For people in our part of the world, January is a bit of a pause period. Harvest is finished, and you are catching up on other jobs to tide things over for going away for a few weeks break. It’s the time when you begin counting down the weeks until school starts back (3 weeks to go, which means two weeks and then you really need to check whether uniforms still fit, pick up the stationary packs, and replace all the things the kids forgot to mention were broken at the end of last year).
It’s the time when you are away on holidays, or just about to go, or just got back, and your mind begins turning to the rest of the year. What do I want to achieve?
All those things you had running around your head, the plans for your business, for the farm, the projects around the home, activities for the kids – they are all getting to the point where the rubber hits the road and you actually have to make some sort of time commitment, some sort of financial commitment, some sort of prioritisation process, or you won’t achieve your goals this year.
Somewhere in all that is the idea that you probably need to spend more time with God. Need to put more effort into church, or reading your Bible, or prayer, reading Bible stories to the kids. Work on your faith more.
And for a lot of us, that can easily get squeezed out, and left behind. A good start fizzes out and dies, the same as it has many years previously. If that has happened to you a number of times, then it often means that you don’t really bother putting a big effort into achieving this goal. You’ve kind of given up.
Which is tragic, because building your relationship with God
So let me make a few suggestions to help you achieve your goal:
1. Don’t be overly ambitious. Don’t aim to read 4 chapters every day so you can get through the whole Bible in a year, don’t plan to spend an hour in prayer each day. Like any activity you aren’t used to, it takes practice to get used to a new routine. A good goal might be to pray for three things each day – your church, your family, and thanks to God for what he has done for you. Or read your way through one of the gospels, one small section at a time.
2. Use your existing routine to ease you into it. If the first thing you do in the morning is grab your phone to look at your social media accounts, check your messages, read the news or check the weather, then commit to your prayer or bible reading before you do any of your regular things. Or replace one of them with your prayer or Bible reading. Its much easier to do that than to create some entirely new practice from scratch (such as starting a morning tea break to read your Bible).
3. Use some tools. There are apps that will help you organise your daily prayers with reminders you can set (PrayerMate is a good one). Similarly with bible reading (Logos, Tecarta and Olive Tree do good ones). I am more of a fan of paper rather than digital, and so a good study bible can help, but its horses for courses here, as I generally prefer the plain Bible without references or study guides myself. Give something a go for a couple of weeks before you look for something different, as whatever you use will take a little time to get used to. Ask your pastor for suggestions.
3. Expect resistance. We live in a world which is fallen, and so we should expect resistance to everything we do to honour God, follow Jesus, and become more like him. Our sinful nature, sinful desires, laziness, and a whole host of distractions will call us away from getting closer to Jesus, as well as active opposition from Satan. If you fall out of your routine, don’t give up, just pick up where you left off (and consider how and why you didn’t continue, to work out how to avoid the same thing again).
4. Look for accountability. Tell someone what you are aiming to achieve, and ask them to help you. Whether it is checking each day by text, or catching up once a week to pray together and see how things are going with following God, this is a central Christian practice. Iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). And don’t just check that you have done something, share what you have learned, how God has stretched you, what else you have begun to pray about.
A good habit of spending time with God in his word and in prayer can begin with less than 5 minutes a day. It doesn’t take much, but it does take the conviction that it is a vitally important part of your day. Unless you know that this will make a difference in your life, you won’t bother putting in the effort and you’ll give up. Think about what kind of difference it will make. If you aren’t sure (or even if you are) talk to your pastor or a spiritual mentor about it, to make sure you are setting yourself up to achieve your goals.
These are all the things we do when we set goals we hope to achieve in every other area of life. We shouldn’t think that following Jesus requires us to ignore the wisdom we gain from observing the way we work and function in every other area of our life. Aim to know God more, depend on God more, and become more like Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit this year.