The following is a report on the practical applications of Doug Fields’ new book, Fresh Start: God’s Invitation to a Great Life, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2009).
Do you feel stuck? Maybe you don’t like the way your life has been going lately, but can’t seem to change it. Perhaps you’re struggling with an unhealthy habit that you know you should stop, yet still continue despite your best intentions to change.
No matter how stuck you may have become, you can move forward with God’s help. Here’s how you can make a fresh start to change your life for the better:
Look beyond yourself to God. Your ability to make real and lasting changes to your life is limited, even when you try your hardest. Rather than relying just on your own determined resolve to change and your own positive thinking (which may improve your life temporarily but not lead to permanent change), connect to God in prayer daily and rely on the strength that He will give you to truly change for good. God loves you too much to let you stay stuck; He wants to help you become the best person and experience the best life possible. Invite God to give you a fresh start and cooperate with His work in your life by following where He leads you.
Be honest about how something bad makes you feel good. Sin that you’re hanging onto has something about it that attracts you: If you try to control other people, you may be getting a feeling of power from your efforts. If you often express your anger through fits of rage, you may be enjoying the adrenaline rush that results. If you struggle with lust, you may find the sexual fantasies that come with it exciting. Admit what pleasure you’re deriving from your sinful habits, confess it to God, and ask Him to help you really desire to make a fresh start.
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Identify the pain that lies underneath your sinful attitudes and behaviors. Whatever problem you’re trying to change – porn, gambling, overspending, speaking profanity, or something else – has some pain that’s causing it. Ask God to reveal the core reason why you’re struggling with the sin that is making you stuck in life right now. Tell God that you want to live in a way that pleases Him and is healthy for you. Trust Him to heal your pain as you move closer to Him.
Deal with pride. What dreams have you been hoping would come true, yet have remained stuck in your mind and haven’t become reality? As you think about them, consider your motivation for pursuing them. Can you recognize pride at work? Is it possible that some of your dreams are based on your desire to get people to notice and value you? If so, you’ve been aiming for the wrong dreams in those cases. God has better plans for you, and if you’re willing to trade your dreams for God’s dreams for your life, you won’t be stuck anymore. You can move toward true greatness when you pursue God’s dreams, because in the process, He will transform you into a person with strong character, like Jesus. Pray for the humility you need to surrender your own agenda and cooperate with God’s plans for your life.
Define success. If you’ve been chasing success in the form of wealth, significance, or security, you can get stuck never really achieving the success you want. Recognize that God defines success far differently than our culture does. From God’s perspective, a successful person focuses on giving, not getting. The way to achieve true success is by serving other people for God’s glory. Keep in mind that, no matter how busy you are, you can always find the time to do what you most want to do.
So make service a top priority in your life. Pray for the ability to discern specific ways God wants you to serve. Start small; simply see a need and meet it. If you find that a certain way you’ve tried to serve turns out not to be a good match for you, keep looking for other opportunities to serve well. Be sure to take time out from serving to rest, though, to keep your life in a healthy balance. When you make service a vital part of your lifestyle, you’ll experience life as Jesus experienced it, and you’ll have more of His love flowing through you. That’s the ultimate success.
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Move on from guilt. If guilt over wrong decisions you made in the past is keeping you stuck, you can move on with God’s help. Confess your sins, mistakes, and failures to God, repent of your sins, and accept the forgiveness that He offers you. Read and reflect on Bible verses about forgiveness. Pray for God to give you peace about your past. Talk about your past and God’s forgiveness with some caring Christian friends who will support you as you leave guilt behind.
Remember that there’s absolutely nothing you’ve done in the past that God can redeem. Move forward in the confidence that God has not only forgiven you, but that He also wants to use you to do significant work in His kingdom. Once you’re free from guilt, you’re free to say “yes” to God when He presents opportunities for you to serve Him.
Find freedom from hurt. If you don’t forgive the people who hurt you, their offenses will come back to haunt you over and over again and you’ll be stuck in bitterness. But if you obey God’s call to forgive others since He has forgiven you, you can break free of bitterness and move on well with your life. So write down what you think the person who hurt you owes you (an apology, an explanation, a marriage that was destroyed, money that was stolen, a life that was taken, etc.). Then cancel the debt, writing “Paid in full” across your list. Canceling the debt means that you decide not to: hold the action against the offending person, raise it back up with the person, or use it against the person anymore.
Choose to follow God’s command to forgive despite your feelings. If you make a faithful decision, God will gradually change your feelings. You’ll find that after you make the decision to forgive, God will start the healing process until you finally come to the point where you can remember the hurtful situation or encounter the person who hurt you without having the poison of bitterness rise up within your soul.
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Use conflicts to discover adventure. If you’ve been struggling with a conflict that has left you stuck in stress without a resolution, realize that God can use that conflict to transform you in ways that will lead to great adventures in your life. Conflict can be a powerful catalyst for God to reveal more about Himself to you and cause new growth to happen in your life. Choose to do what’s right – not what’s easy – when dealing with conflict. Seek peace by confronting the people with whom you’re in conflict, apologizing for your part in the conflict, and forgiving those who have hurt or offended you through the conflict. As you make every effort to live resolve conflicts so you can live in peace, you’ll grow into a stronger person and bring glory to God in the adventurous process.
Overcome discouragement. If you’re stuck in discouragement, don’t despair because God always offers you real hope. Discouragement can teach you about your unfulfilled expectations, and it can also reveal areas of your life that you need to change with God’s help. So pray about the source of your discouragement and shift your focus from yourself to God. Ask God to give you an eternal perspective on your life so you can pay attention to what matters most and let the rest go. Schedule leisure time into your schedule regularly so you don’t get burned out, which can lead to discouragement. Make a habit of consistently encouraging the people around you.
Find true friendships. Loneliness can make you feel stuck without hope of finding others who will truly care about you and share life’s joys and sorrows with you. But God will give you the courage you need to reach out to people and form true friendships. Realize that you and a few close friends can be better together than you can be apart, because you can grow through your friendships into the people God wants you all to become. Ask Got to give you abundant opportunities to connect with people and cultivate close friendships with them.
Redeem rejection. Memories of past rejections can leave you stuck without the will to take new risks and try to pursue God’s best for your life. But while people in our fallen world will inevitably let you down, God will always be there for you when you need Him. You can have complete confidence that God loves you unconditionally and will help you move forward with your life to fulfill good purposes. Choose to live to please God, not other people.
Ask God to help you see the potential that He sees in your life. Pray to have compassion on the people who reject you, realizing that they’re hurting people in need of God’s grace, just like you. Let your experiences of rejection make you a more compassionate person toward other people. Invite God to pour out His love through your life to help heal the pain that others feel and draw them to Him.
Attack anger. If you’re stuck in anger, God will give you the peace you need to overcome it. Delay responding immediately to people and situations that make you angry. Step back to ask yourself, “Why am I really angry?” Realize that anger is a secondary emotion; try to identify what the primary emotion is that’s causing your anger (frustration, disappointment, annoyance, fear, etc.). Defuse your anger by choosing to respond in a peaceful way, despite your feelings (such as deleting an offensive e-mail without reading it or making a joke about a hurtful comment someone makes). After you’ve had enough time to calm down, you can confront the people who make you angry through calm conversations that let them know how they made you feel. Pray for the wisdom and power you need to choose peace over anger.
Share your story with others. Let people who don’t yet have relationships with Jesus know about how God has given you a fresh start in life. Talk with people on common ground (wherever you all are regularly together, such as at work, school, or your favorite restaurant). Accept people as God’s creations, even when you don’t agree with their lifestyles or approve of their choices. Avoid being preachy, pushy, or phony with them.
Simply share the story of what you life was like before Jesus and what it has been like since Jesus changed your life. Then naturally shift the conversation to them, asking about something simple like: “What about you? Have you ever had any interest in God?”. As you’re faithful in caring for people, you can expect God to do the rest of the work to draw them into relationships with Him. Celebrate how God uses your own fresh start to inspire other people to pursue fresh starts in their own lives.
Keep going strong. Stay closely connected to God so you can live with passion each day and depend on God’s power to help you live out the right values. Your fresh start can keep propelling your life in the right direction.
Adapted from Fresh Start: God’s Invitation to a Great Life copyright 2009 by Doug Fields. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tn., www.thomasnelson.com.
Doug Fields graduated from SCC in 1984 (now Vanguard), and received his MDiv. from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1986. Doug has served as a youth pastor for 25 years, and has been teaching pastor at Saddleback Church since 1992. Doug has been a global youth ministry leader through his books, speaking and youth ministry resources. He is the award-winning author of more than 40 books, many of which serve as curriculum in Seminaries and Bible Colleges. Besides speaking regularly to teenagers and the congregation of Saddleback Church, Doug can also be found speaking to youth workers around the world. Doug would say his greatest accomplishment is marrying way out of his league to his wife Cathy of 23 years. They have three teenage children; Torie, Cody and Cassie.