Gospel Workout: New Year, New Habits

Hope for Change

We’re halfway through January. How are those resolutions going? A new year brings hope for change, but it is new habits that make change a reality.

I see that principle at work every year at my local gym. In January you have to get there early if you want a bike to ride for the cycle class. But by mid February you can roll into class at the last minute and take your pick. Hunger for change will get you to the gym, but habit keeps you coming back.

What change do you hope for in 2019? What habit will help you get there? This month I’m proposing a different kind of workout for us, one that I hope we’ll still be doing when December rolls around again–a gospel workout. It’s good news for all of us quitters.

Predictable Hunger

Just as predictably as the Christmas decorations appear in October, so the gym discounts herald the new year. We’re all hungry for change.

But why?

Because we know we’re flawed people. We see the evidence. This time of year we step on the scales and the numbers speak. We can’t zip our jeans and our clothes speak. We open our credit card statement and the balance speaks. We yell at our kids, lie to our husbands, and look around at the stacks of unfinished projects. The evidence is everywhere.

But there’s more. Underneath the mess is the person who made the mess. I don’t like this person, this version of me that I’d rather disown. The material evidence points silently to the flaws that haunt us:

  • I’m not assertive enough with my boss or my husband or my kids or my friends. Why do I let them walk all over me?
  • My anger is out of control. How can the kids avoid pushing my button when it has a hair trigger?
  • I never finish anything. How can I expect my roommate to clean up after herself when I leave a trail behind me?

Flashes of insight lead to moments of honesty. The need for change runs deep.

Predictable Failure

We’ve already noted how predictably the gym fills up on January 1 and begins to clear out around Valentine’s Day. By March 1 you can count on getting a spin bike even if you’re running late. Other failures are just as predictable–Bible reading plans, home organization goals, children’s job charts. We start well, and then we seem to lose momentum. You can almost set your clock by it.

But why?

Limited willpower is first, I think. The desire to change that was acute enough to initiate action in January has ebbed. Change is hard work. Sustainable change depends on the sustained energy of a fixed desire. Once again I’ve overestimated the power of my will to produce both desire and action. There are a few who seem to have it, the concert pianists and Olympic athletes among us. But if sustainable willpower is only for the Olympian, that’s bad news for you and me.

Limited change is the second reason our failure is so predictable. Even if I stick with my New Year’s goals and lose the 5 or 25 or 55 pounds–which is quite an accomplishment–I bump up against a limit. My body may have changed, but I still haven’t touched the source of my problem. Maybe I eat when I’m anxious. Food comforts me. This is a problem that won’t be solved by diet. External restraint can produce some results, but it’s not the deep change I want. Yo-yo dieting may soon reveal that the change was superficial.

Unpredictable Hope

Sorry to spoil your New Year’s initiative. But it’s good to trash false hope sooner rather than later. Even better to have true hope.

The message of Christmas gives us hope for the New Year. It tells us there’s another Will greater than our own which has come to our rescue. This Will provides the answer to both the limits of our willpower and the limits of our self-produced change. This Will is the source of the

  • Initiating power for launching change
  • Sustainable power for ongoing change
  • Eternal power for lasting change

This Will is a person–God himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is our hope for change. His Will undergirds our will. His gospel assures us that he will help us every step of the way.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: … that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor”

1 Thessalonians 4:3-4

Isn’t that good news? God’s will is the power behind our change, every change, all the change that we currently want, plus all the change we don’t yet know we need. The habit of returning to the gospel is the one thing we need for the new year. The gospel of Jesus Christ is our hope, not just for salvation, but for being transformed, one step at a time, into his image.

Join me as we begin to build the habit of a Gospel Workout in Part 2 of this series.

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