A few days into the New Year, people have already bailed on many of their resolutions and goals. It’s because we are not good at changing ourselves. Our good intentions do not result in the life change that we’re looking for.
There’s good news, though. There are a few simple practices that will make this year a good one, even if our record at self-improvement isn’t that great.
Here are five practices that you can implement that will make a big difference in your spiritual life.
One: Find and attend a good church. By “good church” I mean one that majors on who Jesus is and what he has done to make us right with God. If you find one that focuses on Jesus and the gospel — about what he has done to make us right with God more than on what we must do —plug in there and get involved. Don’t just attend occasionally. Be intentional about getting involved. It will sometimes be hard, just like family, but it’s worth it.
Two: Get into the Bible. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many people don’t read the Bible. Find a good reading plan, and make sure that it’s so simple that you can’t help but follow it. Right now I’m using a two-year plan using the Gospel Transformation Bible. I’ve read the Bible in one year before, but I’m really enjoying the slower pace. Find a plan that works for you, and read a good Bible with notes (like the one I mentioned) that will help you understand what you’re reading.
Three: Be honest in your prayers. A lot of us struggle to pray because we think we have to be someone that we aren’t. The good news is that in prayer, we don’t have to pretend before God. We can come with our doubts, struggles, questions, and fears. Don’t wait until you’re holy to pray; start where you are. Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel write:
Everything that comes out of our hearts in the presence of the Lord is an invitation to be known by him. Whether it is fear, shame, pride, anxiety, or even lust, our call is to open those things before him and receive redemption as those who desperately need it. In prayer we come to fully understand the nature of our redemption; prayer is the place where we become truly known by God. (Beloved Dust)
Four: Tell somebody who knows the gospel about your deepest sins and struggles. If you’re like me, you tend to struggle alone. The problem is that sin is like mushrooms: it grows best in the dark. Find someone safe who understands the gospel, and share your sins and your struggles. Resolve to end the secrecy in your life. One of the best books I’ve read on this subject for men is Samson and the Pirate Monks. Read it and practice it. The gospel means that we don’t have to pose or pretend.
Five: Major in the gospel. The gospel will always be counterintuitive no matter how long we live. That’s why it’s important to continually right ourselves by majoring in the gospel. Make sure you attend a church that regularly talks about the gospel (see the first practice). Read blogs that talk about the gospel. Read books like Gospel by J.D. Greear or New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp. Do whatever it takes to soak yourself in the gospel all year long.
These five practices are the opposite of self-improvement. They are all admissions of sorts that we need help outside of ourselves, and they all point us to the help that is readily available to us through Jesus.