Like the dawn of each day, the beginning of a new year brings promise of another opportunity to exercise hope. Hope that things will be different in the months ahead. Hope for improvement. Hope for change.
As the calendar rolls into 2021, I find people everywhere are counting! My family has entered a period of seeking God for our lives in the coming year. In just a few days, churches across the nation will begin praying and fasting for 40 days, 21 days, 10 days or even implement a 3 day fast for direction, clarity, breakthrough, and assignment for 2021. Is prayer and fasting the new “New Years Resolution”?
Many of us tend to ponder changes we’d like to make in the new year; we set goals for personal growth, for health, for our family or career. But new years resolutions tend to mutate from a list of goals fueled by hope, into a slowly disregarded wishlist that leaves us feeling hopeless, inadequate, and powerless to change.
May I challenge you to abandon the new year’s resolution of old? The most impactful mind shift you can make right now is to understand that long-lasting, life-changing transformation happens one small step at a time. As a former business consultant, I became used to massive projects, completed in short sprints, having every needed resource focused on that one goal. Well, my friend, we don’t live in a silo, and life is a journey, not a 50-yard dash. There is absolutely no way to direct all of your time, money, energy, and attention to one single goal in your life at a time, all the time. So, here’s what I suggest as you set out to be a better you and improve your life, whether it be physically, financially, relationally, or otherwise: be strategic, be realistic, and be consistent.
Be Strategic – What does that even mean?
All the buzz around praying and fasting is not just a new approach to the old “New Years Resolution”. Praying and fasting are strategic! Starting the year in prayer and fasting employs two of your most powerful spiritual resources. Together they provide the power and endurance to focus your heart, mind, and your body on receiving direction, wisdom, guidance, and the ability to change in various areas of life. Your best shot at achieving your goals in 2021 is to start with a goal that is in line with the plans God has for you. Jeremiah 29:11 says that God has a plan for your life, and they are plans for a good life, not to hurt or destroy you. His plan is infused with hope. His plan is for a bright future. Doesn’t that sound like a plan you want to get on board with? God’s promise is that you can know the plan. It’s not top-secret, locked away in some impenetrable vault in heaven. He said that when you call to Him, He will answer, AND tell you great and incomprehensible things (Jer. 29:12, 33:3). Isn’t that just like God? He doesn’t just promise to give you information. He says He is going to blow your mind! When you commit time to seek the Lord in prayer and fasting, you position your heart to receive these great and incomprehensible plans!
Ask God for His vision for your life in the coming year. Ask for wisdom and discernment to make the necessary decisions. Pray for the divine resources to carry out the vision. Seek guidance and favor in taking the necessary action steps. And be sure to listen (and take notes). Fasting is especially helpful with regard to listening! Because it involves denying the body of some physical desire, fasting helps you quiet the will of the flesh and strengthen your spiritual sensitivity to God. Does God hear and answer your prayer when you don’t fast? Absolutely. I am not suggesting that you can’t receive the plan of God for your year (or life) if you don’t fast. I am challenging you to couple your prayer with fasting, not out of church tradition, but because it enhances the communion between you and God. How you fast is between you and God, but choosing to fast is a commitment that God will honor. Don’t take my word for it – try it and see!
Be Realistic – Sure, you can eat the elephant…just not all at once!
“Great and incomprehensible” (Jer. 33:3) has to become bite-sized and manageable! One thing I love about God is His ability to suffer-long with me (patience), and His willingness to come down to my level (hence, Jesus). When you ask God for the vision, He is faithful not to short-circuit your brain and show you everything all at once. So, with the piece(s) that He does reveal regarding your vision for 2021, be sure to: First, write them down, and Second, break them down!
The prophet Habakkuk penned God’s instruction to write the vision and make it plain so it can be easily read (Habakkuk 2:2). Once you have identified the goal(s) you need to pursue to achieve that God-given vision for the year, write them down AND PRIORITIZE THEM. I know all too well the frustration and overwhelm that can come from an endless list of to-do’s haphazardly thrown together with no regard to their degree of importance or urgency. I do not want that for you and neither does your heavenly Father.
Next, break down those goals into next-steps. Set deadlines! Your overall goals should have target dates, and your next steps should include deadlines that will help you achieve that target date. What goes on the calendar gets done. Don’t be overly ambitious either—be realistic. This is a weakness for me. I always think I can accomplish more in a given time period than is really possible. Consider each of the goals you’ve identified in light of your life as it is right now–if you are married with young children and a full-time job outside of the home, then setting dates that will require you to put in 20 hours of work on your dream each week is a recipe for disaster!
Being realistic means eating your elephant one bite at a time. That first bite might just be one small change you commit to making this week. Followed by another small change you implement the following week. Track your progress as you go. We tend to forget about our small successes, then we get frustrated or discouraged and we quit. Recording your progress helps fuel long-term motivation. Celebrating small successes adds excitement and anticipation for the next step.
For example, if one of your goals is to be healthier, you might start by simply drinking more water every day. Set a daily goal, and master it by the end of the week. Next week, ditch one bad eating habit. If eating snacks of low nutritional value at night is your achilles heel, then add one new nutrient-dense snack to your daily snacking. The week after that, work on eating nothing at all after a certain time in the evening. If you need to extend those small changes to a couple of weeks in a row, do that. Small changes over time add up to significant lifestyle changes, which yield longer-lasting major results! Small changes over time lead to transformation. When transformation occurs, you don’t have to fear going back. Word of warning: if you plan to begin fasting in the new year, don’t think you can consume all your favorite desserts, foods, and sugary drinks through the end of December, believing you can just flip the switch on January 1st and begin eating strictly healthy foods and drinking mostly water! Do this and you’ll want to throw your hands in the air and declare the entire pursuit an impossible task within a matter of days! Sound familiar? Your goal may have nothing to do with health or fitness, but the concept is still the same. Declarations of major changes made all at one time simply do not stick. Behavioral changes, decision-making processes, creating good habits—these all take time to form, which leads to my next point.
Be Persistent – Hope got you started, Habit keeps you going.
Tenacity is an important characteristic of great faith. You will need some ‘stick-to-it-iveness’ if you are going to see that vision come to pass! In Habakkuk 2:3 we are encouraged to exercise patience and persistence in manifesting the vision (wait for it, it will certainly come). I’ve often joked about the prayer closet phenomena that occurs in which you carry your wearied and burdened heart to Jesus, spend time exchanging all of that burden for His truth, His promises, His yoke, and then you throw open the door and take off feeling faster and stronger than Superman leaving a phone booth! Well, as you spend time in prayer asking God to give you a vision for 2021, I believe He will 1) give you a glimpse at the vision in full maturity, but leave you to seek Him daily for every step along the way, or 2) give you precise direction for your next steps. Of course, being God, He could also reveal anything in between! I’m betting by the time you end your prayer and fasting, you will be super-charged and ready to go — the phone booth effect. This is where it is so very important to have everything God revealed to you written down. After you begin to pursue the change and implement the concepts, ideas, and guidance God gives, your inner Clark Kent will no doubt take Superman’s place! The mission doesn’t change, you just have to tap into the appropriate strengths and abilities for those moments. You won’t always feel super-charged and ready, but you will always have the vision and the promise. Stay connected to God and keep your notes handy.
FLEX YOUR FAITH
- Choose a period of fasting and prayer appropriate to your spiritual maturity and physical wellness.
- Designate a journal for which you will capture notes, ideas, guidance and instruction from God.
- Set goals in each area of your life. My “Make Every Day Count” annual planning worksheet includes 5 areas: Spiritual Goals, Health and Wellness Goals, Relationship Goals, Financial Goals, and Career/Educational Goals.
- Make your goals measurable and give yourself target dates for completion.
- Share your goals with an accountability partner.