As we begin a new year, our thoughts turn to how to better ourselves. As we joke in our house, on the first of January I will become a completely different person. Whether we call them resolutions or goals or prayers for the new year, we can quickly become discouraged as our plans get waylaid by life circumstances, temptations, and a lack of discipline.
Hopefully some of our most important resolutions or goals include growing spiritually—growing closer to God and closer to our family and church family—and helping others grow closer to God as well, what Paul called the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). It’s so easy to get discouraged and feel depressed when we skip a daily quiet time or fall into temptation yet again or miss an opportunity to turn someone’s eyes to Christ.
So as you begin this season of change, whether in January or any other month for that matter, here are 10 ways to keep from feeling defeated spiritually.
ONE: GET ADEQUATE SLEEP
It may seem odd advice for a spiritual problem, but research is showing that adequate rest is our most potent defense against illness and depression. More important than even diet and exercise to our overall health, sleep recharges us and improves our attitude and concentration. Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is take a nap.
TWO: EXERCISE YOUR PHYSICAL BODY AND GET PROPER NUTRITION
Again, this may not seem applicable to spiritual issues at first glance, but we need to realize that we are body, soul, and spirit combined. Each part can impact the other parts. Improving our diet and getting regular exercise improves mood and increases energy levels, making us better able to fight off spiritual defeat and discouragement.
THREE: EXERCISE YOUR SPIRITUAL BODY WITH DAILY BIBLE INTAKE AND PRAYER
Just as our physical bodies need daily exercise and quality nutrition, our spiritual bodies require daily prayer and Bible reading. Nothing prepares our spiritual outlook for the day better than this. Paul told Timothy to “train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7b-8 NIV). As we hear from God through taking in His Word and as God hears from us through prayer, we make ourselves ready for what’s to come and help insulate our hearts from the hard knocks of life.
FOUR: APPLY WHAT YOU ARE LEARNING
It’s not enough to learn the Bible, but we also need to apply it to our lives and be obedient to what God is calling us to do. As we step out courageously in obedience, we find victory in knowing we’re doing His will.
FIVE: LIVE LIFE WITH OTHERS IN COMMUNITY
We need the encouragement of others to keep from feeling defeated and to help us see things from different perspectives. We all have blind spots and others can see us and our issues in ways we can’t. This includes spouse, children, parents, small group, trained counselors, authors, and others who can give us a different perspective. Often our feelings of discouragement simply come from a wrong understanding of our circumstances and someone else can objectively give us a different, more empowering point of view or a piece of wisdom or advice we’ve never considered.
SIX: REMEMBER THAT GOD IS STRONGEST WHEN YOU ARE WEAKEST
Maybe God wants to use your weakness in a way that shows you, and possibly others, His power. Realize that when you are at your weakest, God is at His strongest. Remember what Christ said to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul’s response was: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV). This may be a chance to trust God more fully and deepen your faith.
SEVEN: MEET CHALLENGES WITH A VICTOR, NOT A VICTIM, MENTALITY
This is a challenge I am facing this year. It’s so easy for me to quickly get discouraged by every little obstacle in my path. But sometimes it’s just a matter of rewriting the script that I’m telling myself. We can either face things from a negative point of view or a positive one. Most every seemingly negative situation has a positive side to it. We can either face problems or opportunities. Ask yourself: How can I face this situation with a positive attitude?
EIGHT: REPENT WHEN YOU FAIL, BUT ACCEPT THE GRACE AND FORGIVENESS GOD GIVES
Because we are human and still living on this earth, sin will always be an issue and we will face times of failure. Sin does require repentance. But we need to accept God’s forgiveness and rise again to face the next challenge. We make God’s grace a farce if we continue to wallow in self-pity and defeat. Thank God our condition depends on God’s grace and not our own righteousness.
NINE: LEARN FROM EVERY SITUATION
Being a lifelong learner is so important, but not just learning from books and courses and seminars. We need to learn from every situation and circumstance, including our times of failure. But it takes a certain amount of quiet and reflection to do this. As John Maxwell says, “Experience isn’t the best teacher; evaluated experience is.” Consider taking a few minutes at the end of each day to think through the highs and lows of the day and what God may be teaching you. A journal is so helpful for this.
TEN: TAKE TIME TO REFUEL
Finally, I recommend something that may seem a little selfish: Take some me time. You need to take time for yourself doing some things that recharge your batteries. For me that might mean reading or watching movies. For others it might mean hunting or fishing, or being crafty, or playing an instrument—it will be different for each person. This is hard for some us because it seems like we’re being self-centered. But just as a car needs to be regularly refueled to run, so we as humans need to be replenished. We can’t give out to others what we aren’t taking in.
I hope these ideas help protect your heart from spiritual discouragement and feelings of defeat. And I hope you have the greatest year yet!