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This devotional is based on an episode of the “Russ Off the Cuff” podcast titled “Only If You Want to Change.”
There are a lot of reasons why we put off making changes in our lives.
This is not a New Year’s resolutions article, but that is a helpful reference point when discussing the topic of change. You know how it goes: 50% of gym memberships are canceled by the end of January, 77% of people who made resolutions quit after a week, and so on.
This happens because it’s easy to declare something, but hard to stick to things. Not a particularly deep insight, but what’s helpful to understand from a spiritual perspective is that we as people make choices, and those choices often are in unreliable things.
Trust the LORD with all your heart, and don’t depend on your own understanding. Remember the LORD in all you do, and he will give you success.Proverbs 3:5-6 NCV
We choose to put our faith in things that are limited, such as our life experiences, inborn talents, and personal willpower. Each of these has the potential of reaching a limit, which means that ultimately they will at some point let us down when we encounter an obstacle we don’t know how to surmount.
The Bible leads us to make any kind of change in our lives, physical, spiritual, or otherwise. Believing this is the first step to making that change happen, followed by taking action based on what we read (John 8:31-32).
It’s hard changing your life. If you’re serious about making it happen, you’ll need to make some choices that will help you see it through.
In Matthew 6, Jesus walks us through a series of choices we can make to help us let go of control and decrease our worry. This perspective helps us change because we can stop the endless cycle of stress leading us to make bad decisions, which of course leads to more stress and no personal growth.
Any of my friends will tell you that I’m notorious for spending more time researching apps to tackle whatever problems I’m facing than taking any actual steps towards a solution. And while on the surface it seems like I’m a classic procrastinator, there are deeper spiritual problems brewing for me.
I struggle to believe that God will take care of my life, and so I’m constantly saddled with stress about my finances, schedule, and more. I choose to worry incessantly instead of easing up and trusting that God has given me everything I need to make it in life. And so, there I am again on the app store looking for yet another budgeting tool instead of praying, asking for help, and making a plan.
If you’re someone who puts decisions off, has tried to change before but failed, or generally lacks the faith that anything can be any different, try making these choices and seeing if your character and perseverance grows in the way God knows it can. Change is hard, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.
No one can serve two masters. If you try, you will wind up loving the first master and hating the second, or vice versa. People try to serve both God and money— but you can’t. You must choose one or the other.Matthew 6:24 Voice
Bob Dylan famously sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.” As much as we’d like to believe that we’re beholden to no one and nothing, the truth is that all of us have something that drives our behavior and affects how we view ourselves.
There are many things in life that vie for our attention (career, dating, hobbies, and so on), but Jesus simplifies the choice for us: God or money. While God represents love, selflessness, and everything in between, money is emblematic of selfishness and materialism.
The challenge this scripture puts before us is to believe that we are always going to be moving towards one of those two extremes, and never neutral.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.James 1:5-8 NIV
The first step we have to take if we’re serious about making significant spiritual change is to choose God, rejecting the double-mindedness of vacillating between selfless love inspired by God and the selfishness of materialism and worldliness.
Before laying down a game plan for making a 5-step plan, decide that the path you want to pursue lies with him, and not the tantalizing yet superficial alternatives the world is offering.
You have to pick one. We recommend you pick God.
- Does your relationship with God excite you?
- Do you believe that God is able to handle your troubles and is responsible for the blessings you receive?
- In what ways do you see yourself most prone to serving money?
Choose action not motion
Here is the bottom line: do not worry about your life. Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will drink. Don’t worry about how you clothe your body. Living is about more than merely eating, and the body is about more than dressing up.Matthew 6:25 Voice
One of the tricky side effects of incessant worry is fatigue.
Worrying about life has a way of making us feel tired, even before we take any concrete steps towards solving our problems. Worry can easily make us think we are accomplishing something when we are merely indulging our emotions.
Worry can manifest in a number of ways:
- Indefinite plan-making
- Rabbit hole researching
- Endless scenario contemplating
You get the idea.
Personally, I can use worry as a way to muddy the fact that I don’t really want to take action. So long as I am sitting and stewing about my problems, I make myself feel like I did something because of how much emotion I just exerted in the situation at hand. Just ask my wife about the times the budget didn’t get done even though it was on my mind (no points for good intentions).
There is a subtle difference between action and motion. For our purposes, it’s a helpful way to reflect on whether we’re tired because of our constant emotional gyrations (motion) or if we are breaking a good sweat making progress towards accomplishing our spiritual goals (action).
- Have you spent more time in the last two weeks worrying or taking action?
- What are some ways you can convert your worry-induced motion into change-producing action this week?
Choose confidence, not control
Look at the birds in the sky. They do not store food for winter. They don’t plant gardens. They do not sow or reap—and yet, they are always fed because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are even more precious to Him than a beautiful bird. If He looks after them, of course He will look after you.Matthew 6:26 Voice
A surefire way to add anxiety to your life is by trying to exert control over your circumstances. No one likes feeling out of control, and when the situations you’re facing start to feel beyond you, it’s easy to start feeling panicky.
Jesus used birds as a visual for what the God-reliant life should look like. When I think of a bird, the image that comes to mind is that blue jay that harmonized with Mary Poppins during “Spoonful of Sugar”—light, carefree, and singing. Their needs are fully met by the ecosystems God placed them in.
While we aren’t so lucky to not have to worry about anything except flying around and eating, Jesus still wants us to use this example to visualize how our relationship with God should feel. It’s the difference between living a self-reliant and God-reliant life.
Ecclesiastes 9:11 tells us that time and chance happen to us all, so we should spend less energy trying to avoid every bad event and rather trust that God will provide for us our fundamental needs regardless of what hits us. To make a change in your life, start by entrusting your life to God.
- What areas in your life are hardest to let go of control?
- What would it look like to let go of those areas?
Choose to relax rather than stress
Worrying does not do any good; who here can claim to add even an hour to his life by worrying?Matthew 6:27 Voice
Studies have shown that anywhere from 85 to 91 percent of the things we worry about never actually happen. Jesus was right to tell us that we’re burning a ton of energy needlessly by sitting in our worry.
It’s hard to make good decisions when we’re riddled with worry. I’ve often found myself getting worked up over every possible bad scenario so I remain in stasis, too petrified to take action.
If you’re trying to make a change in your life, one thing you have to do is let go of the stress so you can be clear-minded and focused on what areas you’re trying to grow in, without anxiety clouding your vision of what’s possible.
So how does one choose to relax? Not by kicking back and doing nothing, as much as I’d like that to be the case.
Choosing relaxation involves letting go of the tension by allowing God to shape our outlook. This takes praying though and channeling your emotions, stress, and anxiety through the lens of scriptures that can change your outlook and attitude. For example, after praying, a situation that seemed super stressful and inconvenient before can begin to look and feel different when there’s vision of how God may be using it purposefully for good.
Another way to think about it would be to think of a top-tier athlete “in the zone”, characterized by Csíkszentmihályi in 1990 as “flow state.” It’s possible to find yourself so relaxed that your demands do not wear you down; rather, you are able to take them in stride as you push forward.
If we have faith in God, we’ll accept that if our situation is not panning out as expected, we’ll trust there’s something better coming our way. Making changes in your life will be a better experience if you’re able to relax and let the game come to you, so to speak.
- What areas are hardest for you to feel relaxed about?
- What does it look like when you’re stressed?
Choose boldness over timidity
And think about grassy fields—the grasses are here now, but they will be dead by winter. And yet God adorns them so radiantly. How much more will He clothe you, you of little faith, you who have no trust?Matthew 6:30 Voice
Are you timid or bold in your approach to prayer? In this passage, Jesus uses “little faith” and “no trust” interchangeably, meaning a way to know we lack faith is by recognizing our lack of trust in the idea the God can answer big prayers.
I’ve spent most of my life playing it safe out of a strong fear of being let down or disappointed. Setting low expectations comes naturally to me, and it’s resulted in a prayer life that is often more focused on asking God to maintain the status quo rather than seek big and bold change in my life and in the lives of those around me.
The ironic thing is that my anxiety goes up the longer I stay timid. I look at problems in my life as unsolvable because I don’t have the faith that God can do anything about them.
At this point in your process of making changes in your life, you should be examining whether your faith is bold (producing big and bold goals that can lead to a serious transformation) or timid (producing small and risk-averse goals that will ultimately leave you feeling unfulfilled and disillusioned).
- Would you describe yourself as bold or timid? Why?
- Reflecting on the changes you want to make in your life, would you say they are ambitious or scaled back? How does your faith play into this?
Choose to believe over second-guessing
So do not consume yourselves with questions: What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?Matthew 6:31 Voice
One of the reasons we can spend more time planning than actually doing is that we second-guess every decision we make. Jesus said we can consume ourselves with these types of questions, worrying endlessly that a choice we make may lead us to an unfavorable outcome.
Choosing to believe means making a decision based on faith, and confidently moving forward. There are a number of ways to get help ensuring that your decision-making process is a spiritual one. When you’re contemplating the changes you hope to make in your life, choose to believe in what God put on your heart to do, and minimize the second-guessing that may hinder you from moving forward.
- What’s an example of a decision you’ve put off making?
- What outcomes are you afraid of that are causing you to second-guess your decisions?
Choose slowing down over speeding up
Outsiders make themselves frantic over such questions; they don’t realize that your heavenly Father knows exactly what you need.Matthew 6:32 Voice
Outsiders in this context are people who don’t think about or consider God. Jesus is making a point that a sure sign of a godless person is when they achieve a level of franticness that is unnecessary.
There are a number of ways we can let ourselves become frantic:
- Keeping up with the Joneses – your worry is influenced by seeing others around you advance.
- Longstanding disappointment – your worry is influenced by needs that have gone unmet for some time.
- Past failures – your worry is influenced by your desire to prevent another negative outcome.
Sometimes we need to slow ourselves down to get some perspective. Being overly active can lead to poor decisions, whereas taking a step back can give us clarity on our situation, and faith as we recount the ways God has moved already in our lives.
God knows exactly what we need. If you believe the Bible, then you’ll believe this phrase, which should help you to achieve calm in prayer in the midst of tumult or uncertainty.
- What are some needs you have that you are worried will remain unmet?
- How do you see yourself getting frantic in life? What areas would a friend say you need help slowing down in?
Choose God over greed
Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too.Matthew 6:33 Voice
Greed is not a word used explicitly in this verse, but it’s one that can be inferred. Merriam-Webster defines greed as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (such as money) than is needed.”
In this study, the throughline from the first point to this one is clear: God provides for us everything we need, and wanting more than that leads to stress, disappointment, and other undesirable consequences.
At the end of the day, all of us have to make a decision whether we want to trust that God is real, cares about us, and wants to bless us, or if we want to take our lives into our own hands. Greed is a word that embodies the latter decision.
Here are some signs you can look for in your own life to help you identify how big a problem greed is for you:
- I never feel satisfied, no matter how much I get
- I feel an excessive amount of stress or anger when I think of money
- I have a strong fear of scarcity – not having enough, not being taken care of
- I commonly find myself feeling overscheduled, overwhelmed, and overexerted
Try and broaden your understanding of greed if you typically associate it with a desire for financial gain. We can be greedy for money, control, travel, attention, and more. Greed makes us think we need to take the things we need and rules out the possibility that God can give them to us.
If there’s anything in your life that you feel is starting to drive your demeanor and behavior, decide today that you want to choose God over greed, and the changes you’re trying to make will not only be achievable, but be attained with considerably less stress.
- What areas in your life do you struggle most to believe God cares about?
- What desires do you have that are getting in the way of trusting God completely?
Wrapping up: why is change so hard?
On any given day we’re all likely to be faced with one or more of the choices mentioned in this devotional, and those choices will have an impact on us spiritually.
Change is tough, but it becomes a lot easier when we make decisions to pursue God’s prescribed approach to life over our own. Worry, second-guessing and busyness are all symptoms of godless living, and they are highly counterproductive when trying to make any kind of meaningful change.