I don’t know if people are doing this where you live, but I’m seeing a lot of posts on Facebook choosing one word to characterize a person’s New Year’s resolutions moving into 2020. I’ve seen words like “strength,” “forgiveness,” “joy,” etc. Comment below and let me know what your word for this year will be. (No affiliate links below.)
My word is “less.”
- Less weight as I continue my get-back-in-shape journey.
- Less stuff as Dad and I keep going through the house (& storage garage), organizing and downsizing.
- Less direct responsibilities in my church position as I recruit and develop leadership teams for major events.
- Less Parent Road Ministries responsibilities as we find good partners with whom we are well suited. (THANK YOU to Hope who does our social media, T&S Online Marketing who designed our website & continues to design promotional materials, ITG-Creative who keeps up our website, and Book Art Press who helps with publishing, marketing, and promotions.)
- Less focus on myself, my problems, and my insecurities as I increase the time spent with my Lord and Savior.
- Less “stuff” choking out what’s really important.
- Less items on my priority list.
That last one seems a little counter-intuitive, but it encompasses every item on that list. Let me try to explain by sharing part of my journey with you.
Do It All!
Here’s the deal. I love to learn and do lots of things. Really, I want to do it all. However, when I do, I feel very scattered, stressed, and I don’t do a good job with any of them.
In the last several years, God’s been convicting me about burning the candle at both ends. I try to do too much and then I end up exhausted, sick, crabby, and no good to anyone. (Please tell me I’m not the only one.)
Then I stumbled across Rhythms of Rest by Shelly Miller. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend it. Just know as you start that she goes at an intentionally slower pace. It’s frustrating if you go in with a go-go-go mindset. Give her time. She’ll get to the point and you’ll be richer for the journey.
Shelly’s book hit me between the eyes. She describes a very challenging time in her life where God was not clear what He wanted her and her family to do. She and her husband learned some hard lessons while they were in limbo. The main one was this: Rest in God.
It’s not your busy-ness that pleases God. You can’t come to Him at the end of the day, rattle off all you’ve accomplished and expect Him to be pleased with you.
“For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Isaiah 54:6 (NASB)
It’s not what we do that pleases God, it’s the state of our hearts.
38 Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:38-42 (NASB)
Don’t get me wrong. God is clear that we should work hard.
8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; 9 not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. 10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.
2 Thessalonians 3:8-10 (NASB)
Here’s the point: I was so busy doing things for God that I wasn’t spending time with Him.
Then I started trying to implement Sabbath rest into my life. I worked hard and long for six days a week, then tried to take a day off.
It wasn’t perfect.
It wasn’t always a full day.
It wasn’t Sundays (I work/serve on staff at the church on Sundays) or even the same day each week.
Some weeks I didn’t get a rest time (and I missed it!).
I still got sick from overwork and not enough sleep.
But I tried. And my health (and attitude) began to slowly improve.
As I tried, I continued reading books about the Sabbath. Then I expanded to include more books about spiritual growth. There I learned God had much more to teach me.
Do you prayer seriously? Do I?
As part of my schooling, I read a biography of George Müller. (If you’re not familiar with him, check out this blog post.) The faith and prayer life of George Müller continues to challenge me.
Did I pray specifically? Did I look for God’s answers to my prayers, expecting to see them? Did I really believe that God would answer my specific requests?
I knew God answers prayers. I have always been firmly convinced of that face and could name several times in my life, God answered prayer. But, did I think deep down that this was the norm or only an occasional thing? It was convicting.
I was also convicted by the vast amounts of time “spiritual giants” of history spent in Bible reading and prayer.
Here’s my first reaction: “But I’ve got so much to do! There’s no way I can spend hours in Bible reading and prayer.” (Did anyone else ever think that or was it just me?)
Then the Holy Spirit checked me. How much time was I spending in prayer and Bible study? Not preparing a lesson, but intentionally seeking God’s face. Not much. Some days, none at all. It was a sobering realization. Something had to change.
So I did change. I began spending intentional time in prayer and Bible reading. Again, it wasn’t perfect, and there were some days I missed, but I missed it and could tell when I’d not spent time with my Lord before the day began.
Developing a Strategy
Since I wanted to prioritize my time with God, I needed a plan.
I’ve always been interested in how to do things better and more efficiently. You could say I fit right in with today’s busy-busy culture. I love looking at the “day in the life” YouTube videos, especially of successful people and writers.
I also latched onto books like The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Atomic Habits by James Clear. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these types of books (see the discussion of work above), but we need to be careful about our focus. That’s what tripped me up.
I became so focused on how to squeeze everything into my day that I missed the point. I want to make each day an act of worship, not just the time I spend with God in the mornings.
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Romans 12:1-2 (NASB)
I had myself so tightly scheduled that I only had snippets of time to do the things on my list. Priorities got less and less time as I tried to squeeze in one more “important thing.”
I watched a video about Warren Buffett’s advice to focus only on your top 5 priorities. I thought that was good advice (and still do), but I struggled to pick my top five things. Did things like “time with God” count, or was that a daily routine that doesn’t count as one of the five?
Questions like these led me to once again overcommit and overschedule myself. My days once again became stressful, busy-focused, and long. My Sabbath days often became catch up days instead. Not good.
That leads me to change once again. This time I’m sharing it with you to hold myself accountable.
Less is more.
I’ve learned many things about myself on this journey.
- I like the sense of accomplishment at finishing a task more than I like doing a lot of things.
- I need a “reset day” (Sabbath) to keep my heart and mind focused on Christ. It also greatly helps my stress, health, and attitude when I have unscheduled space to breathe.
- I work harder the other six days knowing that I have a day off coming.
- Going through boxes and putting the house in order is not restful (quite the opposite) and shouldn’t be part of my Sabbath day.
- Doing service projects and things with friends and family are fun and can be part of my rest day as long as I also have some time to myself.
- I need significant time to pray and study the Bible. It helps me turn my fears over to the Lord and grow spiritually. It makes me a better teacher and leader. It greatly impacts my attitude and mindset throughout the day.
- I need significant blocks of time to write. It takes time to get into it, and then I get on a roll.
- It really is ok to say, “no.”
- It’s hard to limit myself to studying one topic at a time, but I make much better progress (see #1) if I do. I can keep an audiobook that’s off-topic in my playlist for when I need a break.
As I move into 2020, I’ve streamlined my priorities list. I’ve streamlined the expectations I’ve put on myself. I’m going to keep the first things first (i.e., time with God). I’m going to see how God will use me in 2020.
Most of all, I’m going to listen to what God has to teach me next.
What is God teaching you?
- New Year’s Resolution Prayer for Kids
- How Would God Change Your New Year’s Resolutions?
- Tips for At-Home Family Bible Study
- How Do Christians Live “Inside Out”?
- Fixing Faulty Thinking
- Don’t Give Up! Part 1