn more from the struggles of life than I do from the easy times of life. The same can be true through the times of waiting for God to move. God reveals His character to us as we wait. (I find myself reading more of the Psalms during times of waiting. They remind me of God’s presence even during days of silence.)

Watch for His activity.

Just because God is silent does not mean He’s being still. God is always doing something, even when I can’t tell what it is. I’ve learned to be watchful for the hidden activity of God.

Stay active with what I know to be doing.

The Bible is clear on some things I can always be doing – love my neighbor, look out for “the least of these”, make disciples – just to name a few. Waiting times do not mean doing nothing. It may be in the doing something we discover that for which God has been waiting to bless us.

Listen for His voice or the voice of others He sends.

Isaiah 30:20-21 talks about a “voice” saying “this is the way – walk in it” during the “days of adversity“. This is an important reminder. I’ve learned to listen for His voice, knowing the more I know Him personally, the more I’ll hear even His softest whisper. Many times God is trying to speak to us, whether through His written word (which seems to be the dominant way He speaks), or through other people in my life, or through the circumstances of my life. Often there are consistent themes I keep “hearing”, but it takes me a while to actually process them. (Reading 1 Samuel may help here.)

Heal from past hurts – if needed.

Many times the silent periods in my walk with God come after very difficult periods. At times, I’ve learned, I can’t hear God because my emotions are clouded with the pain of my past. In those days, what I most need is to heal my emotions so I can think clearly, discern His voice, and prepare for His next assignment. This may take processing hurts with others, extending forgiveness, or admitting sin to renew my closeness with God.

Pray without ceasing.

Prayer is my personal connection to the God upon whom I am waiting. As long as I’m praying, I’m less likely to worry and more likely to walk by faith. Praying without ceasing doesn’t mean I do nothing except pray, but it means I carry an attitude – a heart of prayer – into everything I do. I remain keenly aware of His presence through the Spirit of God, so when He speaks I have the best possible opportunity to hear.

Are you in a period of waiting? Have you been there before? I’m voicing a prayer now that you would soon hear from God – that God would make Himself known.

5 Step Process to Take a Dream to Reality

How we took an idea to multi-site to reality.

I like to see dreams and goals become reality. In my personal experience, however, and from viewing the experiences of others, most of us have more ideas than we have reality. Figuring out how to implement our ideas is the hardest part of the process it seems.

I hope this post helps.

Allow me to share an example of how an idea can become reality in my world. I could share multiple examples of using these steps, but I decided to share one still dear to my heart and fresh in my mind. I’m sharing a real-life example of how we made an idea become reality in the church plant where I served as pastor. We went from a single campus, meeting in one high school, to a multi-site church by adding our second campus.

It started as a dream. It became a reality.

Here were the 5 steps we used.

Idea

The first step is always the idea and ideas are many for me, so at this stage I try to filter through which ones are worth pursuing. The idea for us going multi-site, at least this time, came after Easter one year. Easter Sunday was huge – bigger than we planned or expected. (God still does things like this when we leave things in His hands!) It prompted an idea in my mind. If we continued to grow towards our Easter number in the new year, which had been our trend in the church’s short history, then we would be out of room in our current high school by next Easter. This thought led to another idea. We needed to do something sooner than we would be able to build a building. This led to the idea of multi-siting our church. This was an idea we had previously explored, but decided the timing was not right. Perhaps it was this time.

But, this idea – this dream – led to the next, very necessary step.

Brainstorming

The next step is to begin thinking through this decision with others. This step is critical, in my opinion, for success. I am capable of loving my idea so much I assume (often wrongly) it has to be a word from God. If the idea has merit, in my experience, God is already raising up others with similar thoughts. In the multi-site example, this is where we organized a group of people to pray through this idea, explore the options, and look at the demographics, costs, etc. This process took several months and numerous meetings. Ideas may or may not make it out of this step, but if they survive, the chance of success is much greater.

All the brainstorming – and mostly prayer – led us to believe this was a viable option. Then step three.

Experiment

At this step, you want to try out your idea before attempting to launch it. My co-pastor suggested we do this Christmas Eve. We decided to have our Christmas Eve service at the possible new location, which was another high school on the other side of town.

As it turned out, the crowd at the second location was far more than we expected, which was another good indication our idea was a good one.

On to step four.

Practice

Some people miss this step, but I think it can be a valuable one. You’ve heard the saying, “Practice makes perfect.” I’m not sure about pefection, but it certainly makes the idea better. For us, this meant we had a practice service at the new location, just for the people who had committed to be part of the launch team. We knew we were moving forward, but we wanted to be at our best when we actually launched. It helped us work out the kinks, we learned some valuable things we hadn’t thought about, and we were able to test out our idea before we invited the general public.

And, praise God from whom all blessings flow – on to the final step!

Product

This is the fun part! The launch! This is the part we all were waiting for and wanted to see come to fruition. We launched our second campus at another school. It was a long, difficult process of taking an idea to the product stage, but the deliberate steps made us better in the process.

Too many times we rush from idea to reality – or we never move from idea because reality seems too daunting. I realize this is a specific example and may not exactly work the same for your individual project, but I believe the process will help more of your dreams come true.

7 Of My Favorite Compliments I Receive as a Pastor

Everyone loves compliments – me included. I received a compliment recently from someone who met me for the first time and it was so encouraging.

I met some visitors in the hall at church one Sunday. It was their first time and they didn’t know where the preschool area was, so I walked them there. (I actually took them in the preschool wing through the wrong doors, as I found out later, but I got them there. What do I know, right?) They didn’t realize until I got up to preach I was the pastor. The lady sent me an email the next week and apologized for inconveniencing me. I had actually told them that morning it was not a problem – I actually enjoyed helping them. Then she wrote, “I felt like you were just a nice person. I didn’t know you were a pastor!” She meant it – and I took it – as a compliment.

It reminded me of some of my favorite compliments I have received as a pastor.

Pastors, do any of these make you smile when you receive them?

Here are my 7 favorite compliments to receive as a pastor:

“You hang out just like a regular guy.” or “You seem pretty normal for a pastor.”

Well, thank you. It may be because I pretty much am a regular guy. I am full of mistakes, fears, frustrations and heartache. I’m called to be holy – “set apart” – but, so are you. This doesn’t mean, however, I don’t know how to have fun, can’t laugh, or talk about things you talk about – such as sports, families, current events, or life struggeles – which I have too.

By the way, as a normal, regular guy, I’m also capable of disappointing you. I hope I never do, but I am. It comes with being normal.

“I can understand you when you preach.”

Well, good I’ve succeeded. Of course, you could be saying I’m simple-minded, but I’d own that statement too. “Jesus loves me” still blows my mind. But, one of the things I strive to do is take a more complex truth and make it simple and easier to apply to someone’s life. When I hear a 6th grader takes notes in my messages and then I hear a person in their 80’s say I challenged them  – I know God is using me most effectively. 

“I liked your speech today.”

This is always said by a visitor who has seldom – if ever – been in church. I hear it frequently from internationals, but also from people who simply don’t know church language. I love it. It shows we are reaching people far from God.

“You were speaking just to me today.”

It may appear this way and I’m glad you took it personal. Sometimes I’m staring into the crowd – and, because my eyes aren’t as good as they used to be – I can’t see anyone well. It always amazes me though how God can take one truth and apply it to a dozen different people in their individual circumstances. So, if the shoe fits with today’s message, please wear it. Probably, however, it is God’s Spirit trying to speak to you. My question – will you obey what God’s Spirit says to do?

“Thank you for being transparent about your mistakes.”

Seriously, I try. Honestly, I don’t have a choice. When you’ve found yourself on the bottom so many times you certainly aren’t comfortable trying to be someone you’re not. To me, the real test of integrity, is living Monday through Saturday the life I claim behind the podium on Sunday. So, to do that means you’re going to hear evidence of how I’m not perfect when I preach. 

“Thanks for what your church does to help the community.”

Wow! Thanks! I hear this frequently when I attend community functions. This is certainly our goal. Thank you for recognizing one of our values is actually being accomplished. We love our community and we are here to serve! 

(Side note – Jeremiah 29:7 is a verse which challenged me years ago for how we do ministry. “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”)

“Where’s Cheryl?”

People are always looking for my wife on Sunday – mostly to give her a hug or a prayer request. I love knowing our church loves my wife as much – okay, being honest – more than me. I know so many pastors who wish their wives were more active in their ministry. I’m blessed. Also, if you do get mad at me, since I’m just a regular and normal guy, at least you’ll keep coming because you love my wife. She never makes anyone mad. (Not even me.)

What’s a favorite compliment you receive, pastor?

7 Suggestions for a Leader to have a Better Weekend

Hint: It takes intentionality

If you are like me you love your weekends. T.G.I.F., right? In fairness, my weekends are shorter than some. My busiest day is usually Sunday. But, I love the weekend I have.

In my experience, however, if we are not careful the weekend passes so quickly we begin another work week feeling we wasted the weekend we had. Or we are so stressed by the week behind or the week ahead that all we do is catch our breath and we can’t fully enjoy the weekend.

This is true for everyone, but from my perspective as a leader this is especially a problem. For most leaders, we never feel our work is done. What we are leading – and even more who we are leaving – always weighs heavily on our mind. This makes enjoying our weekend even more important, though – so we can be prepared for the week ahead. We need quality down time to experience the best quality “up” time.

So, how can we help guarantee better weekends? Every weekend – or at least most. I have learned the more intentional Cheryl and I are about planning for it, the better weekends we had as a family when our boys are home and now as empty-nesters.

Here are 7 suggestions for leader:

Plan well on Monday

Set your week up for success. Plan what you can realistically do in a week and end the week with a sense of accomplishment. I use checklists every day and every week. I try to end my Friday being as “done” as possible.

Do hard things now

Handle the hard stuff as they arise. Try not to carry it into the weekend. Obviously this is not always possible, but many times it is. For example, don’t put off a difficult conversation you know you have to have until Monday if you can and should do it today. It will haunt you all weekend. Whatever the issue, bite the bullet and handle the tough issue, as soon as effectively possible.

Be honest with others and your schedule

Don’t feel bad about declining activities on the weekend. If you want to go somewhere then go, but if you’d rather relax – don’t feel guilty saying so. The quality of and your ability to say no always determines the quality of your life and ultimately your leadership. Say yes sparingly when accepting weekend appointments. Invitations sometimes sound good on Monday, but are less exciting on Saturday morning.

Attend church

This is an appointment I think you should keep. Obviously this one doesn’t apply to my pastor friends (except when you’re on vacation and then I do think it applies – I wrote about that in another post), and I know it seems self-serving to suggest it. You should know I’m certainly not being legalistic. This is not my nature or theology. It’s just that I’ve hardly ever heard someone say they wish they’d skipped church. But I’ve heard many who believe it gave them a better weekend. We tend to think the opposite, especially on a busy weekend, but God always seems to bless the time we give Him.

Do things during the week so you can have a true Sabbath

Even though it makes for slightly longer weekdays, try to accomplish many of the “chores” you have to do before the weekend. Try to have some unplanned time simply to do what you enjoy. Sometimes I have no choice. Some projects require my Saturday, but if possible, I’m going to worker longer weekdays to enjoy a lighter Saturday.

Keep a fairly normal sleep schedule all week

If you always have to “catch up” on your sleep on the weekends, or you spend your week tired because of the late nights on the weekend, you never gain a healthy rhythm for life. Be reasonably consistent in your bedtime and waking up time and you’ll feel better and enjoy a more productive awake time.

Share time with people you love

And, doing the things you love. The best memories center around time with people we love and things we enjoy doing. We certainly have to balance the two. When the family is running in many different directions you end the weekend feeling like you “missed” the weekend. This means you may have to limit activities you or your family commits to or do things your family can do together. This takes prior thought and coordination, but makes for a more enjoyable weekend.

Pastors, this list includes you, too. I originally wrote it for you and decided to expand it to a more general audience. Your weekend may look different, as it may for other leaders, but you need to protect it. I wrote THIS POST on how I protect my Sabbath.

What tips do you have for a better weekend?

12 Game-Changing and Tweetable Proverbs

Here’s a challenge you’ve likely heard before, but may need to practice again. For a month, read a Proverbs everyday. There are 31 Proverbs – enough to fill the longest months. If you’re reading this mid-month, start with the day of the month where you are at the moment.

Proverbs are filled with wisdom. They are practical – even if you are not a follower of God, but especially for those of us who claim to be.

Let me get you started.

<h3>Here are 12 Proverbs, which if applied to your life, could actually change the quality of your life.</h3>

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. – Proverbs 15:1

A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash. – Proverbs 15:14

Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success. – Proverbs 15:22

Greed brings grief to the whole family – Proverbs 15:27

Pride goes before destruction – Proverbs 16:18

Discretion is a life-giving fountain to those who possess it – Proverbs 16:22

Kind words are like honey— – Proverbs 16:24

Better to be patient than powerful – Proverbs 16:32

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven. – Proverbs 17:9

A cheerful heart is good medicine. – Proverbs 17:22

Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish. – Proverbs 18:13

Enthusiasm without knowledge is no good; haste makes mistakes. – Proverbs 19:2

How could the relationships in your life, and your life, change if you placed a few of these nuggets into practice more often? Don’t we tend to perform opposite of these many times? How does that work for you?

Which of these most speak to you? 

Five Personal Reflection Questions to Evaluate Your Year and Start the New Year Right

I’m a reflective person. This time of year, when we start to see all the “best of” reflections online and in the news, I like to do my own personal reflection. How was the year? What can we learn from it? How can I do better next year?

I think its a great exercise.

Perhaps you need a little help getting started. Take a couple hours over the next week or so – get alone – and reflect.

Here are five questions to get you started:

What was great?

List some of the highlights of your year. What gave you the most pleasure in life? Make sure they merit repeating – sin can have an immediate pleasure – but plan ways to rekindle those emotions in the new year. Most likely they involve relationships. The new year is a great time to plan some intentional efforts to strengthen relationships – spend more time with family and friends. Maybe you enjoyed the times you spent writing. Take some intentional steps to discipline yourself to do that more. Remember how good it felt that day you served people less fortunate than yourself? Well, now you know something you need to do more of in the new year.

What wasn’t great?

Think of some things that are draining to you personally. Again, it may be some relationship in your life. It could be a job or a physical ailment. It could also be that whatever it is that isn’t great has been around for more than a single year. But, chances are you’ve never taken the hard steps to do something about it. Sometimes recognizing those things is the first step to doing something about them. (Your answer may be that a relationship has ended – and there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe this is your year to move forward again – even in spite of the pain.) Could this be the year?

What can be improved?

Sometimes it isn’t about quitting, but working to make something better that makes all the difference. Intentionality can sometimes take something you dread and make it something you enjoy. I’ve seen couples who appeared destined for divorce court turn into a thriving marriage when two willing spouses commit to working harder (and getting outside help if needed). I was out of shape in my mid-thirties. I’m healthier today in my 50’s than I was then. The change began in one year – one decision – one intentional effort. Conventional wisdom says a new habit begins in 21 days, but some now believe it may take as long as 66 days to really get a habit to stick. But, would it be worth it if you really began a daily Bible reading habit? Or the gym really was a part of your life more than just the first couple weeks in January? Maybe this is your year to get serious about improving some area of your life.

What do I need to stop?

Maybe you need to stop caring so much what other people think. Maybe you need to stop overeating. Maybe you need to stop worrying far more than you pray. Maybe you need to stop believing the lies the enemy tries to place in your mind. Maybe you need to stop living someone else’s life – and start living the life God has called you to. Maybe you need to stop delaying the risk – and go for it! Maybe you need to stop procrastinating. Do you get the idea? Sometimes one good stop can make all the difference. What do you need to stop doing this year, so you can reflect on this year as your best year ever? Start stopping today!

What do I need to start? 

Think of something you know you need to do, but so far you’ve only thought about it. Maybe you started before but never committed long enough to see it become reality. Often, in my experience, we quit just before the turn comes that would have seen us to victory. Is this the year you write the book? Is this the year you pursue the dream? Is this the year you mend the broken relationship? Is the year you finish the degree? Is this the year you get serious about your financial well-being – planning for the future? Is this the year you surrender your will to God’s will – and follow through on what you know He’s been asking you to do? Maybe getting active in church is your needed start this year. Start starting today!

Five questions. When I’m answering questions like this, I like to apply them to each area of my life – spiritual, physical, relational, personal, financial, etc. Reflect on your life with God, with others, and with yourself. This can be a powerful exercise.

Try answering some of these questions and see how they help you start your best year ever!

7 Tips to Read the Bible Through in One Year

Are you up for a challenge?

How about reading the Bible through this coming new year?

I’ve heard so many people who would love to read the Bible through in a year, but never completed the task. It’s nearly impossible for the pastor to preach through all of it, so you are going to miss something unless you study on your own. Sadly, most believers haven’t read all the Bible. Some of the best nuggets of truth I discovered on my own, reading through the Bible in a year.

For several decades, I have practiced an every other year read through of the Bible. On even number years, I read through the Bible as part of my daily devotion time. On the other years, I read the Bible more thematically or spend more time in certain books. I believe both are important in our spiritual formation.

Here are 7 tips for reading the Bible through in a year:

Pray

Ask God to give you the motivation and strength to accomplish this goal. You can’t read the Bible effectively like any other book. You need God’s Spirit to help you.

Pick an easy to read version

This past year I used the Holman Christian Standard, since this was the version I was primarily using in my preaching. You can use any version you wish, but I would choose one which most appeals to you – whether you want an easier-to-read or a more literal translation. I previously wrote a post about versions. You can read that HERE.

Find a plan to help you discipline

You could simply read three chapters a day and do fine, but I have found having a printed checklist helps keep me disciplined. It may seem mechanical to some, but it will keep you on task. YouVersion has many plans to follow. There are more than you can imagine. The key is to find one. I like the balance of reading some Old and New Testament each day. There are even chronological versions of how we believe the events of the Bible happened. The key is to choose one which works for you. Here’s a LINK to other options.

Find a place

Choose the time and place which works best and you will most likely stick with through the year. I find mornings work best for me. I travel frequently, so I can’t have just one place, but when I’m home, I have a certain chair. I have often used the dining room table, because I know I’ll be less distracted. For me, I need to turn off everything else and simply concentrate on the Bible reading to be most effective.

Document your reading

I’ve found I get more out of my reading if I journal along the way what it’s saying to me. Even if I don’t understand it completely, writing the questions I have down helps me process them later and eventually something else I read seems to help answer my questions. This is another benefit to the YouVersion app. It allows you to highlight and comment on verses which stand out to you.

Discipline yourself

It will likely take you on average about 15 minutes per day to complete this. Once you’ve done it consistently for 30 days or so, you’ll be well on your way to having a habit formed.

Catch up when needed

If you miss a day, don’t sweat it – and don’t quit. Spend a little extra time and play catch up on what you missed. Of course, if you do this too many times you’ll eventually give up, so the key is discipline, but extend grace to yourself as you move through the year. Also, if you didn’t start on the first, start on the 2nd, or the 22nd, and go through the same time next year. You can begin today. There’s no legalism here – just encouragement! You can do this!

Keep the goal in front of you and follow through. A year from now you’ll be glad you accomplished your goal.

Who’s with me?

5 Criteria for Making New Year’s Resolutions You Will Actually Keep

I love a fresh start.

Perhaps it’s because grace is the doctrine I’ve needed so much, but there’s something about a clean slate, which motivates me towards achievement.

I’m like this with my desk at the office. I create stacks. Magazines to be read. Notes to be written. Lists to be completed. Bulletins from other churches. (I am always looking for better ideas.) Stacks, stacks, and more stacks. When the stacks are at capacity – I call it organized chaos.

But, then one day I’ve had enough of the stacks and I go on a cleaning spree. I sort. I file. I trash until the top of my desk shows far more wood than paper. Ahhh… Finally, I’m inspired to work again.

I love a fresh start.

I think this may be why I’m one of the people who appreciates New Year’s resolutions. It’s like a line on the calendar, which screams to me: FRESH START!

But, as much as I appreciate the value in them – beginning new things, stretching myself, making my life better – I’m like everyone else. I find it easier to make resolutions than to keep them.

How do we make resolutions we will actually keep? 

Because resolutions – even the strongest ones – aren’t going to improve anything if you don’t follow through with them. And, they probably just make you more frustrated than before you made them. Who needs more frustration?

So, what can you do? Let me try to help. 

First, write them down. This is huge. I’ve heard people say you are twice as likely to keep a written resolution than one you simply state in your mind. 

Second, try not to have too many. You will be overwhelmed and give up before you start. 
And, then, here are some suggestions for the type of resolutions which seem to work. This help me. 

5 criteria for making resolutions you can actually keep:

Reasonable

Another word might be attainable. The resolution must make sense for you to actually be able to do this year. Saying you want to read 50 books in a year – because you heard someone else does it – and, yet you didn’t read any this past year is probably going to be a stretch. You might be able to do it, but it likely isn’t a reasonable goal. Don’t be afraid of small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10). The key is you’re trying to achieve something, which makes your life better. If you’re successful this year you can set a higher goal next year.

Measurable

To be successful in keeping a resolution you need some way to monitor success towards it – certainly a way to know when you’ve achieved it. If your resolution is simply to lose weight you won’t be as motivated as if you say you want to lose a pound a week. You can track that goal and see your progress. Obviously it will still require discipline, but there is something about a measurable goal which – for most of us – drives us to meet it.

Sustainable

This one doesn’t apply for every resolution, but does in many. Ultimately I have found I’m more motivated to reach goals, which change my life for the better over a longer period of time. It’s great to meet those milestone, once in a lifetime type of achievements – such as running a marathon, or writing a book. And, we should have those type goals in our life – and maybe a milestone resolution is reasonable for you this year. The problem I have seen is if we get off track on reaching them it’s easy to simply give up – maybe even write it off as an unreasonable goal. We feel defeated and so we quit making any resolutions. In making New Year’s resolutions, I find I’m more successful if it’s something which I possibly adopt as a new lifestyle. Some examples would be changing my eating habits, beginning to exercise more often, Bible-reading, journaling, etc – again reasonable and measurable – but something I will sustain beyond the New Year.

Accountable

This is key. Weight Watchers is a great example here of this principle. There is something about their system, which works, and part of it is the reporting portion – where you have to be accountable to others for your progress. If you don’t build in a system of accountability – whether it’s with other people or some visible reminder of your resolution and progress – it’s easy to give up when the New Year euphoria begins to fade.

Reward-able

And, this may be the most important and the least practiced. One secret to actually achieving your resolution may be to find the “carrot”, which will continually motivate you to stretch for the finish line. If losing weight is a goal it could be a new suit or dress when you reach a pre-determined number. If it’s running a marathon (and if this is a reasonable resolution for you this year) it could be you run the marathon in some destination city you can’t wait to visit. If it’s reading your Bible through in a year – promise yourself a new Bible at the end of the year. The reward should fit the degree of stretching and effort it took to accomplish the resolution, but this often serves as a good incentive to helping you reach your goals – especially during the times you are tempting to quit trying.

I hope this will help. It does for me. I have some daily disciplines in my life now, which started as New Year’s resolutions. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve found resolutions can help me start the year with fresh goals, and the discipline towards achieving them helps me have more discipline in other areas of my life.

Here’s to a great New Year! God bless!