I don't enjoy structure for the sake of structure.
That would be shortsighted, for a plan, method or framework can provide great sanity and purpose to everything we do.
I could say that I prefer creative freedom more than I do repetitive routines.
Still, what I'm getting at is I don't like doing things just to do them, being bound by previous patterns, letting the calendar dictate my life or having others tell me the method by which I'm to live.
Yeah, I'm that guy.
Perhaps that's why I rejected my traditional church upbringing growing up as feeling too "dry" or "confining." Even when I finally seized my faith as a teenager, I was told by well-meaning mentors that to be a growing Christian I'd have to get up early every day for a "quiet time." After failing at that over and over, I concluded that I'd never be a growing Christian.
I don't enjoy structure for the sake of structure.
So I have had fun figuring that out.
Discovering how to grow with God can be as creative as however you end up growing with God.
Don't want to do 40 days? No problem. Do 30. Or 20. Or 6. Pick a number.
Want to amp it up? Do this with others around you who are just like you, or reach out to a teenager and let this be an inter-generational thing.
Maybe share it a group-wide challenge?
However this serves you, I pray it serves you.
Behold - your anti-plan for the New Year:
- Day 1: Look back - what are five things from last year that stand out for whatever reason? Write them down.
- Day 2: Go back to yesterday's list. Ask God to show you something about it that you didn't catch when you first created it. Take your time with this.
- Day 3: Pay better attention to every person you talk to today. Notice something about their appearance you never noticed before. Most people never as follow-up questions. Ask at least one. Look at that person more fully, paying attention to him/her versus what you're merely talking about. Let this deepen that friendship, even if only one step further.
- Day 4: Consider the various ideas/goals you've heard others share about their physical fitness or eating plans. Has your reaction to this been more dismissive, carefree or motivated? Adopt one of their goals for the next 3 days.
- Day 5: Start up a conversation about something that matters to you. Notice how easy it is for you to talk about it, even if others aren't into it. Let this inspire you in the next few days to move past the usual surface-level chit-chat to inspire or challenge others.
- Day 6: Think about the chore you dislike the most. You're cringing already. Next time you do that chore, identify one simple way to make it fun - or perhaps sing or hum a favorite worship song the entire time you're doing it. Now, how do you feel?
- Day 7: Review the past week. Create a "next-step" from anything in days 1 - 6, making sure you articulate when you will specifically take action on this.
- Day 8: Evaluate your spiritual habits over the past month. Has time with Jesus been more about convenience or have you pushed past your own desires and comfort to really give God what's "right" and not what's "left?" Note any feelings or defensiveness that rises up in you on this, and create an action step.
- Day 9: Review some recent news headlines or debates online. Think about the last time you took a genuine stand for something you believe in or listened to the perspective on something you disagreed with. Note how easy it is to either care too much or too little about certain topics. Chew on this for the next 24 hours, inviting God to speak into it.
- Day 10: Reconsider yesterday's theme and apply both takeaways - let yourself fight for something important today (regardless of your fears), and let someone share what is important to him/her (regardless of your stance).
- Day 11: Fight for a relationship that seems to be dissolving. Do this with gentleness and respect, and yet with boldness and unshakable commitment.
- Day 12: Make a simple vision statement of where you think you're heading into this next year. If you get stuck, write down 3 to 5 of the greatest breakthroughs you imagine might happen in the months ahead. Share it with someone.
- Day 13: Take a look at your calendar or habits, noting where you spend your time most days of the week. Wrestle with why "you" are "there" - how is your presence in those places more than accidental, but perhaps something intentional from God?
- Day 14: Hone in on a goal from the past two weeks. Simplify it somehow so you gain traction by doing at least a good portion of it so that the entire magnitude of it doesn't overwhelm you.
- Day 15: Shop for something that will build your personal book or music library. Do this today - don't put it off.
- Day 16: Share some out-loud praises (perhaps with others in your home) of how God's specifically blessed you. Enjoy them and Him. Take it to the next level by considering how each of those blessings are meant to be shared with others and not merely for you.
- Day 17: Tell a cashier that you're looking for a good candy bar and ask for a recommendation. Buy it, but then gift the cashier with that candy bar.
- Day 18: Give yourself permission to be sad about something or someone. You can certainly move on afterward, but take time to grieve over things you tend to skip over.
- Day 19: Ask a few people around you what is something they'd like to teach you how to do. Set up a time for this to happen.
- Day 20: Come up with a way to rest appropriately over the next three days. See if you can get others to be on a similar plan.
- Day 21: Own up to something from your past where you "stopped short" somehow, such as avoiding a situation or person by sneaking away or not giving your best somehow. Go back and make things right, even if it's merely to apologize.
- Day 22: Get together with someone who's doing well in a skill or area of life you'd like to grow in. Ask questions about what they've learned along the way so you can apply it into your own life.
- Day 23: Mark down any progress you feel you've made over the past few weeks, whether you do it privately or publicly. Do this every few weeks to recognize your growth.
- Day 24: Make plans today to not use technology for anything but emergencies tomorrow.
- Day 25: Take note of the good and bad "anchors" in your life: the people and habits that either help you grow into who God is growing you to be, or the fears and routines that keep you from taking risks that can propel you forward.
- Day 26: Determine what might be a good book to read in the next month. Ask others for ideas in a particular genre you'd enjoy getting into.
- Day 27: Eat a food that you normally wouldn't eat. Try to find a way to enjoy it.
- Day 28: Create a mix of music for your next week, like your own personal soundtrack for whatever is ahead. Set up a way to listen to it.
- Day 29: Pray a simple prayer for every person in your cell phone contact list. The only requirement? Don't generalize - personalize a prayer for each person by name.
- Day 30: Give yourself and others some slack where you have been more tempted to give critique. Likewise, seek and offer some helpful accountability for yourself and others where you have been tempted to be hands off.
- Day 31: Buy a gift card for a local ice cream parlor and give it to someone in your life who needs encouragement.
- Day 32: Visit YouTube to search for and watch any archived message from Billy Graham that is in black-and-white. Fully focus on this.
- Day 33: Reexamine your financial habits. What if you lived on 80% of what you make instead of 100% (or going into debt beyond what you make)? Aim for this - use the first 10% that you make to bless movements trying to serve the world, and bank the next 10% as savings. Manage and live on the rest.
- Day 34: Do an exercise you will actually enjoy doing for at least 20 minutes.
- Day 35: Tell someone today that God love them and is trying to get their attention. If they ask you how you know this, share a verse like Romans 1:20 or Job 33:14... or tell your own story of how He's spoken to you.
- Day 36: Boldly invite someone to join you for church this weekend. Let the Lord guide you in this, but definitely take that step.
- Day 37: Find a set of candy dispensers in a local store and place quarters into each mechanism's coin area so the next person who comes by can get something for free.
- Day 38: Make sure everyone in your household and extended family knows you love them. Say it in a way that they will understand it.
- Day 39: Make a meal for a busy neighbor.
- Day 40: Challenge someone else to go through this list (and perhaps go through it again with him/her).
- BONUS: Specifically invite other people to show you a blind spot or emotional trigger in your life that you may not be fully aware of.
- BONUS: Invert something you're worried about by facing it through larger perspective found in Scripture or worship music.
Which one stands out to you?
What would you add or subtract?
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)