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Resolutions that actually work...

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[[originally published on Dec 29, 2019]]

Talking about New Year’s Resolutions is like asking people about their retirement investments. You know you should do be doing it, but feel condemned for not doing it well...or at all. You are likely in the 38% of those who never set a resolution on January 1, or maybe you are part of the 24% who never sees success in the goals you do set. Either way, I know that just by bringing it up you are likely to groan and roll your eyes. I totally understand.

I’d like to help by letting you inside how I do this every year. I don’t do many things like a boss, but I do happen to consider myself a professional resolution administrator. I absolutely love new year resolutions. in fact, you can access our sermons and look the week before or after January 1 and I guarantee you’ll find a sermon preaching to the heart on the importance of intentional and resolved living in light of the Gospel’s freedom. That being said, I won’t go into that here. Here, I want to take you into the mechanics of how I have done it over the last several years to great profit. 

1. Spend adequate time reflecting on the last year?

Ask probing questions to get you thinking, like “What is the biggest highlight and win this year?” “Where did I repeatedly fail this year?” “If I could have changed anything about my life this last year, what would it have been?” “What is the greatest lesson I’ve learned this year?” If you want more great questions, check out what Justin Buzzard asks when he appraises a year already gone by. 

2. Establish what your roles are?

In other words, what are the lanes you drive in - in order. For me, I'm a Christian first, a husband second, a daddy third, and a pastor and church planter fourth. This is important because it helps you “shoebox” your life in a way that makes resolving life changes a bit easier.

3. Establish what your life’s mission may be and how you may be distinctly called.

I think it’s important for everyone to have a mission statement and a stated understanding of their calling. Now, the mission statement ought to sound just like Jesus’ Great Commission, so we’re not all distinct snowflakes in that regard. But, when it comes to your distinct calling you should expect to see a “bent” or “flavor” to how you want to live as a worshiping missionary on earth. For a great book on how to do this, check out Matt Perman’s What's Best Next.

4. Establish where you keep getting stuck.

Many of your resolutions will look like refurbished resolutions from last year, and that’s because you keep getting stuck in the same areas. Diet, prayer, giving, and other potholes keep finding you likely. This is an opportunity for you to spend time looking at (1) what you wrongly believe about God and (2) what you desire more than God. Knowing where you get stuck will greatly inform your goal setting and growth. For a fantastic resource on how to be fluent in why you sin in certain areas and how to be fluent in the Gospel, check out Jeff Vandersteldt teach Gospel Fluency. 

5. Develop good goals/resolutions according to your roles.

Armed with (1) why you keep gumming down in the same areas, (2) how you did this last year, and (3) what you are called to do here on earth, begin jotting down rough ideas of how you’d like to see changes within your distinct roles. For instance, I have resolved to parent my teenage daughter differently this year (daddy goal) and I have also resolved to tangibly thank people in small notes this year (pastor goal). Don’t think too hard, just start brainstorming.

6. Rewrite them several times to make them concise and crisp and honestly ask…

    1. Are they specific enough? This means instead of writing, “I need to be healthier” you instead write down “I need to lose 25 lbs this year.” You must define what the win is. Vague end zones provide no touchdowns.
    1. Are they measurable at all? How will you know if you have done well? You’ll need to bring a way to discern win over failure or else you’ll never see change that will satisfy, nor will you know if your goal was too easy. You must build your goals in a trackable format as best as possible.
    1. Are they attainable and realistic? Do your resolutions consider your ability and time? Are they do-able? Don’t write “I want to read 50 books this year” -  unless you understand that this means reading roughly 10,000 pages, which takes roughly 10 hours per week...gulp. Work backwards to see what a goal does to your calendar and assess whether it’s even doable. Resolutions should be something to stretch and strain towards, but not crushingly difficult or impossible.
    1. Are they time-bound? Also important is nailing a time down, or even breaking the year into seasons (trimester, quarter, etc…). A wise man once told me, “Don’t think of a marathon as a 26 mile race, think of it as 26 one mile races.” Makes sense.


7. Submit them to someone close and ask them to be brutally honest with you.

I have done this at great profit. Inevitably someone always picks up where I have over-reached on a goal or have an odd motive behind a goal. Maybe I have 3 goals for “pastor” for every one I have for “dad.” Not only can close community or a spouse de-bug our strategic growth strategy, they bring accountability to it.  This seems like an unnecessary step, but change is a community project.

8. Write them in a place where you can look them over often.

I currently use an app called Trello, but Google has a task function that I used for years. Google tasks also lets you import them into a calendar. It doesn’t really matter what you use to collate your resolved goals, but you should have them in a place you are already used to looking. I check mine most every Monday and use it to help drive my calendar for the next few weeks. Every leadership coach in the world says the same thing about good goal setting: Write. It. Down. 

Wanna see a pro do this. Check out Jonathan Edwards list of resolutions...it's inspiring. 

9. Re-assess how SMART the goals are on July 4th.

You guessed it, number 6 above spelled out the acronym SMART. Now you get to see how smart the goals really were. Every July 4th (about the middle of the year) I spend a few hours to re-assess my annual resolutions. Sometimes I find I was too aggressive, and sometimes I already met a goal because it was a bit too easy. So, I take this time to adjust the dial so come December 31st, I have a good chance of meeting the resolutions in a way that they serve me and help me grow.

10. Be patient and graceful, knowing you’ll fail many times

Seriously, you’re going to fail a ton when intentionally setting out to grow as a disciple. It will require a bunch of effort to break out of the patterns you're used to living easily. Breaking into a new rhythm and way of living is going to be difficult. Be ready for setbacks and handle yourself with grace because that is how Jesus handles your resolution failures.

I hope this helps you this year. Volumes can be written on goal setting by people more qualified than me, and as much as you may find failure in the goals you set this year, you statistically stand a 10x better chance of succeeding in them if you go through this process. Happy New Year!

Posted by Luke Thomas with
in MIsc

God Knows More Than You Do

God Knows More Than You Do

As we continue our journey through the difficult parts of scripture we’d all just rather ignore, I want to lead you through something you will rely on over and over and over again: God knows more than you do.

When you read that, I know you’re probably thinking that it’s obvious. I agree, it’s obvious. If there does exist a God who is omniscient, omni-present, and eternal, having created all things that exist, then it stands to reason He knows more than we do.

The concept is straightforward. But it feels impossible to trust in God’s wisdom when it goes against our deepest desires and we don’t understand why He commands something. In those times, the last thing we want to believe is that God knows more than we do. Let’s dig in.

Lot’s unconventional answer

If you’re familiar with the story of Lot, you know it involves a level of heartache we can’t begin to fathom. The man lost everything. He lost his family. He lost his belongings. He lost his health. He lost his reputation.

After losing everything, his so-called friends tell him it’s because he’s done something wrong, though they don’t make a very convincing argument. After losing everything, he can’t even call pity something to be grasped. What he gets instead is suspicion from his friends.

You know Lot was angry. You know he was disillusioned. You know He was looking for answers. If we’re completely honest, we have to admit that from our viewpoint, he was owed some answers. What happens when Lot demands those answers? God kicks off his response with:

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell me, if you know so much.

Job 38:2-4

Are you kidding me? God, you put Job through that much pain, and this is your answer? It turns out this answer is grace. God knows more than we do.

The thing is, we don’t always know why God does what He does. Our suffering does not only come because of sins we’ve committed. Otherwise, Jesus would not have suffered. Suffering and difficulty come for many reasons. Some of them we understand, and we’ll get to that in future posts.

For now, let’s pretend there are no helpful answers, though, because so often, it feels like there aren’t. I want to focus on the cases where all we have to go on is a trust that God knows more than we do … and that He’s good.

Abraham’s incomplete promise

God promised a great many things to Abraham if you read through Genesis. One thing you’ll notice, though, is that to a large extent Abraham never actually lived to see those promises fulfilled.

Even when [Abraham] reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. […] All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it.

Hebrews 11:9,13

God promises Abraham a land he can settle in and call “home.” Abraham leaves everything that was comfortable to travel there. And when he arrives? He’s forced to live like a homeless person, a foreigner who doesn’t belong. And when he died, there was no great nation. He and Sarah gave birth to a son he never thought would be born, true. But he was still essentially a foreigner, and there was no great nation.

Talk about disillusionment. God, you told me to go here, but all I see around me is confusion and chaos. I thought there’d be a paved pathway, but all I found was mud. You promised me something, but all I see are qualified successes, wins with an asterisk.

The purpose of Hebrews 11 is to highlight a lot of people who trusted God more than they trusted themselves. Though they never lived to see God’s promises completely fulfilled, they trusted Him. Though they got to their destinations and found mostly confusion, chaos, and disillusionment, they trusted Him. The root of this trust? They believed God knew more than they did … and that He is good.

When you cannot understand why

This is probably the hardest aspect of faith – when we cannot understand why. Trust is easy when we understand, but arguably, that isn’t even trust. We’re leaning on our own understanding at that point. When we don’t understand at all, however … trust isn’t so easy. When our deepest desires are in direct conflict with God’s direction, trust isn’t easy. When everything seems to call God a liar (and I promise you it will at times), trust isn’t easy.

The thing is, God knows more than you do. He’s weaving a tapestry, and our lives are the threads. We see only our threads and a few nearby, and to us it’s complete chaos. We can’t find the order in the things we see around us. But God knows more than we do. He knows how the suffering is used for good. He knows how the chaos fits together for something good.

I remember holding my son down for a breathing treatment in a hospital one time. Imagine it from his perspective though. I’m having trouble breathing. I’m terrified. I’m in an unfamiliar place. Someone I don’t know is strapping something to my face. And my dad? Someone I trust implicitly? He’s holding me down! From his perspective, it was only chaos and suffering. From my perspective, it was life-giving help.

We will be restless until we slow down and settle into the simple truth that God knows more than we do, and He’s good.

What does this look like for you? What has happened in your life that you cannot make sense of? What desires of yours come in direct conflict with God’s word, but you can’t for the life of you understand why? What is that area in your life where it seems everything is calling Him a liar?

We scream the question: Why, God?! Why?! And in that moment, the idea of trusting is so utterly foreign that we would never find it if it weren’t for a Holy Spirit who intervenes and reveals. Without God’s Spirit pulling our hearts to desire Him above all things, we would never find rest from our endless questions.

A reason to trust

Your situation is hard. I know this because mine is too. It’s hard. But it’s important to slow down and realize that hard … is OK. Those of us around you? We understand. Not entirely, no. But we understand. You aren’t alone.

And God? He understands more than any of us. He’s no stranger to suffering. Recall how we treat Him on a daily minute-by-minute basis. We ignore, we evade, we rebel, we distrust, and we accuse. Recall His patience while all of this is constantly happening. Recall that Jesus made Himself human and weak to prove to you He understands. Recall that moment Jesus felt His Father’s hatred directed right at Him for the sins you and I have done, when all He had known for eternity before that was the deepest intimacy imaginable. Recall that He did this from a glad heart that is full of love for you.

He is a faithful and understanding God. He is a near God. He is a powerful God. He is a good God. He is a wise God. If He can turn Jesus’s death into the most beautiful gift ever known, He can turn your suffering into good as well. How will He do it? We often never know. But we can trust that He will.

As you read through scripture, you’ll ask at times how God can be powerful, just, and good at the same time. The gospel is all the fuel you need for this. You will encounter many times when you do not understand the why or the how. That’s OK. When we do not understand, we trust. Not blindly. We trust because this is the same God who sacrificed everything for us while we were at our worst.

Posted by Matt Norman with

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