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Too Many Rules

The beginning of a new year is a good time to think differently.  It is a great opportunity to start again, do a winter prune, wipe the slate clean.  This quiet time of year is a perfect time for inner reflection and planning.  We want to start the new year by giving ourselves some new rules to live by, to live life differently, to do things differently.

These rules often represent our idea of a better way to live: lose weight; get exercising; read more; drink less alcohol.  The problem is, if we see them only as a list of joyless, draconian rules to which we must strictly adhere, it won’t be long before we are longing to break free from them.  However, if we take on a different mindset, by changing our minds first, before changing our habits, how we learn to think will have a transformational effect on our lives. 

If you think along the lines of “I want to look great, feel amazing and have boundless energy”, it will be easier to say no to chocolates and crisps, far easier than saying, “I will not eat crisps or chocolate in 2018”.  Rather than being prohibitive, “I will not…” you become affirmative, “I want to feel/look/experience…”.

A journey of faith is similar.  Trying to live a life of ticking all the boxes and sticking to the rules in order to lead a better life inevitably results in frustration and a sense of failure. 

In the book of Romans, Paul writes, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).  What Paul is saying is that the transformation we should seek happens in the mind, by being renewed in the mind, in the mental state, not in the physical state.  So not only are we transformed in the mind, but, for Paul, mental action is initiated prior to physical action.

The remainder of Paul’s verse in Romans 12 reads, “…that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”. 

If we think about the new year and self improvement as a way of “renewing our minds” and aspire to live out of different priorities and ambitions, we have a chance to change our lives in a fundamental, rather than superficial, way.  Paul writes that when our minds are transformed, then we can discern what is the will of God.  When we know what God’s will is then we can take physical action.  But that inner transformation comes first.  It is by looking at our situation, our lives, our problems, differently that we will think differently which in turn will enable us to discern God’s will. 

God’s will is not to condemn us.  We know that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  If there is no condemnation from our Heavenly Father then neither should we condemn ourselves.  Should you be hard on yourself right now for whatever reason, including unachieved new year’s resolution, God’s invitation to you is to be easier on yourself.

This February look at your resolutions again and maybe, change the focus, especially in those areas where you feel you might have already failed, or given up, or think you lack the ability to achieve.  Rewrite resolutions or goals as statements which open you up to growth, to transformation.

Simple examples would be to replace “I will go to the gym three times a week” with “Good health and high energy levels are very important to me and so I prioritise physical exercise”.  Or, replace, “I will tidy up the house every day”, with “A tidy home is important to me and makes me feel calm and relaxed”.  Expressing your goals solely in terms of rules, achievement and ticking boxes leads to a life where you are only acceptable to yourself if you fulfill all those requirements.  By contrast stating what your values are (being calm and relaxed or being healthy and energetic) is positive and affirming.

In Lucifer Exposed by Derek Prince, the author writes in reference to the verse from Romans 12:2 above,

‘Our solution is not a list of religious rules, because that doesn’t change people on the inside.  The solution is for our minds to be changed, because when we begin to think differently, we will live differently.’ [DPM, p.113]

Spiritual examples of thinking differently would be to replace, “I will pray more” or “I need to read my Bible more”, with “I want to get to know Jesus better”, or “What does my heavenly Father think about……?” which will inevitably lead to a deeper prayer life and more time spent reading the Bible as we develop a relationship with our Lord. 

So this February I encourage you to look again at those areas of your life where you have set resolutions for this year.  Rewrite those aims with the perspective of abandoning rules that make you feel guilty or ashamed when you don’t achieve them.  Choose instead to rewrite them as a life value, something that leads to a positive inner change that will lead to your transformation, to a way of living differently.

Above all, keep on going, do not give up.  Keep moving towards that upward call of God in Christ and soon enough you will look back and see behind you that small steady wake of a life in transformation.