Like the dawn of each day, the beginning of a new year brings promise of another opportunity to exercise hope. Hope that things will be different in the months ahead. Hope for improvement. Hope for change.
As the calendar rolls into 2017, I find people everywhere are counting! My family, along with a couple other families in our village, has entered a period of seeking God for our lives in 2017. We aren’t the only ones: I’ve seen people praying and fasting for 40 days, 21 days, 10 days all the way down to the 3 day fast. Is prayer and fasting the new “New Years Resolution”?
I admit it wasn’t far into December when I found myself thinking about what I’d like to see change in 2017. Many of us tend to ponder changes we’d like to make in the new year; we set goals for personal growth, for health, for our family or career. But new years resolutions tend to transform from a list of goals fueled by hope, into nothing more than a quickly disregarded wishlist that leaves us feeling hopeless, inadequate, and powerless to change.
May I challenge you to abandon the new years resolution of old? The most impactful mind shift I made last year was understanding that long-lasting, life-changing transformation happens one small step at a time. As a former business consultant, I was used to massive projects, completed with every needed resource focused on that one goal for short bursts of time. Well, my friend, we don’t live in a silo. There is absolutely no way to direct all of your time, money, energy and attention to one single goal in your life at a time! So, here’s what I suggest as you set out to be a better you and improve your life, whether it be physically, financially, relationally, or otherwise: be strategic, be realistic, and be consistent.
Be Strategic – What does that even mean?
All the buzz around praying and fasting is not just a new approach to the old “New Years Resolution”. Praying and fasting is strategic! Starting the year in prayer and fasting is employing two of your most powerful spiritual resources to focus your heart, mind, and your body on receiving direction, wisdom, guidance, and power to change in various areas of life. Your best shot at achieving your goals in 2017 is to start with a goal that is in line with plans God has for you. Jeremiah 29:11 says that God has a plan for your life, and they are plans for a good life, not to hurt or destroy you. His plan is infused with hope. His plan is for a bright future. Doesn’t that sound like a plan you want to get onboard with? God’s promise is that you can know the plan. It’s not top secret, locked away in some impenetrable vault in heaven. He said that when you call to Him, He will answer, AND tell you great and incomprehensible things (Jer. 29:12, 33:3). Isn’t that just like God. He doesn’t just promise to give you information. He says He is going to blow your mind! When you commit some time to seeking the Lord in prayer and fasting, you position your heart to receive these great and incomprehensible plans!
Ask God for his vision for your life in 2017. Ask for wisdom and discernment to make the necessary decisions. Pray for the divine resources to carry out the vision. Seek guidance and favor in taking the necessary action steps. And be sure to listen (and take notes). Fasting is especially helpful in regard to listening! Because it involves denying the body of some desire, fasting helps you quiet the will of the flesh and strengthen your spiritual sensitivity to God. Does God hear and answer your prayer when you don’t fast? Absolutely. I am not suggesting that you can’t receive the plan of God for your year (or life) if you don’t fast. I am challenging you to couple your prayer with fasting, not out of church tradition, but because it enhances the communion between you and God. How you fast is between you and God, but choosing to fast is a commitment that God will honor. Don’t take my word for it – go for it!
Be Realistic – Sure, you can eat the elephant…just not all at once!
Great and incomprehensible has to become bite-sized and conceivable! One thing I love about God is His ability to suffer-long with us (patience), and His willingness to come down to our level (hence, Jesus). When you ask God for the vision, He is faithful not to short-circuit your brain and show you everything all at once. We just don’t have the capacity for that on this side of heaven! So, with the piece(s) that He does reveal regarding your vision for 2017, be sure to first write them down, and second, break them down!
The prophet Habakkuk penned God’s instruction to write the vision and make it plain so it can be easily read. Once you have identified the goal(s) you need to pursue to achieve that God-given vision for the year, write them down AND prioritize them. I know all too well the frustration and overwhelm that can come from an endless list of to-do’s haphazardly thrown together with no regard to the degree of importance or urgency. I do not want that for you and neither does your heavenly Father.
Next, break down those goals into next-steps. Set deadlines! Your overall goals should have target dates, and your next steps should include deadlines that will help you achieve that target date. What goes on the calendar gets done. Don’t be overly ambitious either—be realistic. This is a weakness for me. I always think I can accomplish more in a given time period than is really possible. Consider each of the goals you’ve identified in light of your life as it is right now.
Being realistic means eating that elephant one bite at a time. That first bite might just be one small change you commit to making this week. Followed by another small change you implement the following week. Track your progress as you go. We tend to forget about our small successes, then we get frustrated or discouraged and we quit. Recording your progress helps fuel longterm motivation.
For example, if one of your goals is to be healthier in 2017 (isn’t that on everyone’s list?), you might start with simply drinking more water every day. Set a daily goal, and master it by the end of the week. Next week, ditch a bad eating habit. If eating snacks of low nutritional value at night is your achilles heel, then work on eating nutrient dense snacks instead. The next week, work on eating nothing at all after a certain time in the evening. Small changes over time add up to major changes, which yield longer-lasting major results! We like to think we can consume all our favorite desserts, foods, and high calorie, high sugar beverages through the end of December, believing we’ll be able to just flip the switch to eating strictly healthy foods and drinking mostly water on January 1! Three weeks later we throw our hands in the air and declare the entire pursuit an impossible task! Sound familiar? Your goal may have nothing to do with health or fitness, but the concept is still the same. Declarations of major changes made all at one time simply do not stick. Behavioral changes, decision-making processes, creating good habits—these all take time to form, which leads to my next point.
Be Persistent – Hope got you started, Habit keeps you going.
Tenacity is a characteristic of great faith. You will need some ‘stick-to-it-iveness’ if you are going to see that vision come to pass! In Habakkuk 2:3 we are encouraged to exercise patience and persistence in manifesting the vision (wait for it, it will certainly come). I’ve often joked about the prayer closet phenomena that occurs in which you carry your wearied and burdened heart to Jesus, spend time exchanging all of that burden for His truth, His promises, His yoke, and then you throw open the door and take off feeling faster and stronger than Superman leaving a phone booth! Well, as you spend time in prayer asking God to give you a vision for 2017, I believe He will 1) give you a glimpse at the vision in full maturity, but leave you to seek Him daily for every step along the way, or 2) give you precise direction for your next steps along with a high level, slightly ambiguous view of the full vision. Of course, being God, He could reveal anything in between! I’m betting by the time you end your prayer and fasting, you will be super-charged and ready to go — the phone booth effect. The reason it is so very important to write down the vision, and write it in the simplest form, is so you won’t lose your way once your inner Superman transforms back into Clark Kent!