Embracing New Patterns of Living for the Glory of God
By JASMIN HOWELL
…Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…
Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV
Excitement kindled in my heart as I walked up to my front door and saw the much-anticipated package leaning against the frame. I had been waiting a few weeks for it to arrive, although it had really been years of anticipation. For years I had been scoping out the website and following the blog of the product creator. Feeling twinges of excitement, I quickly dismissed them as silly whimsy … yet, the desire and excitement lingered … just below the surface of my fear and insecurity.
I whisked the package inside and promptly opened it. There it was, wrapped carefully in a plastic sleeve, my long-awaited goal planner. Tears of hopeful anticipation formed in the corners of my eyes and … I actually hugged it. Yep, I gave my goal planner a bear hug. I promptly poured myself a mid-afternoon coffee and plopped down in my favorite chair to have a look.
Why all the excitement about a goal planner? I had wanted to order one every year for the past four years, but every year I stopped short. I would add the goal planner to my virtual shopping cart and then shake my head, shut my laptop, and dismiss the idea for another year. Why?
I don’t have a great track record with consistency. I can’t even tell you the number of times I started a plan to “Read the Bible in a Year” and didn’t get past Deuteronomy. Not to mention the number of songs I had left half-written, the works of writing that were incomplete years later, the half-sewn quilts, the number of healthy-eating regimens and fitness goals I made and never achieved, the neglected budget … this pattern in my life tempted me towards discouragement. Maybe I couldn’t change.
And yet … there was a stirring in my soul, put there by the Lord, to allow Him to create something new in me! So the next time I went onto the website to scope out the goal planner, I added it to my cart, completed the purchase, and waited in hopeful expectation for its arrival. More than my excitement for the beautifully-designed planner, I was excited about what it might represent in my life: a long-awaited shift in the patterns of how I live my life.
Maybe you also entered this year or a new season longing for a change in patterns that are hindering growth in your life and in your walk with the Lord. There are a few key truths that can help set us on the right path to creating new patterns of living, and — though this isn’t a step-by-step guide by any means — I hope these concepts that God has been cultivating in my life can give you the same kind of hope that’s been rising up in me.
And the good news? You don’t even need a pretty goal planner (but I’m still pretty excited about mine)! You can use a notepad, the blank pages in the back of your Bible, the memo feature on your phone, a whiteboard marker on your bathroom mirror — whatever will keep your desired goals in front of your eyes! And remember: “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps” (Prov. 16:9 NLT). This is a great encouragement to me: as I take steps to shift the ineffective patterns and habits of my life — seeking to honor Him — He will continue to direct and guide me in them.
The following are a few steps that Lord has been taking me through in my journey to “cast aside what hinders.”
Acknowledge What Hinders
We all have the tendency to put ourselves in a box of restrictions based on hindrances in our lives — whether perceived or real — such as personality type, strengths or weaknesses, physical limitations, or fear.
The first page of my goal planner asked me to write down what hindered me most in reaching my goals. I began to write things down as the Lord brought them to mind: I struggled to create (and stick to) good routines in my life; I expected perfection from myself and became easily discouraged when I came up against my own weaknesses; I battled against giving in to discouragement; I wanted to quit when I came upon a difficulty I had not anticipated.
But these hindrances that I identified were based on human weakness and limitations and had absolutely nothing to do with the amazing, life-changing power of Christ! He was not hindered by anything! As I looked at the list I had written, I felt the Lord instruct me to throw off these things and run the race with my eyes fixed on Jesus, instead of my natural tendencies. (See Hebrews 12:1-2.) With His help and grace, I could grow in these areas!
What is hindering you? Write down what the Lord brings to mind, and move forward with the confidence that He can teach you how to overcome your fleshly patterns and habits, and create new ones that reflect His power at work in you!
In Matthew 16:24 Jesus says to His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (ESV). The Greek translation for “deny yourself” means, “to disregard your own interests or to prove false to yourself; act entirely unlike yourself.” When I stumbled upon this definition, I was inspired! As I flipped through the next few pages of the goal planner my heart fluttered with excitement! Page after beautiful page called out to be filled up with dreams, short and long-term goals, and simple steps that I could take to make progress in areas of both strength and weakness.
The first goal I wrote down was to establish healthy daily routines for myself and my family, such as consistent mealtimes, patterns for cleaning the house, etc. I do not naturally fall into consistent routines. For years, I have just categorized this as a personality trait. I am fun and spontaneous! I like surprises and change! And running my home on spontaneity and surprise has been my mode for years. It’s been pretty fun. But it’s also been a bit chaotic. Lately, both my husband and I have been really yearning for a deeper sense of focus and purpose in the way we live. He is more inclined to predictable routines than I am, but, as I manage most of the daily activities for our home, carrying out healthy and predictable routines for this season of our life is largely my responsibility. And I’m not very good at it!
However, the Lord is encouraging my heart to put aside the excuse of “personality” and dig deeper into His abiding life which can help me do what I am not naturally inclined to do — for His glory and for mine and my family’s benefit. By the power of Christ I can deny myself, disregard my own tendencies, and live in a way that is unlike myself … and more like Him.
To follow Christ, our natural tendencies and inclinations must take a backseat to our obedience to Christ. He must increase in our lives and we must decrease. (See John 3:30.) This constant exchange is how we grow in the Lord.
Take a Small Step Forward
I love stories of transformed lives. And in particular, the stories of Christians whose lives have been radically shifted and changed by the Lord shaping a new and vibrant work in their hearts. It excites and inspires me.
But these leaps of faith, growth, and change start with one small step.
Looking at the big picture can be overwhelming. If you are like me and tend to be easily discouraged by your lack of progress, then just take the next step that you know is in front of you. Don’t worry about the next ten steps or even the next two, just take one small step in the right direction. A life of faithfulness — one small step at a time — is the life we can each live by God’s grace. And it’s amazing what fruit can be produced by small steps of faithful living.
I have written down a few larger goals in my pretty planner, but even more important is breaking down the individual small steps that I will need to take day-by-day to see progress made. My goal of establishing consistent routines for myself and my family will not be accomplished overnight, or even in a week or month. It takes time and consistency to see a shift in patterns and habits. It will take time to figure out what shape these routines should take, and then it will take time to put them into practice, and take further time to see the results of that work. But I can start each day asking the Lord to help me and then trust that, “The one who calls [me] is faithful, and He will do it” (1 Thes. 5:24 NIV).
Trust in His Ability
Maybe as you read this you consider yourself beyond renewal, prone to live in certain patterns, and discouraged by your own inadequacies. (I’ve been there too!) The Lord says to each of us, “…I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland” (Is. 43:19 NLT). Your Savior is the Master of NEW things, so there is boundless hope for Him to do a new work in each of us — and not just once, but continually — regardless of our old habits and patterns! The moment we have the Spirit living in us, we will begin to yearn for the characteristics of Christlike-ness to be formed in us. Thankfully, the living out of these characteristics is not left up to us, but is carried out by His indwelling life. HE can do what we cannot.
What hinders you is likely different from what hinders me. Your goals and dreams are probably different too. And the habits and patterns that God is wanting to reshape in your life are unique to your situation. But if God is stirring your heart to make changes in any area, know that He will not ask you to throw off what hinders you without also equipping you to do so. As Amy Carmichael said, “God delights to meet the faith of one who looks up to Him and says, ‘Lord, You know that I cannot do this — but I believe that You can!’” Let us also cling to that truth as we press forward acknowledging our hindrances, denying ourselves, and taking small steps forward into new patterns of living, by His grace!