Spiritual Practices

Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes

We’ve all been there.

We sit through an inspiring sermon that makes us want to change something big in our lives. We are motivated, presumably by the Holy Spirit, as we recognize a place we want to be as a follower of Christ. We feel deep compassion for issues of poverty, or we are charged up to spend more time in prayer. We resolve that we will “do better.” And then…life happens. Months later, we have another surge of heart, and another, and another. But we don’t really change anything, except maybe our awareness of how we still fall short.

Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes

I have discovered in my own life that no matter how good my intentions are, nothing changes if nothing changes. If I don’t choose to change something about how I am going about my life, I will stay on my current trajectory. Even a small intentional practice of something specific to move me in the right direction can end up paying huge dividends.

Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). Finding a way to practice something can initiate a process of change, both from the inside out and from the outside in.

Start Small

People who know me, know I am a talker. For years I tried many things to get my verbosity under control. I knew all the Bible verses and memorized many of them, but I still didn’t feel like I could control my tongue. I was discouraged because I wasn’t making progress, so I started thinking about how to practice. Was there a way to break my old pattern by creating a new one?

I began carrying around a pad of paper at work. In situations where I thought I might start taking over a conversation, I would write down all the things I wanted to say. Then, after writing them down, I could decide if I really wanted to say them. It was stunning how much I wrote down that I never said. I still practice this when I think I’ll be tempted to take over a conversation. While I’m not where I want to be, this simple practice helped me make progress in an area of long-term struggle.

Make a Goal

When internet shopping hit its stride, I heard a talk on consumerism that struck a chord with me. I was motivated to stop buying so much. It had become too easy–I was regularly tempted to look for a good deal, see what was “out there” and buy something. My home email became a series of rabbit trails clicking for good deals. For months, I tried to not engage with emails from online vendors, but it wasn’t working.

I decided to do an experiment.

It was Advent Conspiracy season at Blackhawk so I was extra motivated to get this under control. I made a very specific goal: spend NO money on myself for anything personal until after Easter. I allowed myself exceptions if there was a true “need,” but I had to convince myself that I couldn’t live without it until Easter.

Nothing made that list.

Easter came, and I was stunned at how that simple act had broken the hold of material things on my heart. I no longer needed the thrill of getting something new. That was years ago, but it’s still reaping benefits in my life. I recently unsubscribed from all retail emails when I sensed a renewed interest in browsing them.

Get Creative

I was moved about hunger in our community during one of the food drives at Blackhawk and I decided I should do something. I took one step and bought extra food on my grocery run and delivered it to a food pantry. I toyed with the idea of doing this every week. I knew that wouldn’t be sustainable, but I talked to my husband and we began to give a certain percentage of our grocery bill each month to a food pantry. That one step led to a long-term change for us.

When I’m inspired by something I read or hear, or I sense God speaking to me about something in my life, my goal is to get creative and find some way to act on it. Maybe I will add something into my routine or try an experiment. I want to put into practice what I am learning. Perhaps it will lead to lasting change.

I really do believe that nothing changes if nothing changes, and I am stuck in more ways than I care to admit. Good intentions make little difference if I don’t turn them into practical steps. What is God teaching you? What’s your next step?

About the Author: Nancy Lindroth
Nancy Lindroth is the Director of Staff Development at Blackhawk. She and her husband Rick began attending Blackhawk in 1985 when Rick came to UW-Madison as a postdoc. They looked for a church they could walk to that was small and had small groups-- that was Blackhawk. Nancy began working at Blackhawk in 1998 because they needed someone to figure out “what to do with all these kids.” Rick and Nancy have two grown daughters (who both married Blackhawk interns ?) and two adorable grandsons.