There’s something so freeing about January arriving on your calendar. For me, January is like looking out your window after a fresh coat of snow covers the ground. There are no footprints or tire marks to be seen. Just a fresh, clean, and untarnished snowfall for you to chart new paths in.
A lot of people arrive at January, myself included, and think about how they can get their body in shape in the new year. We are all familiar with how this annual struggle goes. It usually starts with eliminating junk food. Slow down on fast food. Less sugar and more vegetables. Ease up on alcohol. You might add in some daily exercise to your routine and you are on your way to re-building your body.
Why don’t we talk ever talk about how to re-build our faith and our minds at the start of the new year? After two years of a pandemic and painful politics, anxiety, stress, and depression are on the rise. For most of my adult life, I struggled with those ailments of the mind. And I self-medicated with things like alcohol and pornography to distract me from the realities of the world. But I’ve been able to conquer those demons and walk in victory, even during the pandemic, by building a relationship with God and trusting His plan for me.
Here are the five key things I focused on to build my faith over the past two years and improve my mental health.
1. Start your day with the “Whole 60:” You may have heard about the Whole 30 diet to get your physical body right. Jesus told us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind.” (Matthew 28:37 NIV). To build my faith, I strive for a “Whole 60” every single day. That’s 20 minutes of talking to God through prayer, 20 minutes of listening to God by reading the Bible and 20 minutes of listening to an online sermon or worship music. Look for ways to get your 60 minutes in throughout the day. Your commute, your lunch break, setting your alarm 30 minutes early. This is the most important piece of my day. My body and mind feel sluggish without my Whole 60.
2. Cut out the “junk food” of your mind: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV) The biggest enemy to getting your daily Whole 60 in – distractions. Eliminate the junk food of your mind that the world offers, and instead, fill it up with the goodness of God. For me, I had to take drastic measures to get my life back and open up more time for God. I cancelled Netflix, cable TV, my sports package subscriptions. I stopped watching mainstream news and took a long pause from social media. I eliminated porn from my diet. All of these things are tools the enemy uses to seduce us into the culture of the world, steal our precious time and steer us away from God. If you can cut out a majority of your self-made distractions, I promise you, you will have ample time to replace that junk with the good stuff to nourish your mind and heart.
3. Love your neighbor: Jesus commands us to love God first, love your neighbor as yourself second. And right now, there isn’t much neighborly love in the world. Don’t give in to the temptation to tear people down on social media. That bitterness only hardens your heart even more. You’re called to be a light in this world. Be empathetic and build people up.
4. Embrace your church: Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16 ESV) Don’t let COVID-induced anxiety isolate you keep you away from your church family. I would not have been able to build my faith so quickly without the support from my church. It’s more than just going to the actual building on Sunday. It’s about finding ways to connect with other believers throughout the week so that we can encourage each other on our journey through this broken world.
5. Toss your Idols: I used to worship my favorite sports teams and players as gods. The quality of my week was defined by how successful they were in their last game. Not anymore. Today, I find my identity in God. I still enjoy watching sports but it is truly entertainment – not life or death. Be fanatical about worshiping Jesus, not your favorite quarterback (or your bank account, career, possessions, etc.).
Whether you are someone seeking a new relationship with God or looking to renew your relationship, I hope these steps can help you build your faith and find a new path in 2022. Just like anything, the key to success is taking that first step in faith. And then keep walking. It’s not easy but God will show you the path.