The first week of January holds a great success rate for new goals. The last week of January? Not so much.
Setting goals and wisely stewarding our time and priorities is vital. But we all too easily lose our first-of-the-year focus and revert to old patterns. To stay on track, we need to develop disciplines that become habits.
Last summer, as I asked my dear friend and the executive vice president of West Coast Baptist College, Dr. John Goetsch, for thoughts on renewal in life stewardship. The truths he shared were so powerful that I included them in my recently-published Stewarding Life Planner.
These seven daily disciplines are the vital practices of Christians who wisely steward their lives and experience God’s continuing renewal:
Remember that God loves you for who you are, not for what you do. All throughout Scripture, God affirms His love.
The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.—Jeremiah 31:3
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,—Ephesians 2:4
Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.—Hebrews 13:5
Being mindful of God’s everlasting, unswerving love helps us stay clear of the pitfalls of performance-based drivenness. It frees us to steward our lives for God’s glory rather than for God’s (or man’s) approval.
The principle here is that you must take in as much as you give out. No one has an unending reservoir of energy, and we will eventually become depleted physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Even Jesus, as He ministered to others, gave of Himself. He was personally expended in the process. Throughout the gospels, we see that He intentionally found times to renew from exhaustion (Mark 1:35, 6:31).
We must develop habits to replenish in the areas in which we are expending our energy. For instance, a person whose regular job requires intense physical labor will likely need a refueling activity that is physically restful but mentally stimulating—perhaps reading. A person whose job is sedentary should work physically stimulating exercise into their routines. The same comparisons could be made for those who are around people all day versus those who are not.
Leaders in ministry who are constantly giving emotionally and spiritually should be careful to develop relationships and hobbies that are replenishing. They should also schedule extended times to spend with the Lord, keeping their personal walk with Him fresh.
If we don’t review our daily schedules and to-do lists, we’ll be dragged along from one urgent need to another—with no way to determine if these urgent needs are even important.
I suggest the following three categories through which to filter your tasks and projects as you review:
- Priority—that which God has specifically called you to do. This would be something directly related to your core God-given roles.
- Peripheral—that which you would like to do or that which relates to your roles but is not necessary right now.
- Pollution—that which wastes your time or energy. This may even be something you enjoy, but it is a distraction from accomplishing the priorities or peripherals.
Once again, we see Jesus as the example as He filtered the demands of His day through heavenly priorities: “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4).
An unreconciled life is like a fuel tank with a hole in it. No matter how often you refuel, it will always be empty. Similarly, unresolved conflict with others will zap us of our fervor and focus.
Jesus’ counsel to His disciples was to reconcile people problems swiftly. “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him…” (Matthew 5:25). If there is any kind of conflict between you and another person, go to them in humility and seek reconciliation. You must live a personally reconciled life to have the energy to steward your life.
Our flesh is eager to do whatever feels comfortable in the moment, but Spirit-filled discipline requires a higher standard. In other words, higher disciplines must dominate human desires.
We may think that a quick indulgence will motivate us to diligence, but the reverse is generally true. When you allow your time to be consumed with non-essential cravings, your to do list will bury you. You’ll always find yourself behind and scrambling.
Paul wrote, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not
expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
Refuse to be controlled by your desires. Satisfying human desires at whim never gives energy for the higher disciplines. Instead, reward your higher disciplines with the human desires.
The Christian life is not a sprint; it is a marathon. We need patience to stay in the race until we cross the finish line. It is this patience that Hebrews 12:1 admonishes: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”
Even if you don’t finish your to-do list for the day, even if you don’t see the results you wanted, choose to rejoice. If you focus only on results, you’ll burn out. The truth is, we’ll never know all the results of our service for the Lord or others until eternity. Rejoice in your faithfulness, not in your fruitfulness.
Matthew 25:21 reminds us that it is faithfulness that will matter in eternity. “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”
Life stewardship is not a one-time session of setting goals. It’s a set of beliefs and habits that shape our lives toward the day when we give an account before our Lord.