RICHMOND, Va. – Nine out of 10 people who make New Year’s resolutions give up on them – typically after a week or so, according to various surveys.
They tend to be unrealistic, poorly thought out, too general to measure. They can even be counterproductive, cautions Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, who writes about the self-help industry. You fail to meet a self-imposed goal or deadline and feel like a failure. Or, you tie your hopes and dreams to an arbitrary date on a calendar.
“If you believe that you can only change on the New Year – the inherent message of New Year’s resolutions – you will have to wait a whole year before you get another shot,” Lamb-Shapiro explains.
New beginnings are fine, but real progress doesn’t always run on a calendar. Especially spiritual progress.
Sure, we experience mountaintop moments and make life-changing decisions in our spiritual lives – the day we decide to follow Christ as Lord, the first time we lead someone to faith in Him, the day we respond to a call from God to missions or a particular ministry. But daily growth in Christ usually happens quietly, behind the scenes, as we seek Him, love Him and obey Him.
“The transforming work of grace is more of a mundane process than it is a series of a few dramatic events,” pastor and author Paul David Tripp writes. “Most of us only make three or four momentous decisions in our lives, and several decades after we die, the people we leave behind will struggle to remember our lives at all.
“You and I live in little moments,” Tripp continues, “and if God doesn’t rule our little moments and doesn’t work to recreate us in the middle of them, then there is no hope for us, because that is where you and I live. Ö This is where I think ‘Big Drama Christianity’ gets us into trouble. It can cause us to devalue the significance of the little moments of life and the ‘small-change’ grace that meets us there.”
Thousands of such moments come to us day by day. How we respond to them determines the course of our lives. Do we choose to seek the Lord in the quiet before dawn, or sleep another hour? Do we choose to meditate upon His Word, or ignore it? Do we choose to notice the lonely person in need of a kind word, or hurry on our way? Do we choose to speak up for Christ when the opportunity arises, or remain silent? Do we choose to pray for the lost, or curse them with indifference?
Most spiritual battles are won or lost in the unseen regions of the heart.
“In the 1800s, Scottish missionary Mary Slessor went to West Africa, then a notorious graveyard of missionaries. She braved many hazards and spread the Gospel for nearly four decades. But Slessor wrote a simple truth to her supporters back home: “Praying is harder work than doing.”
Many believe the historic Shantung Revival in China began with the prayers of one person: Norwegian missionary Marie Monsen. She was a missionary second, an intercessor first. No one except God “saw” Monsen’s prayers. Their impact, however, changed the world.
“You see, Jesus is Immanuel , not just because He came to earth, but because He makes you the place where He dwells,” Tripp observes. “This means He is present and active in all the mundane moments of your daily life.”
Silent moments of prayer may seem mundane in this world. Eternity will reveal otherwise.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is the International Mission Board’s global correspondent. Explore the possibility of changing the world through prayer at imb.org/pray.)