The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
– Chinese Proverb
Sometimes big things feel overwhelming. Like the time we installed our own patio several summers ago. Thinking through all the steps – digging up the grass, excavating the hole, taking careful measurements, laying the foundation, and a million other things – felt utterly overwhelming. Especially before driving the shovel into the ground for the first time.
It was a complicated project. But from one perspective, all we had to do was take the first step. Then the next. And, before the end of the summer, we were done.
Making a change in our lives can feel a lot like my patio. When we recognize a deficiency, sin or shortcoming, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and… do nothing. We’ve failed again and again, so why bother trying now? Or, we feel like we simply don’t have enough time or energy to move forward. So we accept (usually with guilt) where we are and try to get on with the rest of our lives. And not think too much about it.
That’s not necessarily a problem when it comes to patios, our current level of education, or job. But it’s tragic when we could become more like Christ but won’t begin the journey. We feel guilty and the people around us are deeply affected, even if we’re single. We become practiced at deceiving ourselves and shut down a part of who we are. This has ripple effects that subtly shape the other parts of our lives.
There are a number of ways we could address this, but in my experience our biggest fear is often pretty simple. We’re afraid that we are weak and that we won’t be able to change. So, it’s not worth trying.
Can you think of an area or three in your life like that right now? (Slow down for a second and really think about that.) Maybe it’s starting to spend time with God again. Or, reconnecting with your spouse. Having hope that you’ll ever find a spouse. That you’ll get unstuck in your career. Seeing your kids have genuine faith. Or, overcome a specific sin pattern.
To be honest with you, right now I’m dealing with the fact that I tend to have a rigid plan for my day and don’t really want God to interfere. Unless you lived with me, you probably wouldn’t know that. I don’t come across as a jerk. But in the little moments of life, I find that often I’m not submitting to what God brings my way. Like needing to fix the things that break in our home. Kids who are fighting when I’m trying to get something done. And limits on my time and resources.
This isn’t my first go-around with this issue. In fact, I think I’ve been cycling through it my whole life. I make some progress, but slip back into old patterns and get discouraged. I’d rather just sit down instead of taking the next step.
Do you ever feel like that?
Of course you do. But more importantly, what can we do about it?God puts a lot of emphasis on living out what we’re learning. When we make progress – even small – we stay encouraged, too. I’ve put this short, (free) application guide together for you. It will walk you through everything I talk about in this post.
Hope Comes From The Weirdest Places
The Old Testament is filled with all kinds of strange stories and practices. Sometimes they’re hard to connect with or seem irrelevant. But the more I read them, the more I’m struck that what Paul said is entirely true. Speaking of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness after the Exodus, he said, ‘Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come’ (1 Corinthians 10:11).
So today, if you know you need to deal with something but are struggling to take that first step, I want to encourage you from an unlikely source. 2 Chronicles 30.
It wasn’t a good time for Israel. They had just suffered through 16 years (think four presidential terms) with awful King Ahaz, who led Israel away from the Lord and worshiped Syria’s gods instead (2 Chronicles 28). He destroyed things that were essential to Israel’s worship, built altars to false gods all over the city, locked the doors of the temple, and even burned his own sons as sacrifices.
After he died, his son Hezekiah was faced with an enormous task. Where do you even begin? It would’ve been so easy to just get overwhelmed, muddle along, and do nothing.
Just Make A Beginning
Again, I think we all know exactly how that feels.
But Hezekiah didn’t stay stuck in neutral. He didn’t get overwhelmed. He just made a beginning.
His first, ‘single step’ was rebuilding and cleansing the temple (2 Chronicles 29:1-11).
He knew that it was just a beginning. He would go on to make many other reforms.
And some of them wouldn’t be perfect. They were going to hold the Passover during the second month, but it was supposed to be held during the first. But even more seriously, people who were not ceremonially clean shared in the Passover meal (2 Chronicles 30:18-20).
Living after Christ and not under the same rules ourselves, this can seem like no big deal. But God was teaching his people that he is holy and that sin is (therefore) serious, so sometimes seemingly minor infractions led to serious consequences, like the time Uzzah touched the ark and was struck dead (2 Samuel 6:7). But here Hezekiah prayed that God would grant the people mercy, and he did (30:20).
There are many more lessons we can learn from this story, but the point here is simply that, when we need to make a new beginning, we just need to get started, trusting that God will be gracious and reward our imperfect efforts.
Start With The Big Things
The other key insight here is that we should begin our journey of change with the big things. We don’t need to get sophisticated or creative or come up with a big master plan.
If Hezekiah had been a consultant, we would have expected him to begin where he did. With the temple, the center of Israel’s religious life. The place where heaven and earth met. And where God graciously offered his people forgiveness.
Later on, he had the people go out from Jerusalem to the other cities and cleanse them, too (31:1). But not at the beginning. They just began with the big, most obvious things.
So what would it look like for you to start with the big things? After you’ve decided to make a beginning (or re-beginning), how can you live this out?
Here are some quick examples to get you thinking. If you’ve drifted away from spending time with God, maybe you start by reading a small portion of scripture that applies to your situation, then talking to God honestly about it for a few minutes. If you’re not connecting to your kids, perhaps you take the first 15 minutes after dinner and spend it with them. If you’re dissatisfied with how you’re eating, maybe you identify the top few things you want to cut out and start there. If you have a strained relationship, you could begin by asking that person if you could sit down and have an honest conversation.
In summary, when we recognize the need for change, we can simply decide to get started and take a step in the area that needs it most. We never get it perfect, and because we serve a gracious Savior, we don’t need to. All we have to do is get started.
Let’s live it out: Identify one area where you need to make a new start, and, one ‘big thing’ you could take on as a first step. Share it with us in the comments below!
You may remember that earlier I mentioned a quick (and free) application guide. I’m passionate about helping you actually change because I know you’ll stay encouraged and become the person God is calling you to be. Click on the button below to get the guide right away.