I have a paper in my files from Ray Ortlund on how to grow in 2013. Oh, it feels so long ago now! In that paper Ray says,
“One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on . . .” (Philippians 3:13-14). That is the radical new drive the grace of God creates in a man. And it is such men who change the world.
Most of us want to grow. We are dissatisfied with some part of our life. Some of us are dissatisfied with most parts of our life. We can take one of two paths. We can just settle into the "this is as good as it gets" mindset, or we can plan to grow.
A new year creates new expectations. Even if you're among the "I don't do new year's resolutions" crowd, you're still hoping for something in the new year. If you're not, you've given up on life - and very few of us have done that.
So what does a healthy path forward look like? How can we set out to grow without overwhelming ourselves? How can we formulate achievable goals and stay on track?
- Be realistic yet ambitious.
- Be in community.
Be realistic yet ambitious
You need a plan. It needs to include things you're not already doing but want to. It also needs to include good things you're already doing, but just take it up a notch. Don't put down "Read 100 books" if you struggle to read two a year. But maybe reading four books, each on a different topic, would be realistic.
Let this plan stretch you. Like a good workout, a plan is good when you're a little sore at the end. If you're not setting out to make sacrifices in the new year, you're not going to stumble into them. No one gets up early on accident every day and finds themselves reading the Bible. We plan for that.
So what are you doing that you want to continue? What are you not doing that you feel the Lord would be pleased with? Write it down. Pray over it. Talk to your spouse and friends about it.
Start with celebrating your wins for the year. What went well? What did you accomplish? This not only helps you rejoice over the good things in your life but also shows you areas God has his hand on. Maybe you realized this year a new gift, a new way to serve, a new insight into your life. Cling to those and recognize the Lord's kindness in them.
Then move on to your failures. Don't let them crush you, but see them as one of two things: either an opportunity to trust the Lord and press on or as areas of weakness that you need to leave behind. It is ok to fail in life. If we never fail we aren't trying. Bring your failures to the Lord and ask him what to do with them. He will answer.
Evaluate the whole of your life. Where are you in your life stage? If you have very young children your time will be limited. You can't do as much as you want to at a personal level, and your goals need to reflect that. Focus on what you can do as a spouse and parent. What is God calling you to in this particular season? One day the kids will be gone and you can pursue that hobby or take that trip or invest in that cause. Maybe the best thing you can do in the new year is plan for family worship, discipleship of your children, intimacy with your spouse. God has you here in this season for a purpose. Seek him in it.
Be in community
You will fail if you are alone. We simply can't do much left to ourselves. Maybe you should make one goal to meet with a friend on a regular basis to talk about life. Include your growth plan in that. Hold one another accountable. Encourage one another. Help one another.
The point of a growth plan isn't purely selfish. We want to grow, but if we want to grow only for ourselves, God won't bless it. So put down some goals that you can't achieve without others.
Keep it simple
The best growth plans are simple and realistic. So maybe you break it down into four categories:
Plan to grow in the gospel. Read the entire Bible cover to cover. Read gospel-centered books. Listen to sermons on the way to work or around the house. Intentionally set the gospel before your eyes and ears throughout the year so that your heart grows warm toward Christ.
Join a church. Start a small group. Invite people into your home. Gather people for a cause. Pray for people. Ask people how they are. Become a good listener.
Meet your neighbors. Pray for an unbelieving friend. Share the gospel. Start a bible study in your neighborhood. Serve the community.
Disciple someone. Use your influence to invite people to church. Use God's gifts in your life to teach someone something
The point is you can grow. God did not create us for boring lives. What is he calling you to next year? In his power go after it. Day by faithful day God will use us to conform the world to his image.