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A New Year & New Opportunities

If you read very much of the Bible, it wouldn’t take you long to discover that one of God’s greatest desires is to see His children grow, deepen and mature. After close to 40 years of being a Christian and studying God’s word, I believe that our willingness to learn, to change, to grow is God's love language. It tells Him that we believe in Him. It tells Him that we trust Him. It tells Him that we are willing to become what He wants us to be.

The Bible makes it clear that while God loves us just the way we are, He loves us too much to leave us that way. Because He loves us He wants to see us “become conformed to the image of His son.” (Romans 8:29). Because He loves us, He wants to help us “grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ . . . ” (Ephesians 4:15). Because He loves us, He delights in blessing us and wants to “do exceedingly abundantly beyond all we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

This growth process involves change, and sometimes change comes through crisis, problems, setbacks, sin, mistakes and failure. The process of choosing to change involves us taking God's hand and following Him knowing that we can trust Him. He will never give us more than we can handle (I Corinthians 10:13). He can cause all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28). He will supply all of our needs according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19).

As a theology student, I’ve studied God’s word; as a clinical psychologist, I’ve studied people; as a marriage and family therapist, I’ve studied relationships. One of my discoveries has been that, while most people want to grow, few of us want to change. Why? Because while change can be simple, it is seldom easy and rarely painless. Change takes time, energy, the willingness to admit our need, the courage to face our failures and fears and the faith to believe that in the midst of the uncertainty our God will be faithful.

For many people change is something negative. It suggests inferiority, inadequacy and failure. No wonder so many of us run from or resist the idea of change. Yet the reality is that when you boil life down to the basics, the name of the game is change. People who want to learn, who are willing to look at themselves in the mirror before grabbing the binoculars to look at others, who refuse to stay in a rut, who make time to listen for the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, they are the people that God is free to use, to bless, to honor. They are the ones who know what it means to “be more than conquerors” (Romans 8:31).

Several years ago one of my patients told me about a struggle he was having with his golf game. “I've played golf for 20 years. I love the game and I play several times a week. But over the years I've developed some bad habits.” Because of his love for the game and his desire to become a better golfer he decided to take some lessons from one of the top golf pros in Denver.

As he recalled his learning experience he said, “Dr. Oliver, I was amazed at how difficult it was for me to change a few simple aspects of my game. Unlearning unhealthy and automatic ways of swinging my club was a lot more work than I had thought.” He had to spend hours and hours working on some new techniques. He had to hit thousands of golf balls at the driving range. “At first I felt silly doing some of the exercises he made me do and after the first few practices my arms ached.” I could tell by how he talked about it that it really had been painful. “But now,” he said with a smile, “it doesn't hurt me at all.” His smile got even bigger and with a tone of pride he added, “And, I've lowered my handicap by six strokes.”

I don't golf. In fact, after each one of the three times I have golfed I received numerous requests to take up another sport. However, even I know enough about the game of golf to appreciate the fact that dropping your handicap by six strokes is a major accomplishment. How was he able to do it? What brought about his growth? What led to his increased sense of confidence and competence? How was he able to change deep-seated habits he had practiced for over 20 years?

The answer is simple. His tremendous desire to grow, to improve, to increase his skill and competence made him willing to risk some pain, to risk looking awkward, to risk confronting some feelings of inadequacy, to risk facing the challenge of change. He took the risk, paid the price and he won.

You have some unique opportunities to look at your life, to look at your relationships, and to set some “growth goals” for this new year. You have the opportunity to decide whether you are going to be a victim or a victor. You have the opportunity to decide if you are going to go backward, stay stuck, or move ahead. You have the opportunity to decide whether you want to be more than conquered or to, with God’s help, become more than a conqueror.

It all starts with making a decision. After almost 40 years of being a Christian and close to 20 years of marriage I’ve discovered that, to a great degree, faith is nothing more than a matter of making decisions. This is probably why Billy Graham has stated that “Decision is the most important word in the English language.” Think about it. He named his radio program the Hour of Decision. He names his magazine Decision magazine.

You have a fresh opportunity to make a decision that in this new year you are going to learn, to grow, to make a few changes in one of the most important areas of your life . . . your relationships. You have a fresh opportunity to make a fresh start in your marriage, your family, your friendships and your work relationships. You have a fresh opportunity to make a fresh start in your relationship with the one whose birth we just celebrated, Jesus Christ.

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