It's New Year's resolution season. This year instead of resolving to lose weight or quit clipping your toenails in the living room (not that those aren't good resolutions), let's try for something more substantive.
We all say, I want to be more like Jesus. But how do we do that? It's easy to get overwhelmed and do nothing. We need to get specific.
Identify the problem
Everyone commits the "little" sins — things like lying or selfishness — and we should fight against those, but we also all have one or two sins that are a particular problem for us. Some might call it your favorite sin, but more likely it's the one you feel is kicking your butt. It's time to do something about that. The sin that so easily entangles has to go.
We say that we struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. The flesh is usually our biggest problem, but the world definitely teams up with it, feeding and encouraging our worst impulses.
You may have heard the analogy that the flesh warring with the spirit is like two dogs fighting, and the one you feed will win. We need to cut off the flesh's food supply.
Identify the source
Here's an example: Covetousness. At it's core, coveting is about being dissatisfied with what you have. But you can't be dissatisfied with your lot unless you're aware of the options. You feed your covetousness every time you take in all the things you don't have — whether it's window shopping at the mall or driving by the new car lots or simply browsing the sale ads in the newspaper.
You're fine with your coffee maker until you see the one that will get up off the counter and gently shake your arm to wake you while percolating coffee to a jazzy tune. You're fine with your car until you start contemplating the unending comforts of "rich Corinthian leather."
You can cut off the food to your covetous heart by cutting off the flow of information about things you don't need. Don't look at sales ads to see what's out there. Check out the new coffee pots only after yours dies. Stay away from car lots until it's actually time to replace your car. By removing the things you don't have from your mind, you give yourself fewer things to be unsatisfied about.
Oh, covetousness isn't your problem? How about lust? Cut off the supply. No, I'm not talking about pornography. That's an effect, not the cause. Our society loves to feed our lust — on billboards, on tv, and, of course, as we walk down the street. Guys, if that's your problem, you might need to change gyms. Ladies, perhaps you need to change reading material.
Maybe it's cursing. How do the people you spend your time with talk? What about your entertainment choices?
Make a specific plan
Whatever it is, figure out the sources of the food and cut them off.
Make a plan. A specific plan. "I will covet less" will get you nowhere. "I will stop driving by the car lot" is specific, and it's easy to tell how you're doing.
Figure out how you can stop feeding the flesh: "I will stop loitering outside the aerobics class." "I will stop watching movies with bad language." Whatever it is, do something concrete.
Keep it going
Then do something else concrete. Whatever change you make is just a drop in the bucket. You stopped driving by the car lot; now excuse yourself when your friend starts talking about his new car. You stopped hanging out watching women in spandex; now stop watching the LFL games.
Then continue. This is a process. Keep looking for things you can change, ways to cut off the food. As you progress, hopefully the beast will get weaker.
I suggest making a list. I'll bet you can think of five things you do that feed your problem. Surely you can name three. In Dave Ramsey style, start with the easiest one to cut out. Then move down the list. By the time you've finished the list you should be able to name other habits that contribute to your problem. Make a new list and start down it.
Back to the world, the flesh, and the devil: Most of the time I think the devil is the least of our problems — until you try to make some real changes. This is spiritual warfare. Expect to be attacked. Look for it. Plan on it. Be on your guard.
A lot of times we should resist the devil. We need to fight and we can win. But not in this. If you were any good at fighting on this issue, it wouldn't be an issue. Run. When temptation springs up, head for the hills.
It's going to be a long road. But by this time next year you will hopefully be a lot more like Jesus than you are today. And hopefully I'll be there with you.