How do we cause growth to happen in our lives? How do we see ourselves develop into the person or leader we want to be? How do we apply the things we want to change in our lives? Great questions 🙂 

It’s not just about learning a new fact to add to our knowledge base. This stays in our head, and we remember it from time to time. Change happens when we change how we do or respond to things. Change is a process starting as a conscious thought but continues through to our emotions and actions. The process to cause this to happen is called application.

I don’t know about you, but I never really learned how to apply things to my life in school. Or how to process an idea to make it happen in reality. With my past DTS students and staff and my current BLP students, many of them struggle to know how to apply something they want to develop into their lives, so we all see the addition of it in their lives. 

We all want to change, to develop our character and skills to be the best person/leader we can be. But how do you apply a character trait or new skill, so it becomes a part of you?

I say to my students: 

The degree of action and effort (application) of that new fact applied to your life is equal to the potential of change/ transformation (i.e. growth) that will happen in your life.

But they usually look at me with a slightly confused face because they’re unsure what that means or how to do it. Some aren’t even sure what the word application means or looks like. But the truth is if we only put in a little effort, it only makes a small impact. 

What does ‘to apply’ mean?

There are several contexts that we use the verb ‘apply’ to mean with actions following.

  1. A request – to ask for something (usually formally) like to apply for a job, we need to fill in an application form.
  2. To relate to – like a rule or a law – to connect two things, e.g. how does this tax law apply to me?
  3. To use – to make use of something/ use it for a practical purpose – e.g. to apply the brakes on a car to make it stop or slow down. You put your foot on the brake and press down.
  4. To put on – to spread or rub a substance onto a surface – e.g. to apply make-up.
  5. To work hard – to apply yourself to something, directing your abilities and efforts in a determined way so that you succeed. E.g. I am going to apply myself to show my full potential.

For me, for the context of developing ourselves to become a more Christ-like person or leader. I would sum up these different uses of the verb into one statement:

To apply is to take action in order to see something happen or change.

In order to apply something, you have to take a conscious responsibility to act. To do something differently which will bring about the desired change.

How do you apply/ bring your application?

There are 5 key questions to ask yourself.

  1. What is the new thing I want to apply to my life? For example, I want to be more diligent, patient, or organised, or I want to read the whole of the bible in a year.
  2. What is God speaking to me to help me understand and apply this? E.g. in my work, I realised that I wasn’t getting as much done as I want/ need to because I’m not that organised. Or, in my frustrations over things not moving so quickly, God and others have suggested that I need to be more patient. Or I was challenged to read my bible more so I can understand more of God’s word to help me apply it to different situations going on around me.
  3. Why do I want to apply it? As a child, we would ask “but why?” a lot. Sometimes our parents would just say, “Because I said so.” Sometimes we have to trust those asking us to do something because it’s for our own good. Or because it’s God who is asking, and He has more in mind than we can understand at this point in time. But other times, it’s advantageous to know the reason why we want to do something. So when it gets tough and we feel like giving us, we have a reason to tell ourselves, so we keep going. E.g. because I want to increase my productivity or want to know more about God’s word, or I want to be less frustrated, I want to have a more robust character!
  4. How am I going to apply it? – What do I need to do practically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.. to bring change. Is there something I need to stop doing, start doing or change how I do it to make it better?
  5. What else can I do to help me fully apply this new thing? For example:
    1. Ask someone to keep me accountable to do what I said I will do.
    2. Pray to ask God to help me regularly (especially when I’m struggling)
    3. Ask for feedback at regular intervals to see where I’m doing well and what still needs improving.
    4. Fully commit to consciously taking the time and effort to make the changes a part of my everyday life.

Most of us are pretty good at working out the answers to points 1-3. But it’s point 4, the How part, that is harder to work out.

This is because it needs more brainpower, we need to work at it from different angles, and it’s not always evident how to do something. It may not be rocket science, but it can be an unknown or have many different possibilities that we can’t hold together enough to make sense of it constructively. It is a skill we need to learn. The good news is that practice makes us better, and you’ve been practising all your life—perhaps just at a subconscious level.

Here are my tips for achieving your HOW 

  1. Get yourself a good size bit of paper or a new page on your screen.
  2. Picture in your mind what it is you want to achieve and what it looks like once you’ve achieved it. Explore that image. Look at it from all sides – God’s, other peoples, with your mind, emotions, spirit… Feel what it will look like. See how you’ve changed, what your able to do.
  3. Now write down what you’ve seen and feel. Then ask God to show you more of his perspective and write that down too. This will help you see some of the details you want to add/ change and why it will be good for you and what God thinks about your efforts. 
  4. Other questions to ask yourself, and try to be as specific as you can.
    1. What goes God’s word say on the subject (e.g. of diligence or being patient?). Where in the bible does it talk about this area? What is the biblical meaning or principle that I want to apply?
    2. How/what does that biblical principle look like in today’s world? 
    3. What do I honestly believe that is contrary to what God’s word says? E.g. my personality naturally makes me less patient, so I can’t be as patient as others. Or I’m not as detailed or organised as others, so I don’t do things this way naturally. Or I don’t need to be better at this because I’m young, or there’s God’s grace to cover me. All of these are half-truths, but they’re not the entire truth or God’s best for you.
    4. Whatever has come up in your processing of point 4, confess to God—ask for His forgiveness, forgive yourself for believing that half-truth and ask God help you see it from His perspective.
  5. Receive and believe the truth that you can change and be better at “x”. Asking Holy Spirit to help you every step of the way.
  6. Ask yourself – what other thoughts you have that don’t help you apply the truth – e.g. that you can’t be patient, or diligent or organised. And decide to start to catch each one as you think it, stop yourself from finishing the thought and chuck it out of your head. And to replace it with a statement instead, for example, “With God’s help and my effort, I can be more organised” or “I can do this, I am getting better…” These are statements of truth and mini prayers which will help you keep a positive mindset.
  7. What can I do practically? Research to find out more about it.
    1. Find, read and meditate on all the verses in the bible about that characteristic. And take time with God over each one to discuss what they mean and what it would look like you doing them.
    2. Who can I ask who’s good in this area and get advice/ wisdom from them in how they do it. E.g. what they are thinking, what systems do they use in their organising (is there an app or program helpful to use), how much time does it take to plan ahead, how do they prioritise work/ time…? 
    3. Is there a book/blog/podcast/article that I can read on the subject that will help me understand it more from different perspectives?
    4. Ask some friends what they do to be better in this area.
  8. In your fact-finding time, there will be some things that jump out at you of great ideas or something that you can see is easy to try or you like the sound of. These are great things to start doing. So write them out, and work out where and how you can put them into practice in your life now.
  9. Make a plan. What you are going to do to achieve your desired outcome. E.g. take time once a week to meditate on the bible passages about the characteristic. Or read and discuss with your mentor the chapter you’ve read that week. Perhaps write down daily 5 things your thankful for (and you can’t repeat any in the same week). Or giving yourself an hour at the start of each week to plan what you need to do that week. 
  10. Set aside time each week to look over your notes to make a conscious action plan of what you are doing that week to help you continue developing in this area.
  11. Share with your leader/ mentor or wise friend and ask them for feedback on your thoughts/ ideas. How can you improve them? Are they realistic…?  
  12. Write yourself some smart goals of what exactly you’re going to do to achieve your goal. (If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about then, check out my blog #11Smart Goals (or google it).
  13. Ask someone to hold you accountable to do what you say you want to do. And to check in with them regularly on your progress. 
  14. Celebrate the little wins – when you finish or achieve something, e.g. making your goals, having those conversations, when you’ve put something into action. Well done you!

The how is a conscious putting into action all these things as often as you can. To set aside time daily/ weekly to ask God for help and how He thinks your doing. To understand that some things like character development take a long time to see fully, the little steps you’ve taken are hard at first but are getting easier or that others have started to notice a change in you (but aren’t sure what it is). That’s your progress. You are becoming a better version of yourself as you apply your learning to your words, choices, actions and responses. These, in time, will become a natural part of you, your normal habit instead of a conscious choice which to do. 

Some of my personal examples:

In my work life, I am swamped. The way I’ve found to handle my workload and stress is to be super organised, which is the opposite of my personal life. But I need to get a lot of work done in a good way with less stress. For that, I need to know all the things I need/want to get done. So I plan ahead working out when in the week/ month I can put time aside to get each item done. I usually have a few specific lists around for the different areas I have to work on. E.g. future blog posts, where I am in my book chapters drafting process, ideas for BLP teaching topics for the quarter, background development for the BLP school, projects I’m working on with the training team, teaching prep on what I’ve said yes to teach… Getting them all down on easily accessible notes helps my brain have fewer details to hold to enable me to focus on what I have to do in this hour/day. 

If you read my Book(s) review for this month (posted last week). You’ll see some of my process in helping me achieve my goal of reading my bible in a year plan to help me understand more of the whole bible. And the process I went through to help me work out what I needed to change and start to make it a realistic and achievable goal. I’m not perfect at it. But I’ve made a great start and I’m loving what I’m discovering in the word and about God as I read and spend time with God. So far, it’s working, but it is a constant choice to choose to do regularly but not to beat myself up when I miss a day.

My advice is to ask God what He wants you to work on first. Choose a couple of things, but not too many at once, as that’s not realistic. When you’ve got a few down, then you can add in new ones. It takes a few months to develop a new habit, so give yourself time. But remember to take time to celebrate and give yourself a pat on the back when you’ve seen a little more progress. You have a choice of how you’re going to live your life and the potential you can reach. Learning how to apply good things to your life will give you even more tools to be who you and God want you to be. And I’m sure you will inspire others in your life to do the same too. The hard work is worth it.