A few years ago, Richard Simmons introduced a man named Michael on a weight-loss infomercial. Michael had an amazing story to tell. After a lifetime of extreme obesity, he used Simmons' techniques to lose more than 700 pounds-from 900 pounds to 180 pounds. For the first time in his life, he was able to do things he had never done before, and was able to go places he had never gone. During the interview, Michael said that he was enjoying life more than he ever dreamed possible. Having overcome such a tremendous obstacle, he seemed to have a bright and happy future ahead of him. He had taken control of his life and had changed his destiny in a dramatic way. Unfortunately, the change was short-lived. For some reason, Michael began overeating again. Slowly, he put on weight, until he weighed more than he did before. Eventually, he was no longer able to get out of bed. He lost his business and ended up on welfare. He had made a tremendous change in his life-but he was unable to keep the change.
Stories like this make you wonder why is it so difficult to keep a commitment? We've all been in Michael's situation-though not to such an extreme. We have all made commitments that we didn't keep and changes that didn't last.
How many Christians do you know like this? They start out in the Christian life great! They make all kinds of changes in their lives. They break from many sinful habits and begin to live good clean lives. They seem to be doing so good, and then, they start to fade away. Soon, they are not living for the Lord at all. We see this type of person in the parable of the sower.
Luke 8:11-15 (NKJV) "Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 "Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. 13 "But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. 14 "Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. 15 "But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.
So, many start out good, but like those on the rock and those who fell among thorns, they don't last long. The changes in their life are short lived, they don't keep the change.
A survey taken a few years ago revealed that more than 70% of all New Year's Resolutions are broken during the first week of January. We don't have trouble making commitments-but we sure have trouble keeping them.
We're not the only ones. In the Bible, the entire nation of Israel had this problem. Theirs was a history of falling into sin, getting forgiven, falling into sin, getting forgiven, and on and on. Read the book of Judges to see this constant pattern in the lives of the Israelites.
If you have made a commitment to change some area of your life, here are some ideas that will help you keep the change. First of all...
1. Get a support Group
There is strength in numbers. Our chances of remaining faithful are greater if we are part of a group that has common ideas. The secular world understands this principle, that is why Alcohol Anonymous is somewhat successful; they have a strong support team. Get involved with others that have the same goals and convictions that you do. Spend time around people who can give you support.
Kids are often told that they shouldn't be part of the crowd and that they shouldn't go along with the group. Of course, this advice is good only when the crowd is wrong. When the crowd is right, we can benefit a great deal by leaning on one another for support. Positive peer pressure is a good thing. This isn't dependence, it's not co-dependence, it's interdependence, and it is a scriptural principle. Paul said...
Ephesians 4:16 (NKJV) from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
We see here that "every part does its share," this is teamwork. Americans glamorize the John Wayne type-the solitary man who stands alone against the crowd, single-handedly defeating the enemy. Maybe a few of those people really exist, but most of us need encouragement and support from others. After all, even the Lone Ranger had Tonto!
In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, we see the value of COMPANIONSHIP.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NKJV) Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. 11 Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
We see in this text several benefits of companionship.
1.Companions can get more done: (v 9) "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor." You can accomplish much more when you have someone working with you, someone helping you.
2. Companions know one another well enough to know each other's faults and needs. (v 10) "For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up." It is good to have those who know our faults and our weaknesses. They can help us through the times when we fall and when we fail. It is strange that we so often become defensive when those close to us are critical of us.
Proverbs 27:6 (NKJV) Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.
It will be our companions, our friends, who know us and know our weaknesses that will be there with honesty and love for us and will stick with us to the end.
Companions also know us well enough to know when we are hurting, even when no one else does. When we are down, we need someone to encourage us to help us get back up. I started this week very down, I was really discouraged. Tuesday morning I met with Rich, as I usually do, and I shared with him my discouragement. Rich encouraged me with the Scriptures and helped me to get up. I left our meeting encouraged and strengthened.
3. Companionship provides warmth: (v 11) "Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?" While there is an obvious physical side to this, there is also an emotional side. The context is the rich who seek wealth over relationships. We live basically in a very cold world. And the warmth of a friend who knows us is something we all need.
4. The fourth reward of companionship is strength: (v 12) "And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart." While this has an obvious physical side, I also see in this a spiritual side. We are much stronger spiritually when we have support, someone to stand with us.
It will be our friends who will warn us, encourage us, help us shoulder the load when the load begins to wear us down. Two are stronger than one. And that should be true in our Christian relationships. We are stronger because of relationships we have with each other.
Bruce and I have been work out partners for many years. We meet at the gym three times a week and work out together. When one of us can't make it, usually the other one doesn't show up either. It is so much easier to work out when you have someone there to encourage you, spot you, and push you. The same thing is true of the Christian life.
"Christianity Today" recently printed an article spotlighting the "True Love Waits" campaign, in which hundreds of thousands of teenagers have signed a pledge promising to remain sexually pure until marriage. The media, popular music, Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and virtually every element of our society is trying to convince teenagers that No One Waits. Thanks to this campaign, there are literally hundreds of thousands of teenagers who find strength in the fact that they are part of a very large group of people that share a common commitment.
You have a better chance of keeping a commitment if you can be part of a group with the same goal. Creating lasting change in your life requires teamwork.
2. Get some Accountability.
I believe that the Bible teaches that we are all accountable to one another, but I know that practically speaking, people won't hold us accountable unless we ask them to. Let's look at what the scriptures say about our accountability.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NKJV) And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
"Let us consider one another." The word: "consider" is the Greek word, katanoeo, from kata which means: " down"; and noeo which means: "to exercise the mind." It has the idea of throughly and carefully noticing someone or some-thing. A good English equivalent would be to "contemplate." Paul put it this way in Philippians:
Philippians 2:4 (NKJV) "Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others."
We are to consider others, we are to contemplate others, this is a theme that we see all through the Scriptures.
John 15:12 (NKJV) "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Romans 12:10 (NKJV) Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;
Romans 15:7 (NKJV) Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
Romans 15:14 (NKJV) Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
1 Thessalonians 4:18 (NKJV) Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Ephesians 4:2 (NKJV) with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,
Ephesians 4:32 (NKJV) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 5:21 (NKJV) submitting to one another in the fear of God.
How can we fulfil any of these commands if we don't consider one another? If we're so wrapped up in ourselves, that we don't know what others are in need of, then how can we fulfil these exhortations? Do you realize that individually you and I are personally responsible for the physical and spiritual welfare of each other? This exhortation is not given to the church elders, it is given to all. We all are to consider one another. You are to look to the needs, problems, struggles, and temptations of one another. The spirit of rugged individualism, so prevalent in America, is wholly incompatible with the church of Jesus Christ. If you think that you have discharged your responsibility to the Lord because you are living in holiness you are wrong, we are not only to look out for our own lives, we are to consider others. Christianity is others centered! But most of us are self centered.
Galatians 5:13 (NKJV) For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Colossians 3:16 (NKJV) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NKJV) Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.
The kingdom of God is not designed for us to exist in isolation of each other, but we are interdependent, we need each other if we are truly going to be what God has called us to be. Christianity is to be lived out in community as Paul says in:
Philippians 1:27 (NKJV) Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel,
"Let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ." The Greek word for "conduct" here is politeuomai. Pliteuomai here is a verb and means: "to conduct oneself worthily as a citizen of a polis, or city-state." To the Greeks, the Polis was not just a place to live, there was a tremendous pride in it. The people viewed their Polis as a partnership with other people to obtain the highest good for all society. There was very little living for one's self, the good of the Polis was in the minds of the people. The individual citizen developed his abilities, his talents, his skills, not for his own sake, but for the benefit of the community and for the sake of all. Mutuality, interdependence, pride of the state was the issue. So Paul, using politeuomai ,was saying to the Philippians, "Live as a citizen of a free state." To them it was full of meaning. Live for the good of others and not yourself, it meant to live for the good of the community, the body of Christ.
God has created us to be dependant, both on Him and on one another. We need each other, that is how the Lord created us. We are to teach, to serve, and to bear the burdens of one another.
Now, notice the twofold purpose of our considering one another, "to provoke unto love and good works." The word: "provoke" is from the Greek, paroxusmos, this is a strong word implying a real effort to prod each other into love and good works. This word appears only one other time in scripture, that is in:
Acts 15:37-40 (NKJV) "Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark.38 But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. 39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God."
It usually has a meaning like irritation or exasperation. It is unusual to have it used in a good sense and the choice of the unusual word makes the exhortation more striking.
We provoke one another a lot! But usually not to love and good works, but to anger, jealousy, envy. When is the last time that you were provoked to love and good works by another believer? Or when is the last time that you provoked another believer to love and good works?
How are we to do this? He tells us in verse 25, he gives us a negative and a positive. First of all by not forsaking our assembling together. We can't help each other much if we don't spend time together. Then on the positive side, when we come together we are to exhort one another. The word here for exhort is parakaleo, it means: "to encourage, to comfort, beg, beseech." It speaks of a coming alongside to help. When we get together, we are to encourage one another, build one another up. Peter and James express it this way:
James 5:16 (NKJV) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
1 Peter 4:9-10 (NKJV) Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. 10 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
This is what church involvement is all about — considering one another. We don't believe that being involved in a church saves anybody. But when you join yourself to a group of Christians, you are making yourself accountable to the leadership of that church to help you keep your commitment to follow Christ.
When the President takes office, when a doctor receives his certification, when a minister is ordained-all of these make an oath to the people they serve to do their job with integrity. They make themselves accountable to a measurable standard. They are publicly taking responsibility for the job that they do.
During World War II, a plant of parachute packers achieved notoriety because their parachutes opened only 19 of 20 times. That's an average of 95%, and it will get you an 'A' in school-but when you're jumping out of a plane, it's just not good enough. The manager of the plant developed a strategy to increase reliability. He required the packers to test the parachutes themselves. It wasn't long until quality rose to 100 percent. That's the principle of accountability at work.
An event that marked Kennedy as a great leader was his willingness to take full responsibility for the Cuban missile crisis. He could have tried to pass the blame, like some Presidents have done, or claimed to not remember the details, but instead he stood before the entire nation and said, "I'm the one to blame."
We need to realize that creating lasting change is a team effort-it takes a lot of people's help to get the job done.
3. Prioritize your life
Without a doubt, this is the most difficult part of keeping any commitment. It is hard to prevent less important matters from creeping in and taking over, because our choices aren't always as clear cut as one might think.
A friend of mine once warned me, "The enemy of the best isn't the bad—it's the good. You can spend your time doing good things, and neglect the best things."
We see this in the story of Mary and Martha. While Jesus was visiting his friend's home, Martha was busy taking care of details while Mary sat at Jesus' feet. Martha became upset that Mary wasn't doing any work, and she complained to Jesus about it, saying, "Tell her to help me!" Jesus said to Martha..."Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."
Philadelphia Phillies' Mike Schmidt was the National League home-run champion five times and twice was Most Valuable Player. A reporter once asked Mike's father what he thought of his famous son. Mr. Schmidt said, "He's a good son, a good husband, a good father and a good ballplayer—in that order."
When we make a commitment, we must constantly monitor our lives to make sure that we keep our priorities straight and keep first things first. This is so much easier to do when we are part of a group and have made ourselves accountable.
Making a commitment is easy. Keeping a commitment requires effort. Don't make the mistake of thinking you can do it on your own.
If you want to change—and you want to keep the change, then make it a team effort. It takes a whole lot of help to make a lasting change.