(From The Daniel Plan – 40 Days to a Healthier Life)
If God’s responsibility is to provide life-changing truth, Holy Spirit power, and custom-made experiences to help you change and grow, then what is your responsibility for personal change? You must develop three spiritual habits that will deepen your faith and develop your spiritual strength.
Choose to Fill Your Mind with God’s Word Every Day
Change is a matter of choice. We can’t just passively sit around doing nothing and expect our lives to get better. We must make healthy choices to use the resources God gives us, and the first healthy choice is to carefully choose what we think about.
It is often said, “You’re not what you think you are, but what you think about, you are!” Did you get that? If you are going to change your life, you must first change the way you think—your perceptions about God, about yourself, about life, about food, about health, and about everything else. Change always begins with new thinking. We must change the patterns of our mind. (We will look at this more in chapter 6 on Focus.)
The biblical word for personal change is repentance. Most people completely misunderstand the term. The popular conception of repentance is “Stop sinning! Quit doing bad things!” But the word actually means to change your mind. It comes from the Greek word metanoia, which means to change your perspective, think in a different way, make a mental U-turn. Of course, if you change your mind, your behavior will follow, but repentance starts in the mind, not in actions.
Choosing to change your perspective and what you think about is your first responsibility in getting healthy. The Bible teaches that the way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel determines the way you act. If you want to change any behavior, you must start by challenging your unhealthy perspective on that subject. For example, if you have difficulty controlling your anger, don’t start with your actions; instead, begin with identifying and changing the thoughts that prompt you to anger. Romans 12:2 says that we are transformed by the renewing of our mind. We are not transformed by an act of our will, but by repentance—seeing everything from God’s perspective.
Imagine that you have a speedboat with an autopilot that is set to head east across a lake, and you suddenly decide that you want to go west, in the exact opposite direction. What would you do?
You would have two options: The hardest way would be to grab the steering wheel and physically force the boat to go in the opposite direction than it was programmed to go. By sheer willpower you could force the boat to make a 180-degree turn. As long as you held onto the steering wheel, the boat would head in the new direction. But the entire time, you would feel the tension in your arms and body because you were forcing the autopilot to go against its programmed nature. You would feel stressed and uptight, and eventually you would get tired and let go of the steering wheel. At that point, the boat’s autopilot would immediately return to heading east.
The simpler and easier way to change the direction of the boat is to change the autopilot. Then it will naturally head in the direction you want it to go.
For a similar reason, this is why diets, quit-smoking plans, and other self-help efforts based on willpower eventually fail. The entire time you are forcing yourself to change, you are under tension because your old thought patterns are unconsciously telling you to keep doing what you’ve always done. We get tired of doing what feels “unnatural” and soon quit exercising, or start smoking again, or return to our bad habits and destructive ways of relating to others. We are victims of our own autopilots that we have programmed by repetition.
The good news is that God can change your mental autopilot far faster than you can. He specializes in giving you a new mind-set. That new mind-set will change the way you feel, which will change the way you act. I pointed out earlier that Jesus said the truth sets you free. When you begin to renew your mind with God’s Word, and you replace old lies, false ideas, and misconceptions with the truth, it will set you free from the habits and hang-ups that limit your life. Your actions will naturally begin to align with your new attitudes.
Choose to Depend on God’s Spirit Every Moment
Everyone who trusts Christ to save them receives his Holy Spirit in their lives, but few people experience the power of the Holy Spirit because they still depend on their own power instead. Learning to depend on God’s Spirit to guide you, strengthen you, empower you, and use you is the second habit you must develop for spiritual strength.
Jesus gives a beautiful illustration of this in John 15. He compares our spiritual life to a grapevine and its branches. Jesus said, “I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit. But you cannot do anything without me” (John 15:5 CEV).
No grape branch can produce fruit without staying connected to the main vine, and you cannot produce spiritual fruit while disconnected from God’s Spirit. The fruitfulness of your life will depend on how dependent you are on the Holy Spirit. Attempting to bear fruit (and making positive changes) on your own power is as foolish as tying apples on the branches of a dead apple tree. From a distance, it might look as if the tree is alive and fruitful, but on closer inspection, people would realize the fruitfulness is fake.
So how do you develop a vibrant, life-giving relationship to God? The same way you develop any other relationship! It takes time, it takes talking, and it takes trust. To develop a friendship with God, you have to be in continual conversation with him, listening to him through his Word and talking with him in prayer. If you are not talking to God throughout your day, you certainly aren’t depending on him. Prayer is far more than a once-a-day quiet time or a memorized blessing before each meal. God wants to have a running conversation with you!
Choose to Trust God in Every Circumstance
You cannot control everything that happens to you. In fact, most of what happens around you is completely out of your control. But you do have control over two important factors: You control your response, and you control how much you choose to trust God, regardless of your circumstances.
Viktor Frankl, a Jew, was sent to one of the Nazi death camps of World War II. In his powerful classic, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl wrote that while he was a prisoner at Dachau, the guards stripped him of everything he had. They took his identity. They took his wife and family. They took his clothes. They even took his wedding ring. But, he said, there was one thing that no one could take from him: his freedom to choose his response and attitude. He wrote, “They offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human the freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” No guards could take that away from Viktor Frankl. It was his choice.
None of us knows what will happen in the future, but we can control how we react and respond. We choose whether something will make us bitter or better. God gave us that freedom, and he is watching how we respond to events that don’t go our way. What matters in life is not so much what happens to us, but what happens in us.
Circumstances are the third tool God uses to change us, grow us, and make us more like Christ. Knowing this keeps us from becoming resentful or bitter. Romans 5:3–4 says, “We also have joy with our troubles, because we know that these troubles produce patience. And patience produces character, and character produces hope” (NCV).
We want you to remember a very important truth: God is not waiting for you to get physically healthy or spiritually mature before he starts loving you or enjoying you. He loves you right now, and he will be cheering you on at every stage of your growth and development. He is not waiting for you to cross the finish line first. He is smiling at you as you run the race.