The first of January provides a valuable opportunity to leave behind an old pattern or habit and begin something new. As I have gotten older, I have recognized the importance of developing healthy disciplines for self-care. I have also deepened my appreciation for developing disciplines that benefit others. As you begin your new year, I encourage you to identify not only new habits that benefit yourself but also ones that benefit those around you. Here are five suggestions:
1. Work at listening better.
It seems those in the world around us are listening less to each other and becoming more forceful in projecting their opinions onto others. What once seemed like a common courtesy, listening, is actually a meaningful ministry and an expression of love to others. The art of listening is intimately connected to our quality of serving and loving people. Make a point this year to expand your listening skills.
2. Cultivate friendships with those who are different than you.
This should not be difficult since everyone is different than us in some way; however, it seems to be human nature to gravitate toward people who share similarities with us. We find safety and security in bonding with those who are part of “our tribe.” While there is nothing wrong with that, we rob ourselves of the richness of God’s created diversity in humanity by not developing relationships with those different than us. Perhaps that means building a relationship with an individual from a different generation or one who has a different political preference or religious practice. Jesus modeled this beautifully and was known as a “friend of sinners” because He invested relationally with those different than Himself.
3. Verbalize your gratitude for your church more often.
This may seem like a “company line” or a little self-serving for me to say, but we live in a society that is hypercritical. Social media is filled with “experts” who have an unquenchable thirst for identifying everything that is wrong with everything. This includes the church. It is tempting to compare our church to other churches we see in the community or online. “I wish our church had this or had that . . . .” It can become easy to get so wrapped up in comparing other churches to our own that we forget what is great about our church. When was the last time you shared with someone what you love about your church? Make a point on a Sunday to strike up a conversation with someone in your foyer or café area by saying, “You know what I love about our church?” Churches get scrutinized all the time. Choose to make a difference and spread good reports about your church this year.
4. Affirm others more often.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but it is worth emphasizing. Affirming people is more than simply clicking the heart icon or thumbs up icon on Facebook. Using meaningful words to speak life and encouragement into others is not a complicated art form. It is simple, and our culture is deeply thirsty for it. Think of a time when someone spoke an affirming word to you. My guess is you are smiling at the thought of how much it meant to you. Guess what? You can provide that meaningful feeling for others. Start with your family members or friends and acknowledge good things you see in them. Imagine how your network of relationships could be affected if you simply took time to affirm and encourage regularly.
5. Disrupt your routine and be creative.
Moving to Florida this summer provided our family the opportunity to disrupt our routines and consider new habits we needed in our new context. We were forced to be creative and try new things. Some were good ideas and some were not. Either way, it was healthy for our family to evaluate our routines. Sometimes we find ourselves in a good routine that may have lost some vibrancy. Routines can give us stability, security, and predictability, all of which can be good. But sometimes we can get stuck in a routine and lose freshness (which is a really valuable thing). Sitting down at the “drawing board” of your relationship with Jesus with a blank sheet of paper and asking the Holy Spirit to creatively give you new direction for a new year can be uncomfortable (because who knows what He’ll say), but it very well could be the best way to begin 2020. One of the best resolutions we could implement is to tear down an old routine and begin a new one that brings fresh passion and creativity.
So before you try the newest diet plan everyone is raving about on Facebook or pick up the same Bible reading plan you have done for years and years, consider these resolutions as a way of shaking up your new year. Not only will you benefit, but those around you should as well.
By Nathan Hagan
Nathan Hagan loves the church and advancing her mission, currently through his role as Open Bible Churches Regional Executive Director in the Southeast Region. He earned his master’s degree in leadership studies from Gonzaga University (GO ZAGS!!). Nathan and his wife, Candi, have been serving in ministry leadership for over 20 years primarily in the areas of discipleship and leadership development, but view their most important ministry to be parenting their three children: Miciah, Caleb, and Noelle. Because life can be crazy, they work hard to have quality times of quietness, meaningful conversations with each other and others, and to regularly enjoy the simplicity of a good cup of coffee and a book.