What’s Wrong with Resolutions?

There’s something magical about the idea of making New Year’s resolutions, of envisioning ourselves healthier, holier, and more productive by the time another year rolls around. But statistics tell us that our usual methods of making resolutions aren’t terribly effective in actually getting things done.



For me, a resolution is too much like a promise to myself. Once I break that promise, it’s broken for the whole year. The result is that I end up feeling like a failure. Maybe you can relate to this problem.

A priority, on the other hand, is more like a GPS device that keeps me focused on my chosen destination. When I get off course (which I usually do), it provides me with the orientation I need to get my journey back on course.


Enter: The Priority Reset

After a couple of frustrating attempts at New Year’s resolutions, I began a different kind of New Year’s ritual, one I call a Priority Reset. This amounts to prayerfully reviewing my course over the previous year and writing down a new list of priorities for the year to come. For several years, this was the whole process. I kept the new list under the glass on my desktop, where I could review it frequently to remind myself of my intended destination.

For me, this worked really well. When confronted with the choice of taking a run or studying gross anatomy (which is quite aptly named, I assure you), all I had to do was glance as my desktop to remember that “Health” outranked “Grades.”

Somewhere along the way, I learned that writing down specific goals was important too. My first attempts at this weren’t very helpful, and I soon realized that I had too many goals. Again, consulting with my list of priorities helped me determine which goals were most important during that particular phase of my life.

My yearly Priority Reset continued to evolve over several years as I evaluated different ways of staying on course. This is the final version, including an example of how I use it, as a PDF or a Word document. If you find it helpful, you’re welcome to use it as is, or to revise it to fit your own needs.


Using the Priority Reset

General: This is only one page long so I can refer to often and easily. I like to keep mine in my journal, which I open nearly every day. Sometimes I keep other copies in places I frequent (e.g., under the glass on my desk at work).

The human mind and body are finite. We cannot concentrate on an infinite number of priorities or work toward an infinite number of goals during any given period. For most people, setting a total of 6 to 10 goals is best for maximum effectiveness—fewer won’t sufficiently challenge you; more spreads your energies too thin.

Remember this principle at the end of the year, too. If you’ve done this right, you won’t actually reach every single goal (if you do, you probably didn’t challenge yourself sufficiently).

Done! - ©iStock.com/ gpointstudio

Done! – ©iStock.com/ gpointstudio

However, you will also find that you managed to do things you’d only dreamed about doing before. Merely writing goals down has been shown to be a simple but powerful tool.

Realize that everything about the Priority Reset represents an ideal. People don’t set goals to do things they’ve already accomplished or to form habits they’ve already mastered. The point here is to grow. If my every action were to bless others (as in the example), or if I lived every moment with the attitude of a servant, then I wouldn’t need to remind myself of these ideals by writing them down. To become more than we are, we must choose goals that are attainable but that stretch us a bit.

This process is best done with God’s help. (Isn’t everything?) Don’t set your course for an entire year without prayer.

Mission & Motto: If the Priority Reset is like a GPS, then the Mission and Motto are your overall destination and method of travel (attitude).

Priorities: All of your priorities should move you toward your Mission. Rank them in order of importance, and don’t forget the basics. For example, almost every other priority, even that of serving others, will be affected negatively if you are unhealthy, so this priority must be very high on anyone’s list.

Goals:  Every Priority should have at least one Goal; these are like the routes you follow to reach your chosen destination. The little caution signs are areas that tend to detour or distract you from your goal. You may not always know what these areas are at the beginning of your journey, but try to identify them so you can formulate an action plan that takes them into account.

You may already be familiar with the idea of setting SMART goals. The acronym stands for elements that help you set goals you can actually realize.

Specific – e.g., “Lose 10 pounds” vs. “Lose weight”

Measurable – e.g. “Miss no more than 10 days of work this year” vs. “Be more reliable”

Attainable – i.e., realistic; e.g., “Live 500 years” is not humanly possible

Results-focused – e.g., “Run a marathon” (outcome) vs. “Run 30 minutes/day” (process)

Time-bound – e.g., “Run a marathon by Christmas” vs. “Run a marathon someday”

Plan: Design specific actions that will help you move toward your Goals. Be sure to target the areas you identified as problems. If you find that the plan you set forth doesn’t work—maybe it proves unsuccessful in moving you toward your goal, or maybe you just can’t keep up with it—modify it.


Good Luck!

I hope you find this New Year’s tradition helpful. What other New Year’s rituals do you find useful?

Has Your Year Mattered?

 ©iStock.com/ Nobilior

©iStock.com/ Nobilior

I’ve sat through bunches of lectures. I’ll bet you have too.  But how many do you actually remember? If you’re like me, you won’t need all ten fingers to do the math.

In my case, I can really only remember one lecture. But that message affected my perspective so drastically that it changed the way I approached life.

That talk wasn’t delivered by a famous preacher, a powerful politician, or even a professor with lots of letters after his name. It was delivered by Mrs. Laurene Jenkins, a dormitory dean, during a half-hour worship service.

So what was this life-altering topic? “The Urgent Versus the Important.”

You see, I’ve always related to Martha, the hard-working sister that held Mary and Lazarus’s home together. Like her, I enjoy being busy. I relish the sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of being helpful.

As a consequence, I can so relate to Jesus’ gentle rebuke to this industrious woman. “Martha, Martha,” he said, “you are worried and upset about many things. Only one thing is important” (Luke 10:41, 42, NCV).

Martha had become so focused on the many urgent tasks required to provide for her guests’ needs that she lost sight of the only task that was truly important: knowing God.

What about us?

The end of the year is a great time to reflect, reviewing what we did, what we didn’t do, and what we wish we’d done differently. Did we spend our time and energy on important things—things that will matter in 10, 20, or 50 years? Or did we fritter away the year, buzzing around from one urgent task to the next, hardly looking up to see where the fickle trail of urgency was leading us?

I’ve never been one for making New Year’s resolutions. But after that talk in college, I started doing something I call a “Priority Reset” every January 1st. It’s my way of evaluating my course—of looking up to see where I’m going—and of applying any needed course corrections to make sure that I’m using the life God gives me on things that matter. It’s been a truly useful practice for me.

Through the years, I’ve had a number of people ask me about this process, and I’m happy to share it with them. If you’re interested, I’ll share it with you next week. However, it’s more effective if you’ve had a chance to prayerfully reflect on the previous year.

So how was your 2014?

What did you accomplish that you feel good about?

What do you wish you’d accomplished that you didn’t get around to?

Do you feel like you’re generally heading in the right direction? If so, what did you do to support this movement? If not, what direction do you feel you should be heading in?

* * * * *

P.S.  You may have noticed that this isn’t the new website I promised. That’s turned into a bit more of a challenge than I expected. But stay tuned—I’m still working on it!

God’s Delights



Have you ever had divinity?  Mmm, mmm, good!

As a kid, I thought that this yummy confection of egg whites, sugar, and nuts was actually from Heaven. I mean, who but God had the right to give it such a pretentious name? So I figured it must be His favorite candy, and I imagined Him mixing up batches of the stuff, using the angels as taste-testers before sending it down to earth. (I’ve always had a pretty active imagination.) In other words, I thought divinity delighted God.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that God was a bit deeper than that. And I began to wonder: well, (if not divinity) what does delight God? What warms His heart and brings a smile to His face?

The Bible tells us that God delights in:

  1. Showing mercy. God enjoys reconciling His estranged children to Himself.

“He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy” (Micah 7:18, NKJV).

  1. Our obedience. His commands are not arbitrary; they are given to help us safely negotiate our dangerous world of sin. Just as it grieves Him when our disobedience causes pain, it delights Him when we dodge harm by obeying.

“The Lord … delights in those whose ways are blameless (Proverbs 11:20, NIV).

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?” (1 Samuel 15:22, NKJV).

  1. Blessing those who turn to Him. Have you ever seen new parents as they watch their child open presents on their first Christmas? If so, you’ve probably seen that look of sheer delight in their eyes as the baby babbles excitedly over her gifts. In the same way, God, just like any good parent, enjoys giving good things to His children.

“The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors,  if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 30:9, 10, NIV).

  1. Communing with His children. When parents send their kids off to college, they sometimes joke that the kids only call when they need money. Similarly, God likes to hear from us—and not just when we need something.

“The prayer of the upright is His delight” (Proverbs 15:8, NKJV).

Did you catch the common theme in all of these verses? What is it that warms God’s heart and brings a smile to His face?

You do.

“ Blessed be the Lord your God, who delighted in you.” (I Kings 10:9)

Delighting in God



“Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4, NKJV).

Wow! That’s some promise, isn’t it? Just delight in God, and He’ll give you whatever your heart desires!

There’s just one problem: delighting in God isn’t exactly natural for us sinners. In fact, in Romans 7, Paul describes an internal battle that makes it impossible for us to truly delight in God.

So what’s the deal? Is God taunting us? Does He purposely dangle a carrot in front of us that He knows we can never reach?

No. As Paul goes on to point out (Romans 7:24, 25), Jesus is able to deliver us from this battle. All we have to do is accept His victory and cooperate with the Spirit as He transforms us into the image of Christ—and into people who truly delight in the same things that delight God.

But cooperation isn’t a passive endeavor. We can encourage this transformation by choosing to participate in certain activities. For instance, we can:

  1. Submit to God—rather than fight Him as He does His job of cleansing and remaking us.

“If you return to the Almighty, you will be built up; you will remove iniquity far from your tents. Then you will lay your gold in the dust … Yes, the Almighty will be your gold and your precious silver” (Job 22:23-25, NKJV).

  1. Cultivate the Attitude of a Learner—by seeing God’s Word as the treasure trove of wisdom He intended it to be.

“Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; for Your law is my delight” (Psalm 119:77, NKJV).

“Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who delights greatly in His commandments” (Psalm 112:1, NKJV).

  1. Meditate on Scripture—rather than rushing through a quick reading. We don’t get as much nutrition from food that moves too quickly through the GI tract. Similarly, we glean more from passages of Scripture that we take the time to really think about.

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2, NKJV).

  1. Memorize Scripture—and make it truly part of our psyches.

“Receive, please, instruction from His mouth, and lay up His words in your heart … For then you will have your delight in the Almighty, and lift up your face to God” (Job 22:22-26, NKJV).

“I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8, NKJV).

  1. Get to Know God—really know Him, not just know about Him.

“Now acquaint yourself with Him, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you” (Job 22:21, NKJV).

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him! … Those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing” (Psalm 34:8-10, NKJV).

  1. Expect to Enjoy God’s Presence—rather than seeing our time with Him as a chore on our to-do lists. Can you imagine dating someone with that attitude? How much more should we look forward to an audience with the King of the Universe!

They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (Psalm 36:8-9, NIV).

  1. Enjoy God’s Gift of the Sabbath—our very own weekly date with God Himself!

“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable … then you shall delight yourself in the Lord” (Isaiah 58:13, 14, NKJV).

  1. Focus on Spiritual Things—and disappoint Satan by looking up, despite his many attempts to distract us.

“The ones sown among thorns; they are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the delight in riches, and the desire for other things, enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19, RSV).

What delights does God have waiting for you today?

Jonah the … Jerk?

Okay, maybe that’s a bit strong, but, really, what was Jonah thinking? He preaches to a doomed city, gets probably the best response any evangelist has ever received … and gets mad?

I’m talking about Jonah 4, which is today’s chapter in the Revived By His Word reading plan. If you’re not familiar with this program, you can check it out here. The commentary by Jim Ayer on that blog today focuses on the remarkable fact that God continues to talk to the curmudgeonly, even nasty, Jonah as long as Jonah keeps talking to God. This is a great point, and one that’s key to spiritual growth: Never stop talking to God, no matter how you feel.

But something else impressed me in this chapter—an unusual side-by-side comparison of how a good God and a sinful human respond to exactly the same event. Now, in case you don’t remember, the event they’re reacting to is the total conversion of an entire city (120,000 people). And this is how the two react:

            Jonah                                                                                     God

   Angry (verse 1)                                                 Calm & respectful (verses 4, 6)

   Harsh (v. 2)                                                                            Gentle (vv. 4, 9-11)

   Vengeful  (vv. 2, 9)                                          Relents from doing harm (v. 2)

   Ill-tempered (v. 9)                                                       Abounding in love (v. 2)

  Bitter (vv. 1, 3, 8)                                                       Gracious & merciful (v. 2)

           Resentful (vv. 1-2)                                                                 Forgiving (vv. 2, 11)

           Self-centered focus (v. 2)                                       Other-centered focus (v. 11)

           Accusatory stance (v. 2)                                 Redemptive stance (vv. 4, 10-11)




Take a good look at these two profiles and ask yourself which one you’d rather become. We do have a choice here, because we’re changed by what we behold, and especially by what we admire and worship.

It’s easy to become Jonah the Jerk. You don’t have to look very far to see that this is the default program in our world. People often become harsher, pickier, less understanding, and generally harder to get along with as they get older. If you don’t believe it, try volunteering in a nursing home for a week.

But becoming like God is more difficult and we really have very few role models. That’s why it’s so important that we spend quality time with God every single day—at least.

“Beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” 2 Corinthians 3:18, NKJV.

How stubborn are you?

©iStock.com/ djedzura

©iStock.com/ djedzura

Anyone who’s ever been around a toddler knows the meaning of the word “stubborn.” To a two-year-old, “No!” means “Try again later when mom’s not looking.”

Although we don’t generally consider stubbornness to be a desirable quality, I have to wonder if it wasn’t one reason for Elijah’s effectiveness. He just kept on praying for as long as it took to get an answer. When the son of the Sidonian widow died, Elijah didn’t pray once, dust off his hands, and say, “Well, I guess it’s not God’s will that he should be resurrected.” Instead, he prayed again. And again. Three times he stretched out over the boy and prayed (1 Kings 17:21).

But three times is nothing compared to the incident on Mount Carmel. God had already told Elijah that He was going to bring rain (1 Kings 18:1). Given the directness of His message, it would be entirely understandable if Elijah had prayed for rain once and headed for home to await God’s timing. After all, faith grasps His promises with confidence, right?

Elijah wasn’t satisfied with a passive approach. Instead he prayed, sent his servant to check for signs of rain, and then prayed again—seven times!

Why did he keep praying? Didn’t he trust God to deliver on His promise?

I consulted some Bible commentaries to see what the experts say about this. All pointed to a human need for prayer and a metaphorical understanding of this event. It wasn’t that God needed to be convinced to come through on His promise. Rather, the people who had just witnessed that amazing miracle on Carmel needed Elijah’s intercession on their behalf.

Remember, these people had been following false gods for some time. Although their idolatry was most marked during Ahab and Jezebel’s reign, they had been moving away from God since the time of Jeroboam. They needed much more than one Wow moment. They needed true revival and reformation—a change of heart. So Elijah continued to plead for his countrymen as the Spirit worked on those hardened hearts. The physical rain came only when the hard ground of their hearts had been readied to receive the spiritual rain.

We face a similar crisis today, and we can’t afford to get apathetic about it. Satan is working harder than ever before to distract us from eternal issues—and he succeeds in waylaying many people. As a world, we’ve been drifting farther and farther from the Father. This is no time for us to shrug our shoulders and adopt and wait-and-see attitude. Like Elijah, we must pray persistently—stubbornly—for revival and reformation. And we must continue to pray—whether it takes a month or a decade.

“You too must be patient and stout-hearted, for the coming of the Lord is near”  James 5:8.

Pastors Are People Too



Who has the power to shake you to your core?

When I was young, I noticed that my mom always shooed us kids outside when one particular woman from the church came visiting. Naturally, this made me curious. What did they talk about—some fascinating adult topic that kids weren’t supposed to hear?

So one day I sneaked close to the screen door, staying out of sight but within earshot. The woman was seated at the dining table with my mom, a cup of coffee in front of her. And she was absolutely excoriating one of the church elders, reporting on some ghastly sin he had supposedly committed.

My mother hates gossip and repeatedly tried to cut the lady off, but she wasn’t having much luck. When the woman finally took a breath, my mom tried to steer the conversation in another direction. The woman exclaimed rather indignantly, “Margie! Didn’t you hear? Doesn’t this just make you wonder? Doesn’t it shake your faith in him … in the church … even in God?”

Now you should know that my mom was actually quite a new Christian at this time. What’s more, the woman challenging her was one of the so-called pillars of the church. Nevertheless, my mom replied at once, “Oh, no—not at all! My faith isn’t based on what Elder — does. It’s based on Jesus and what He’s done.”

I’ve never forgotten that simple statement. Church pillars, celebrities, even pastors are just people. They make mistakes. They may be hypocritical. Some may even be full-time hypocrites. And in this age of cameras everywhere, social media, and TMZ, mistakes are less likely than ever to be successfully covered up.

So if we look to these people as models of behavior, we will be disappointed. If we look to them to ground our faith, we may even shaken. But if Christ is our model—if we are grounded in him—the mistakes of others can’t shake our faith.

“There can be no other foundation than the one already laid: I mean Jesus Christ himself” 1 Corinthians 3:11, REB.

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