2020 Vision

Without glasses or contacts, my vision is not good. I’ve actually had poor vision since the 6th grade. Even with corrective eyewear, I’ll never have 2020 vision with my eyesight nor will my eyesight ever improve to the point of not needing correction.

The same is true for my spiritual vision. It’s not perfect, and it needs help improving. As in previous years, improving my spiritual vision is integrated into my New Year’s resolutions again this year. One Bible verse – Proverbs 29:18 – in particular is directing me in this resolve for 2020.

This verse provides a couple of points of reference for me as I sculpt my resolutions for 2020.

  1. I need revelation/divine guidance/vision in order to have self-control.
  2. I will be blessed/joyful/happy when I obey what God says in his word.

With these in mind, I refuse to rush making my resolutions. I’m praying throughout the process to make sure they line up with God’s word and his will for my life.

If you are making (or have made) New Year’s resolutions for 2020, have you sought divine guidance? Have you made sure your resolutions line up with God’s word? If not, it’s not to late to do so.

Resolutions don’t have to be made before the new year begins, nor are they set in stone after it starts. Feel free to adjust them as the year progresses and the Holy Spirit leads. Put them somewhere you’ll see them often. Then, review them for the purpose of refocusing through prayer. Let the Lord direct your steps.

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

New Year’s Resolutions

Approaches to Making Resolutions

Every year I debate whether or not I should make New Year’s resolutions. This debate involves considering various approaches such as:

It also includes asking those closest to me if they’re making any resolutions. If they are, I ask them to share their goals with me and to tell me what they think of mine.

My debate also involves considering the reasons why many people choose to NOT MAKE resolutions. I don’t mean those who are just too lazy to set goals; I’m referring to people who deliberately choose not to set them and to either abstain altogether or take a non-traditional approach.

One approach is advocated by Pocket Mindfulness who explains Why You Should Not Set New Year’s Resolutions and What to Do Instead. It advocates:

“Rather than rushing forward in a panic to set resolutions or a list of goals you can start on New Year’s Day, forget all that and enter the New Year in a mode of being absolutely present, and absolutely positive, about how great [the coming year] is going to be.”

Another example comes from Tim Ferriss who recommends that we Forget New Year’s Resolutions and Conduct a ‘Past Year Review’ Instead. There’s also the approach of Georgia Bloomberg, professional equestrian and philanthropist, who says:

“I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. I think if you want to change something, change it today and don’t wait until the New Year.”

I don’t disagree with Bloomberg, though I do think there’s value in including New Year’s resolutions in the process of change if only as a review as Ferriss recommends. Finally, simply determining to be “absolutely present, and absolutely positive” just doesn’t have enough substance for me.

Why I Make Resolutions

For the last 10 years or so, I’ve decided to make resolutions of some sort for the coming year. Ultimately, I make this decision because I can’t get past the success doing so has brought me. Not a perfect record. Not even close. Yet, far more progress with resolutions than without them.

I also make them because they have brought me closer to God and increasingly into His will. Plus, the Bible encourages the sort of self-reflection and examination that come with the process of making resolutions.

“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:40)

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Simply put, making resolutions at the end/beginning of each year just reminds me to:

  1. Regularly go through this process of examination and renewal.
  2. Keep making progress toward perfection.
  3. Remember that I cannot make that progress on my own.

2020 Resolutions

In my yearly conversation over whether or not to make resolutions, I decided to make them for 2020. Doing so this year involves combining the approaches I’ve mentioned above with what has worked well for me in past years. That includes doing the following:

  • I am reflecting and looking for areas of weaknesses as well as strengths to improve upon.
  • My reflections are extending beyond 2019 and into the entire past decade.
  • Each resolution involves focusing on being absolutely present and more positive.
  • The “One-Word 365” approach can be expanded with multiple words that collaborate toward a resolution philosophy for the year.

Perhaps you’ve also noted that this reflection about New Year’s resolutions comes after the new year has already begun. My resolutions are not fully developed yet. This brings in a significant lesson I’ve learned over my many years of making resolutions: Don’t force them. Instead, pray about them. Reflect on them. Let the Holy Spirit lead you down the path of God’s will.

Weight Training

Weight training makes you stronger, but too much weight can injure you. Even carrying a weight you’re strong enough to lift can injure you if you carry it for too long.

Also, it’s not always what you carry that is too much weight. It’s often how you carry it that causes problems. Anyone who exercises much knows how important form is for preventing injury.

When we think of our spiritual lives, we understand that carrying weight we shouldn’t involves carrying negative things like unforgiveness and worry. We can’t forget, though, that a weight can also be any distraction that keeps us from obedience and hearing from God.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, 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.” (Hebrews 12:1)

This verse speaks to perseverance, both our own and the examples of the many who have gone before us. It also speaks to getting rid of that which weighs us down and hinders our ability to persevere.

Throwing off a weight can mean putting it down and moving forward without it. But that’s not always what it means. It can also mean increasing our fitness, so a weight is no longer a hindrance.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” (C.S. Lewis)

 “You will find that it is necessary to let things go simply because they are heavy.” (C. JoyBell C.)

Sometimes, yes, you need to completely put down anything that keeps you from running the race God has marked out for you. Put it down and never pick it up again.

At the same time, realize that sometimes you need to get stronger, so you can carry the weight. As you do, it will eventually not be an entanglement. How? Check out these verses about spiritual growth to go deeper on this topic.

Transition in Change

Transition vs. Change

Though often used as synonyms, transition and change are not the same.

  • Change is situational.
  • Transition is psychological & requires “inner reorientation.”
  • Change is inevitable; transition is not.
  • We have to go through change.
  • We do not have to transition.

In other words, to quote William Bridges, author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes

“Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture.”

To further our understanding of the difference between change and transition, let’s look at a couple of examples from Scripture.

Example 1: The Israelites changed, but they didn’t transition. They wandered around the desert for 40 years because they refused to transition. They even expressed a desire to go back to captivity, to the way things were. (See Numbers 13 & 14)

What might this resistance to transition look like today?

  • Trying to control everyone and everything
  • Struggling with depression
  • Struggling with anxiety
  • Exhibiting self-destructive behavior
  • Hurting others
  • Feeling stuck

Example 2: The Apostle Paul changed AND transitioned. He also showed us that doing so is learned; it’s a process.

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11)

Paul went from being a persecutor of Christians to a promoter of the Gospel. Within his writings throughout the New Testament, we discover a man who not only changed because of an encounter with Christ but who also continually transitioned well from that point forward.

The process involves small steps taken over time that add up to make a big difference. In other words, it’s about living a life of making progress toward perfection. Transitioning within change is a required part of that process.

Refining & Pruning

God wants to both change & transition us. He is the author of this process.

“I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.'” (Zechariah 13:9)

“These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7)

“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:2)

When something is refined, it becomes a purified precious metal. When something is pruned, it produces a more plentiful crop. For us, this is a painful process but one necessary for growth, which comes only through transition.

A Transitioning Mindset

If you think you’re ready for change, you may be right. The real question is, are you ready to transition? No matter how ready I thought I was (e.g., empty nest), I was always wrong about what it would mean to transition and how ready I thought I was to do so.

What I’ve realized, though, is that if we we’re always ready and perfectly prepared for change, how would we learn trust God? We wouldn’t need the refining and pruning process where we learn contentment regardless of circumstances if we could prepare ourselves for growth on our own. In other words, the painful process of transitioning in change is the process required for growth.

We can, however, establish a transitioning mindset that at least minimizes our resistance to the work of transition God wants us to do in our lives. It leads us to a place of least resistance. We create a transitioning mindset when we take on the perspective of Job.

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)

Scripture expresses this same sentiment in other ways, the most well-known being Proverbs 16:9.

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps and makes them sure.” (Proverbs 16:9)

Healthy Change involves learning contentment and establishing our stability on Christ and all that he has done for us. This requires that we learn to transition (progress) as we are pruned and refined through all that life brings our way.

What should WE do?

Sometimes I read the Bible and struggle with knowing how to apply it to my life. That doesn’t happen with Luke 3:7-14.

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

After John exhorts the people to basically live like they’ve been redeemed, the crowd wants to know what’s next. John then gives them very specific examples of how to produce the fruit of a repentant person, and he does so through three different groups of people.

  1. Be generous.
  2. Be honest
  3. Be content.

What’s especially interesting is that these three directives are the activity for us as Christians still today. In other words, any life dedicated to Christ will be on filled with generosity, honesty, and contentment.

Is yours?

A Simple Approach to Bible Study

Take a few minutes to read through Philippians 4 with the purpose of answering one, simple question:

How does it apply to me?

Don’t worry about getting deeply spiritual or even too specific. Just use the words given to list points of application.

Assuming you’ve made your list, compare it to the one I’ve made. Think of this like what you might discuss as you sit with a group of friends discussing God’s word.

  1. Stop worrying.
  2. Be full of joy in the Lord.
  3. Pray about everything.
  4. Fix your thoughts.
  5. Put God’s truth into action.
  6. Follow Godly examples.
  7. Let God’s peace reign.
  8. Learn to be happy regardless of circumstances.
  9. Christ gives the strength you need, sometimes through others.
  10. God meets every need.

This simple activity is a great way to begin discussing Scripture with friends. Add in asking “What does it say?” (looking at context) and “What does it mean?” (bringing in other Scripture), and it won’t take long before the Bible comes alive like never before for you.

IN Not OF the World

While not a direct quote, quite a few verses in the Bible focus on what it means to be IN the world but not OF the world.

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (John 17:14-16)

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” (1 John 2:15)

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11)

IN the world but not OF the word means…

  • Being chosen by Christ
  • Being hated by the world
  • Being protected by God
  • Not being attached to the things of the world
  • Not associating with those who call themselves Christian but who live like the world

Essentially, IN not OF the world means pursuing God’s will and not conforming to the world’s patterns or ways of doing things.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Two definitions at this point are helpful.

  1. The world = the world system and philosophy headed by Satan.
  2. Conform = act in accordance or harmony; comply; act in agreement with the prevailing standards, attitudes, practices, etc.

These definitions help bring an even deeper understanding of what being IN not OF the world means for Christians.

Conforming to the world makes you an enemy of God.

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

Being transformed to God’s will, however, puts you in a place of victory over Satan and the world.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Being transformed puts you in a place where you can receive that which the world cannot give.

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11)

No Middle Ground

How do we open ourselves up to the transformation that involves mind renewal and being on the path to God’s will?

  1. Recognize the enemy. (Ephesians 6:12)
  2. Rely on God’s power. (Romans 8:37)
  3. Overcome by the blood. (Revelation 12:11)
  4. Choose to be separate. (2 Corinthians 6:17)

We must choose to step out of the “course of the world” (Ephesians 2:25). To not do so, to take no action either way, is to choose conformity to the world. There is no middle ground.

Overcoming Discouragement

Discouragement happens for a variety of reasons. Maybe that’s why it’s addressed so frequently in the Bible.

  • Job was discouraged because of his family and friends. (Book of Job)
  • Elijah became discouraged after a huge victory. (1 Kings 19)
  • Jeremiah was discouraged with God. (Lamentations 3)
  • Jesus’s disciples were discouraged after his death. (Luke 24:20-21)
  • Peter was discouraged with himself. (Matthew 26)

The insight gained from these individuals along with other Scripture gives us valuable instruction for dealing with our own discouragement.

Honestly acknowledge feelings. This happens with all of the individuals listed above. Being honest with yourself is crucial for opening your mind and spirit to encouragement and hope. In fact, it may just be the first requirement for transitioning from being discouraged to being encouraged.

Take care of yourself physically. God sets the example for this with Elijah. Before addressing Elijah’s discouragement, God makes sure Elijah is nourished, hydrated, and rested. We simply cannot overcome discouragement without taking care of ourselves physically too.

Think about what you’re thinking about. Both Jeremiah and Elijah do this, and we are encouraged to do so as well both through their examples and through other Scripture that addresses our thought lives.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Retrain your brain. This is especially important if discouragement has become like a shadow. Retraining your brain essentially involves cleaning out unhelpful thought patterns and replacing them with ones that promote growth and open you up to encouragement.

A mindset that is able to ward off continued discouragement is one that acknowledges and accepts that life is hard and that focuses on knowing that God will create value and purpose out of what you’re going through.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-18)

“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14)

Press in close to God. Life is hard. People disappoint. And, God’s ways aren’t always clear or make sense. Pressing close to God acknowledges your trust in him regardless of circumstances.

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” (Nahum 1:7)

Chase out negative feelings. Getting rid of negativity is important, but it only works long term if we replace it with thankfulness.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

When I get discouraged, I revisit the stories in the Bible of others who also experienced discouragement as well as the many verses that speak to how to defeat a mindset of discouragement. Doing so reminds me of God’s activity as well as gives me specific ways to move away from a mindset of negativity and discouragement and toward one of hope and peace in Him.

Do Your Part

When I think of interacting with difficult people, my first instinct is to avoid them. Sometimes, when I feel especially unable to respond well, I actively shut them out even if we’re in the same room. While this may be necessary from time to time (it’s sometimes better to say nothing than to say something hurtful), it’s not a healthy long-term approach. So, what is?

“Do your part to live at peace with everyone, as much as it is possible.” (Romans 12:18)

Between the lines of this verse is the idea that I can only do my part and that living in peace with others is not fully up to me. The next natural question for me, then, is… What exactly is my part?

The four verses just before Romans 12:18 provide some answers.

  1. Bless others even if they’re difficult. (v. 14)
  2. Share with others in good and bad times. (v. 15)
  3. Don’t let pride get in the way. (v. 16)
  4. Always do what is right. (v. 17)

The three verses after Romans 12:18 give even more direction.

  1. Let God right any wrongs. (v. 19)
  2. Meet others needs, even the needs of difficult people. (v. 20)
  3. Doing good is a weapon. (v. 21)

God’s word is clear about how we should treat those who are difficult to treat well. These instructions help me want to please God with the way I treat difficult people.

After all, I cannot control others. My job is to do “my part.” I’ve made the decision once again to not let others decide what that part is but to instead let it be defined by God.

Setting the Example

Examples other people set these days discourage me. In all transparency, the example I set myself often discourages me too. Standards of character and quality seem so low sometimes, and so many people, myself included, seem to often settle for so much less than their best.

Just when I wonder if any solid examples exist, I recall the many people in the Bible who encourage me. In Philippians 2, for instance, Paul both tells us how to live and gives us examples of others to follow.

  • Timothy – Genuine friendship
  • Epaphroditus – Faithfulness and courage
  • Christ – Unity & humility

Paul’s letter encourages me to not only follow the examples set by Timothy, Epaphroditus, and especially Christ, but to also:

  1. Be humble.
  2. Be interested in others.
  3. Stop complaining about others.
  4. Have the attitude of Christ.
  5. Hold tightly to God’s word.
  6. Purpose to be a Godly example.

The Bible is filled with examples of those we can follow as we pursue holiness. Only one, Christ, gives a perfect example, but many others provide examples worthy of following.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)