“Every summit I’ve ever reached began with a single, forward step.”
I LOVE this time of year. I’m wired for change, and what better time to make a change than at the beginning of a new year. Even better, a new decade! Every year at this time, I’m tempted to make some kind of radical change: a change in diet, a change in my physical fitness, a change in my work, a change in my finances, etc, etc. Hoping that one or more of these radical changes will help me achieve the quality of life that I desire. However, in my experience, it doesn’t typically work that way. So here’s what I’m pursuing this year.
I was listening to an interesting talk by Tony Robbins last month called, “Don’t Waste Another Year.” In it, he notes the thing that makes human beings happy is not more stuff, more achievements, blah, blah, blah…but progress. He got my attention with that one because it fits my understanding of discipleship.
Progress is defined by Webster as, “forward movement, to advance, a gradual betterment.” I love that. A gradual betterment. I think this is why so many New Year’s Resolutions go down the tube! We’re trying to make an immediate change, a cold-turkey shift. “From now on, I’m gonna ___________.”
But what if we instead, committed to progress.
This may also be the reason so many of us get “stuck” and stay “stuck.” We feel like there’s got to be some kind of seismic, life altering, (maybe even traumatic) event to get us moving again, to get our life back on track. And often our prayers reflect this kind of passivity. “God, fix this thing in my life.” “God, help me stop smoking.” “God, help me to get a better job.”
And then we wait.
It’s almost like if nothing happens, then it’s God’s fault. We’re off the hook. But often, the reality is we stay stuck because we don’t move forward. We don’t make progress. Instead of just praying that God will open doors, maybe we should make progress, start knocking on some doors, even pushing on them, and see if they open.
Here’s why I say it fits my understanding of discipleship, both individually and communally. On an individual level, God is slowly but surely transforming us into the image of Christ. It’s not an overnight thing. Over a long period of time, “…the Lord, who is the Spirit, makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up.” (2 Corinthians 3:18-4:2)
Did you see that? “…more and more like him…” Progress. A gradual betterment.
And for that reason, we don’t give up. Because God doesn’t give up on us. He’s always making progress. Sometimes my struggle with sin is so intense, I’m tempted to just give up. I mess up so much, I mean, why bother? But God never gives up on me. And looking back, I can see areas of my life where I’m doing better. An area of temptation where I struggle less now. A gradual betterment. I’m slowly but surely becoming more like Christ.
On a larger scale, God is doing this communally. Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom of God advancing. Making progress. He would tell stories of the Kingdom likening it to yeast in flour, working its way through the dough until, slowly but surely, the entire loaf was leavened. Or a tiny mustard seed planted in a garden, that slowly but surely, over a long period of time, became the largest tree in the garden.
God’s Kingdom is always advancing. Moving forward. Always making progress.
So where do you want to make progress this year?
Spiritually? Take some small steps forward. Determine to pray for a few minutes each day. Read from the Gospels at least once-a-week. Decide to attend a church gathering, maybe once-a-month. Ask a friend to hold you accountable for something. Just make progress.
Financially? Take some small steps forward. If you want to get out of debt, start paying off the smallest debt first. If you want to start saving, then set aside $25 this week. If you want to earn more, then set a meeting up with your boss this month. Or cold call on two potential customers this week. Make progress.
Physically? Take some small steps forward. Decide to walk one mile, once-a-week. Instead of trying an all new diet, just enjoy smaller portions of your existing one. Or introduce a healthier option. (I opted for a late-night salad last night instead of ice cream. It was surprisingly satisfying.) But make progress.
Relationally? Take some small steps forward. Take your spouse out for a surprise dinner this week. (Or stay home and cook dinner for them if that’s more surprising.) Over the meal, tell them one thing you appreciate about them. Instead of picking out what your kids are doing wrong today, point out something they are doing right and praise them for it. Call up a friend and plan a get-together. Make progress.
Ultimately what I know about making progress is this. The more progress you make in an area, the more motivated you become to continue making progress. And the more you continue to make progress in an area, the more you pursue gradual betterment, you eventually experience something beautiful.
As we begin a new decade, I’m reminded that sometimes we can only see that kind of change in a decade or so. It helps me to look back and see where I was in 2009. Or in 1999. Or in 1989. Even 1979! And when I look back that far, I can see it! I’m radically different than I was then. By the grace of God, I am becoming more and more like Christ. I am advancing. How about you?
Where do you want to see change in your life? Move forward, take one small step in that direction…and make some progress.