Sustaining Change

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:12-13

Do you know what’s significant about February 14? I’ll give you a hint – it has nothing to do with hearts, flowers and candy. Statistically, February 14 is the date at which 80% of all New Years’ resolutions are officially declared dead and forgotten. Stunning, isn’t it? Within seven weeks the goals we set to improve our lives each New Years are abandoned.

The problem isn’t that our resolutions are bad. It’s that change is hard, and it takes more than a goal and good intentions to make real, lasting change. Here’s some wisdom from St. Paul on staying committed to our goals.

Focus Forward. Just like running a race, if you want to cross the finish line of your goals you have to focus forward. That means letting go of the failures and setbacks we are bound to experience along the way. Holding onto them will merely slow our progress and discourage us. You’re forgiven. Move on.

Stay in the Word. Immersing ourselves daily in the story of God’s love revealed in Jesus grounds us in grace, reminding us that transformation is ultimately the Spirit’s work in us, not our work. The truth of God’s Word combats the voice of our inner critic who tells us that we are worthless failures and that we’ll never succeed. That’s a lie! The truth is, we can all things through Christ who strengthens us!

Surround yourself with the right community. The company we keep has an enormous impact on us, especially when we’re trying to make change in our lives. Some people will try to pull us back into old habits and old ways of being. But they will not help you move forward. So, surround yourself with people who will cheer you on! A healthy small group can be a tremendous asset when you’re trying to make change.

Finally, don’t give up; give it up!  It’s tempting to give up when things get tough, or when we’re having a bad day, or when we’ve failed and think, “Why bother?” But rather than give up, we’re called to “give it up”. That is to say, we’re called to surrender, to confess that we cannot change ourselves and admit that it is the power of the Spirit at work in us that ultimately changes us into the likeness of Christ.

Today isn’t February 14. Today isn’t the day to give up on the goals the Spirit has called you to. Today is the day to experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in your life. Press on!

Jeff Marian serves as lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN

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