4 small changes that could make a big difference to your 2019

Joe Henegan | December 31st 2018

We released over 40 new titles this year. In my capacity as the Marketing Manager, I have to read (as much as I can) of each one and understand the central message behind it. 

I’m certainly not complaining. It’s great. I get to engage with the biblical wisdom and insight of dozens of different minds and ideas throughout the year. Some great advice on courage from Matt Chandler, some exhortation to do hard things by Dave Griffiths-Jones and a better vision for human flourishing from Dan Darling. 

But one thing I have learned is that if I'm not intentional about applying these important lessons then they just get lost. 

I imagine you're the same. 

So here are four small, manageable changes, inspired by some of our 2018 releases, that I intend to make to be a better Christian, husband, father, church member and colleague next year. 

Be present

I'm a classic task-oriented kind of person. If I'm not careful, and to my wife's dismay, all of life can reduced to a mere to-do list. Sunday mornings become about just meeting the demands of whatever serving roles we’re doing that week, family life can be only about getting jobs around the house done, and work relationships are whittled down to fulfilling numerous interrelating tasks. I'm in real danger of never actually being present with people, listening to them, and not rushing off to some other urgent pressing need. 

It comes down to this: while I may be 'getting things done', I'm almost always missing out on some bigger and better things that God has for me. Namely, his love. 

In a chapter of Enjoying God, Tim Chester explains that one of the ways in which God loves us is through the community we experience with our family in Christ. He says:

"“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another,” says John in 1 John 4 v 12-13, “God lives in us and his love is made complete in us”. John’s point is this: we can’t see God, but we can see one another. So we see the love of the invisible God in the love of the visible church. God’s love becomes a reality that can be seen and heard and touched in the life of the Christian community. 

“And brotherly love isn’t a poor substitute for the real thing. For brotherly love is divine love. God loves us through the love of other Christians. He loves us in other ways, of course—supremely in the gift of his Son. But the love we experience from other Christians starts with God.

“The brother who speaks a word of comfort to you, the sister who bakes a cake for you, the family who welcome you into their home—all are the hands and feet of God. When a brother hugs you, Christ is hugging you. When a sister sits by your hospital bed, Christ is sitting by your bedside. When a friend weeps with you, Christ is weeping with you. Christian love is the overflow of God’s love to us.“

Resolved: To be more present in all my interactions with other people. 

Be real

We're more connected than we've ever been before. I am currently part of 15 active Whatsapp groups which provide a helpful (and sometimes exhausting - more on that later) way for me to share updates, photos and videos with family and friends all across the world. But the headlines say we're also more lonely than we've ever been before, and the way we use social media can ironically leave us increasingly isolated. 

I'm a big advocate for the potential of social media - as Daniel Darling helpfully points out in The Dignity Revolution, technology is not intrinsically evil - but I am aware of how it can warp our sense of reality and provide people with another opportunity to carefully curate their public image by putting forward an essentially fake version of themselves. This, argues Catherine Parks in her book Real, is a major contributor to our current loneliness epidemic.

"If we long for connection and community, why do we so often default to fakery? It’s because being real requires something that most of us find excruciatingly difficult: vulnerability. We don’t want other people to see our emotional weak spots. In fact, this is why we often find online community easier—it gives us a defensive barrier to full exposure. Both online and offline, we’ve become experts at hiding the “real” us—and lots of us aren’t sure how to stop."

Resolved: To force every social media post through the ‘fake’ filter and resist the lure of putting forward subtle, yet shallow self-congratulatory content about myself. The next time I'm tempted to share a cute picture of my kids online, I'm going to think twice. Maybe that moment was just for us.  

Be restful

We all want more rest, but the relentless treadmill of life keeps us moving. The pressure to be seen to be busy and important is ever rising, I’m becoming more and more convinced that no one really knows why.

I have two children under the age of 4. They need to be fed, watered, and dropped off at nursery, the house needs to be clean (respectable), work targets need to be achieved (passable) and church activities need to be joyfully (dutifully) done. There have been a few memorable (forgettable) days this past year where I have been so exhausted it has felt a chore deciding which socks to wear. 

So it was a relief to be given the permission by Adam Mabry in his book The Art of Rest that saying 'no' to things can actually be incredibly godly. It was truly liberating to hear Adam describe rest as an act of resistance to a culture that demands busyness.

"For followers of Jesus, rest isn't a sign of weakness. Rest is a profound act of resistance against the siren call of self-justification. It's not about admitting weakness. It's about having the strength to rest."

The good news about rest, he argues, is that it doesn’t need to compete with your already rammed schedule. Far from being simply an evening spent bingewatching Netflix, rest is a radical call to trust in Jesus with everything we already have going on. Many of us are anxious because we so often submit to false rulers, but now that I'm in Christ I no longer need to justify myself to the god of busyness or approval. I can just be. 

Resolved: To implement (and keep) a digital sabbath every Sunday. Instead of checking my phone every half an hour, I'm switching it off and putting it in another room.

Be in the Bible

Is there anything more guilt-inducing than a talk or article about the benefits of daily Bible reading? It’s not their fault, they’re saying all the right things. My problem is that I so often make it just another task on the to-do list (see above) and that sucks out all the joy and purpose out of it. I try to go too fast, too soon, and inevitably crash and burn. 

I’m reminded of what John Hindley says in You Can Really Grow.

“The Bible is about Jesus. Bible reading never saved anyone. Bible reading never grew anyone. Hearing from Christ, about Christ, in the Bible is what saves and grows us. The Bible is first and foremost a love letter, from Christ, to his people. It is about Jesus and his
love for us. [Grasping this] changes the nature of Bible reading from information to relation, from growing in knowledge to growing in love.”

Resolved: To form a realistic daily Bible reading habit that is sustainable throughout the year. 
It's great that some people have the capacity to read the entire Bible in a year (all power to them), but perhaps like me you just need a place to (re)start your daily Bible reading. And that's fine. 

So - four resolutions for 2019. Hardly Jonathan Edwards level, I know - but I have a strong suspicion that if by December 31st I’ve kept these four, I will have been a better husband, father, church member and colleague - and I’ll be a far happier child of God.

Joe Henegan

Joe started working at TGBC as our Marketing Manager in 2017. He lives in South London with his wife and two daughters and is a member at River Church Sutton - part of the Newfrontiers network - where he runs the Alpha course and other outreach events.

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