Dec 31 - How To Break Out Of A Rut

How To Break Out Of a Rut

December 31, 2017

James 1:22-25; 2:14-18



James 1:22-25; 2:14-18

December 31, 2017




Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, and it is a time when a lot of people make resolutions in the hopes of experiencing positive changes in their lives.  But in order to do so, a lot of people will need to get out of the rut they are currently in. 


  • Dear God, my prayer for 2018 is a fat bank account and a skinny body.  Please don’t mix it up like you did this year. 

  • Every New Year I resolve to lose 20 pounds and I do.  The problem is that I gain 25.

  • My New Year’s resolution is to stop buying worthless junk on Ebay, because QVC has better specials.

  • It is to stop re-living the past and spend more time worrying about the future.

  • My new year’s resolution is to do less laundry and use more deodorant.


    Being stuck in a rut is an expression from a time when roads and trails would really have ruts.  So much easier to follow the rut than try to get out of it.


As you are aware of, being stuck in a rut now has the metaphoric meaning of doing the same things, day after day.  It generally has a negative connotation, like, “a rut is just a grave with the ends knocked out.”


One kind of rut we can get stuck in, is the nagging feeling that while we go through our daily routine we are somehow missing out on the mission or calling or purpose of our lives.  For whatever reason, we’re just not able to discover what it is. 


We get up every morning and plod through our daily routine, somehow hoping that inspiration would strike, that God would somehow hit us over the head in some way and get our attention, and tell us what it is that we’re supposed to do. 


However, doing the same thing over and over again in the hopes that somehow things will be different, will not actually bring about any change in our lives. 


So if we are in a rut long enough, we might just throw in the towel and settle for the mediocre existence that our current routine gives us.   After all, there is a certain comfort to being in a rut.  Things are predictable.  Familiar.  We may not particularly like what we’re getting, but at least we know what we’re going to get. 


Not only that, it takes effort getting out of a rut.


When I was a boy, about 12, I rode my 10 speed through the city of Munich (on my way out to Hersching with Arzberger & Bakoni).[1]  Street cars were running on many streets, not like a rail way with raised tracks, but instead the rail imbedded in the asphalt or cobble stones with a groove on one side of the track. 


If you had a bike with normal tires, they would ride quite easily over the tracks.  However, the groove was just the right width to accommodate the thinner wheel of a ten speed bike. 


And, as can guess, when I was making a turn, I did not watch the tracks very carefully and ended up with the front wheel in one of these grooves.


There were a number of things that I could have done.  I could have stayed in the groove.  I could have remained stuck in the rut, become path dependent.  But I knew that wasn’t really an option because it would keep me from going where I wanted to go … and I would eventually get hit by a street car.


I could simply force the front wheel to turn, but I would be certain to fall over and wipe out.  So that too was not a real option.


I could stop in the middle of the busy street and lift my front tire out of the tracks, but I didn’t want to take the time or risk getting in the way of a car. 


So I did the only thing that I felt I could reasonably do.  I jumped the front tire out of the groove.  And that took a bit of effort.  It takes effort to get out of a rut, it takes almost no effort to just stay in it.


The fact is that every human being has a tendency to settle into ruts.  That is just a part of our nature.  All of us resist change by our very nature – we don’t like our routine upset.  And so it is much easier not to think about the rut we’re in, than to take a good look at ourselves and our lives in order to bring about change. 


We are creatures of habit.  For example, there is likely a place in the sanctuary you prefer to sit in.  In fact, there may be a certain seat you prefer to sit in. 


I read one time, if more husbands were self-starters, fewer wives would be cranks.  Not sure if that’s true.  But have you ever watched TV and you have misplaced the remote control?


Isn’t it just our nature to watch a program we don’t like and watch all of the commercials because we are too lazy to get up and change the channels?


Most of us live our lives that way.  The program may not be too hot, but we are just too comfortable, just too lazy, to get up to change the channel.


Being in a rut can be described as following a routine.  We get into the habit of living our lives a certain way.


I don’t think that a rut has to always be bad.  We can get into very good ruts.  For instance, we can have the habit of a daily devotional time.  Or we can incorporate physical exercise into our weekly routine.  Or we can get into the habit of eating healthy.


Today I’ll be reading two passages out of the book of James.  Each one of these speak of two different kind of people, each of whom has a certain approach, a certain habit of dealing with their knowledge and belief. 


Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says. 

a. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  

b. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.                                    James 1:22-25


In James 1, you have, on the one hand, those who hear the word but don’t do it.  They have knowledge of the message or word about Jesus or perhaps they know Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God, but they do not apply it to their lives.   


On the other hand you have the one who looks intently and continually into “the perfect law that gives freedom[2] and doing it.  This is NOT the Law of Moses, which enslaves and burdens people with a long list of do’s and don’ts, but is in reference to the Law of Christ, that is meant to free people to do the right, the loving, the merciful, the kind thing from the heart. [3]  


The second passage is from James 2.  And there you have two individuals as well.


What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?

a. If a brother or sister lacks clothing and food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warm and eat,” and yet you do nothing to help provide life’s necessities, what use is that?  So faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. …

b. But I will demonstrate [the reality] my faith by what I do.                                            James 2:14-18


On the other hand, you have those who profess faith in Christ, but whose faith finds no practical application in the way they live their lives.  On the other hand you have the writer of James who says that the reality of his faith is demonstrated by what he does, that is, by what he does to help others. 


Both type of people have a certain approach to life, to truth, to knowledge and to faith.  But one is forgetfully focused on self, the other one remembers Jesus’ teaching and therefore makes a positive difference in the lives of others.


The negative rut is the habit of not applying what they should know to be true and right.  The positive rut is the habit of practically applying in everyday life what is believed.


So a rut isn’t necessarily bad.  However, as Will Rogers once said,


So a good rut is usually a place where you don’t just sit still.  It is usually a positive rut where we are on the move, doing something good. 


Successful people are people of action. They know how to get things done.   The fulfillment of dreams and goals are the result of action.  So even as Christians, it’s very important that we are self-starters, people of action. 


Whether we like it or not, we sometimes need to be forced out of a rut.  I listed three things that will often motivate people to get themselves out of a rut - there are others as well, of course.


(It is sometimes not when we see the light but it's when we feel the heat that we get moving) 


People sometimes change because of desperation.  They won’t go to the dentist until the tooth ache becomes unbearable. 


Some alcoholics seek help after they lost their job and their spouse and children left them. 


Others need to get fed up with feeling bad or depressed or tired or worried, before the point that they will do something about it. 


Pressure motivates us to get out of a rut. You go to the doctor and he says, "Lose 50 pounds, quit smoking and start to exercise or you will be dead in 6 months!”  That will motivate us.


Or your boss says, "Improve your performance or you're fired!

Or your teacher says, "Get an A on this test or you fail the class!

Or the bills are piling up and there isn’t enough money to pay them all. 


That's pressure.  That may motivates us to get out of a rut.


The world around us is on the move all the time.  This week I thought back to my grandmother.  When she was a young girl growing up, there was no electricity or running water, and the primary mode of transportation was the horse and buggy.


She saw the change to the automobile, she lived through two WW’s, she saw the first manned landing on the moon.  She saw the advent of the personal computers. 


And there continue to be changes in our society that force us to adapt, to change.  Who would have thought that e-mail, texting, voice mail, tweeting, and the mini-computers we call smart phones would become so prevalent.  Next thing are flexible smart phones.


The problem with being forced out of a rut is that often it isn’t permanent.  We cram for the final, but our study habits don’t change.  We go on a diet, but our eating habits don’t change.


Anyone can be forced out of a rut.  But the better way to get out of a rut, is not to be forced out by circumstances, but to do so voluntarily as a matter of conscience and choice.  In fact, the best way to break out of a negative rut is to decide to develop a positive habit.


  1. I gain a new perspective


    In James 1, there is an individual who hears the word but doesn’t apply it to his or her life.  And this person is compared to a man who takes a look at his face in a mirror and then, when he walks away, can’t remember what he looks like.  It seems ludicrous until you realize that these are cursory looks without even an interest to seeing what is really there.


    Have we taken an honest look into the mirror of our lives and seen what really is there?  In order to break out of a rut, we need to do a bit of an analysis of our lives.


    Most of us never ask the question, Am I in a rut?   Am I on a merry-go-round?  Do I feel trapped?  Is life just more of the same over and over again?   The first step to getting out of a negative or destructive rut is to recognize that we’re in one


    But even if we ask ourselves the question, and answer in the affirmative – yes I think I am in a rut – then we may have a hard time putting our finger exactly on the reason why we feel that way.  So the second step to getting out of a negative or destructive rut is to be able to identify the reason why we are in one.


    Here are some questions we may want to consider:


    There are reasons why you and I get into negative ruts - and why we stay there.  No one does this without some kind of payoff.  I think part of the payoff is being selfish. 


    Why do industrialists deliberately pollute rivers, lakes and oceans?

    Why do strip miners ravage the surface of the earth?

    Why do some hunters deliberately shoot endangered species?

    Why do some pornographers exploit children?

    Why do televangelists fleece their gullible sheep?

    Why do mothers abort their unborn babies?

    Why do husbands and wives abandon their marriages and families for new lovers?

    Why do tobacco companies deliberately hook young people on nicotine?

    Why are the rainforests in Brazil and Central Africa disappearing?


    You know the answers and so do I.  Selfishness.  Putting self-interest, profit, first.


    Selfishness is why we naturally do what comes easier.  After all, it is much easier to sit in front of the TV than to go for a walk. 


    Selfishness is why we do what we derive personal satisfaction from.  It is much easier to spend 60 hours at work and see something accomplished than to read 5 minutes in my Bible where the accomplishments are hidden.


    No-one stays in a negative rut without some kind of pay-off.  If our diet is terrible, the payoff may be satisfying a craving.   

    If we never exercise, the payoff is lack of pain.  Instead of “no pain, no gain”, our motto might be “no pain, no pain.”


    So we need to take an honest look at ourselves.


    The writer of James writes of two individuals claiming to follow Jesus.  However only one is in the game, is a player, while the other one is simply a spectator, someone permanently on the side line. 


    Jan Hettinga in a book entitled “Follow Me: experiencing the loving leadership of Jesus”, describes those who only say they believe.  Among a bunch of other things, …


  • They prefer to be spectators – watching, listening, but not really participating.

  • They are focused on themselves – on their needs, their personal rights, their preferences, their comforts, and insist on arranging their lives around these.

  • They are intent on remaining uncommitted - they don’t want to be tied down.  They don’t want to be accountable.  They don’t want a lot of responsibility. 

  • They have little or no sense of overriding spiritual purpose or cause and prefer to drift through life.


    So when it comes to the question, “What exactly do I want to see happening in my life?” I am not referring to winning the lottery or finding a spouse or driving a Ferrari.  What I am referring to, is adjusting my life so that I am in the game, that I am focused on God, that I am committed, and that I am engaged in fulfilling my purpose in life. 


    And in order to do this, I need to get out of negative and destructive ruts in order to get into good ones.


    So, let me ask you, if you had the ability to get rid of all of the pressures and problems that potentially stymie positive change … what exactly would you incorporate into your life? 


    Another way of asking the question is:  What needs to change for me to live a life that honours God?


    Or, if we want to be a bit more specific, we can ask:  What do I want in my marriage?


    If we ask that question, figure out the answer, commit myself to implementing it while praying, “Lord, change me so that my marriage is what it’s meant to be.”  We shouldn’t think that the primary change has to be in the lives of others … my spouse has to change, my children need to change.   Because the only person that I can change is myself.  I can change how I relate to my spouse, how I speak to my kids.  And maybe, because of the changes I make, they might be motivated to change as well.


    We need to believe that change is possible.  And by this I don’t mean pride at our own independence and self-sufficient.  What I am speaking about is the assurance that God has empowered me to become a better person.


    Who is right?  The believer who says "I can't" or the believer who says, "I can”?  The fact is, they both are.  Our attitude in the power of God at work within us determines our ability.   So, as believers we need to stop saying "I can't" and start saying, "With God, I can".  


    If we start a new year’s resolution, but we tell ourselves even ahead of time that it’s unlikely we will keep the resolution, maybe because we’ve failed in the past, then we are almost certain to fail again.

    God spoke to Moses about going to Pharaoh, and Moses said, "You've got the wrong guy!  I'm a nobody.  You can't use me."[4] 


    God spoke to Gideon about fighting the Philistines, and Gideon said, "You've got the wrong guy!  I'm the youngest kid in the poorest family in the smallest tribe!"[5]


    God came to Jeremiah about speaking on his behalf, and Jeremiah said, "You’ve got the wrong guy.  I'm just a teenager!"[6]


    What would you like to change about your life?  Whatever it is, you've got to believe it can be changed in and through God.  If you don't think it can be changed, you will stay in the rut you are in!


    How do I break out of a rut?  I gain a new perspective; and then I start a new pursuit.


    As I thought about possible new pursuits in my own life, I came up with six (6) different areas that needed to change.  You can likely think of more, or simply different ones. 


    The fact is God made our bodies for movement.  He made us for activity.  We live in a sedentary society where most of the day we sit on our blessed assurance doing very little.


    Do you know what absolute inactivity is called?  It’s called death!  God made our bodies to move.  Lack of movement leads to a lack of energy, of being tired, too tired. 


    Because of our inactivity, we may become too tired to change.  We know what they ought to do, it's just that we are too tired.  Fatigue is a major cause of procrastination. 


    One of the reasons why some of us can’t get our act together in our homes, our families, our spouses, our work … is because we are just too tired to make any adjustments that would make it better. 


    Have you noticed how quickly patience are sent home after surgery in a hospital?  It’s almost like the surgeon announces after an operation, “OK, here’s the last stitch … off the table you go and walk back into your room.


    Why is that?  In part, it’s because doctors know that inactivity kills.  The quickest way to get healed is to get moving


    If you want to get out of a rut, the quickest way is to get your body moving.  Something happening makes something happen.  You feel better, you look better, you live longer. 


    But there's spiritual reasons too.  The Bible says, God created your body, Jesus paid for your body, if you’re a Christian, then the Holy Spirit indwells your body -- you better take care of it!


    To get energy -- and that's what you need, to change -- you've got to expend energy.  An individual in our church said that one of the best things that can be done for depression is to start walking.  It will help. 


    Some of the most spiritual advice I can give some of you is to start the rut of taking better care of your body.  That will make a difference in your life. 



    I’m not speaking of playing a video game or doing cross-word puzzles.  I am speaking of getting into the habit of reading constructive material.


    You need to challenge your mind as much as you do your body.


    By this I mean that you get into the positive rut of doing something creative.  It may be playing an instrument or gardening or drawing. 


    Probably one of the most important positive routines we can practice is to set aside time in order to develop genuine and vital relationships.  This can apply to our family members, to other Christians, to non-Christians, to friends regardless of whether or not we have a similar socio-economic background, similar interests, or similar problems.  


    This is the positive routine of a regular quiet time with God, in particular a gratitude-filled prayer life.



    This was the one area that James was most concerned about in his letter.  The whole point he made in chapter 2 is the fact that faith which remains selfish and non-responsive to the needs of others isn’t real faith at all.


    In order for me to break out of a negative rut

    I have to gain a new perspective,

    I have to start a new pursuit, and …


    By that I mean that I need to have the ability to stick with the new pursuits that I’ve chosen to incorporate into my life.  And that means, first of all, that …


    I heard it quipped that there are three kinds of people:  Accusers, excusers, and choosers.


    Accusers blame everybody else for anything wrong in their lives.  Their favorite phrase is, "It's your fault!  It’s his fault!  It’s her fault!  It’s my parents’ fault!  It’s my spouse’s fault!  It’s my friends’ fault!  It’s God’s fault."  Accusers love to pass the buck.   They have existed from the very beginning:  Adam took it like a man; he blamed his wife. 


    Excusers have excuses, justifications and rationalizations, for everything that’s wrong in life.   "The reason I'm stuck in life is because I’m an introvert or because I’m short or because I’m tall or because of some other reason.


    Ninety nine percent of all failures come from people who developed a habit of making excuses.


    Accusers and excusers end up being losers.


    Choosers accept responsibility for their own life and happiness, they know they have the ability to make choices, and when they make a mistake they admit it and, if need be, apologize.


    In order to persevere in the possible changes we want to make, we need to stop blaming others, stop making excuses, for why we haven’t made those changes.  Instead we need to take responsibility for our lives and the choices we make. 


    I can persevere in the changes I want to make if I don’t believe that I have to wait for ideal circumstances in order to make those changes. 


    A lot of people say that they will change when the time is right.  Circumstances will always be less than perfect

  • If you’re waiting to have children until you can afford them, you likely will remain childless. 

  • If you are waiting to spend more time with your spouse once you’re retired, by that time, you might have become strangers living in the same house. 

  • If you are going to start working out when life becomes less hectic, you may never make it to the gym. 


    Another way to think about this is that people often slip back into their old, negative habits when things go sideways in their lives … when things become more difficult.  The necessary perspective is the determination to stick to the positive change even if circumstances aren’t perfect and even if circumstances become more difficult. 


    I won’t start drinking again when work becomes harder. 


    In order to persevere in the changes I want to make, I need to assume responsibility for my life, I can’t expect ideal circumstances, and …


    We need to be aware (beware) of the great excuses why we should slip back into the old ruts.  I’ve just pointed out one … life becomes more difficult.  But there are literally thousands of excuses why we give up on a positive change in our lives … it’s too hard, it’s not fun, I don’t see immediate change, whatever ….


    So, in order to break out of a negative rut, I need to gain a new perspective, I need to start a new pursuit, I need to choose a new perseverance, and ….


    With the pace of life that most of us are in, we need to schedule for change by changing our schedule!  I truly believe that we need to combat our bad ruts by building positive ones into our lives.


    I sometimes think that the frenetic pace of life in our society is somehow tied to the belief that our worth is tied to our business!  The busier I am, the more important I must be.


    We hold back from God and from any commitment because we are already too busy and over-committed.  Or maybe our kids are, so we are kept preoccupied running from pillar to post to make sure they have every experience possible. 


    If that’s the case, then we need to re-program.  We need to schedule for positive ruts in our already full schedule.  And that might mean dropping some other stuff that clogs it up.


    In order to break out of a negative rut …


    The fact is that, at times, we will need to make ourselves accountable to others in order to get out of old ruts and make our lives what they should be.


    Truth be told, there is a huge difference in motivation if I make up by mind to change, or if I tell someone else to make sure to hold me accountable. 


    Every person that is dealing with the negative rut of addiction is aware of this principle.


    In order to break out of a negative rut, I need a …

    [New Perspective, New Pursuit, New Perseverance, New Program, New Partnership].  Lastly I need to stop procrastinating.


    In other words, I don’t wait for the perfect time.  I do it now!

    Wife:  "I'm aiming to change!

    Husband:  "It's time to pull the trigger!" 


    None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.  When you say "one of these days" you're really saying "none of these days". 


    James Albery (1838-1889), and English playwright, once wrote a short poem about someone like that,


    "He slept beneath the moon,

    he basked beneath the sun,

    he lived a life with `going to do'

    and died with nothing done.


    Imagine living a life of “going to do” and not doing any of it.  It’s sad, because it is appears to be a life wasted. 


    And it is tragic to waste our lives.  We have to stop saying, “Tomorrow,”  "One of these days..."  "Someday”.  “Sometime in the coming year.”  We need to start saying, “Now!”  “Today.”  Everyone has dreams, but dreamers are a dime a dozen.  Faith without action is dead.   


    James was concerned about those who went to church, but whose faith was only in their heads.  These are individuals who hold back from God and hold back from life.  They may believe in Jesus but they aren’t following him. 


    James may have been writing about our own time.  Many people say they believe in God.  But it is abundantly clear that professing belief in God and allowing that belief to make any discernible difference in life are two entirely different things.


    To believe in an all-powerful supreme being to whom we own our very existence and yet to life as if we are the ones in control no longer appears strange to us.


    Do you trust the salvation offered in Jesus but have a problem trusting the sovereign control and agenda of Jesus in everyday life?


    Breaking free from a rut is breaking free from the wear and tear of a self-indulgent, self-saturated, self-centered society.  It is trusting the God, who himself chose the radical tactic of self-sacrifice to reveal that he is a God whom we can trust; because he meets us at the place of his humiliation, the cross.   He will not exploit our trust.   That is the motivation for following Christ comes from.


    Try this exercise.  Imagine yourself standing before God’s throne of grace.  Now place all those favorite and treasured things and people that you hold dear into the hands of God.  As control passes from you to him, what happens inside you?  Panic or relief?  Alarm or peace?


    The worst mistake I can make in life is to delay committing myself to Jesus Christ.  Some of you have been thinking about it for weeks, months, maybe even years.  Today is your day!  Today, you can give your life completely to Christ. 


    But maybe God telling is telling you that you’re in a different rut, and that you need to start something new today.






[1] While on my way to Villa in Herrsching (Viertel Lochschwab; Riederstrasse 13?) am Ammersee with Michael Arzberger and Bella Bakoni. 

[2] James also uses this expression in 2:12 - Everyone will be judged on the basis of the Law of Freedom.  Jam 2:13 goes on to say that there won’t be any mercy for those who have shown no mercy (compassion).  

[3] This is the “royal law”, to love others as oneself (Jam 2:8).

[4] Ex 3:11 – Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt.

[5] Jud. 6:15 – O Lord, how am I to deliver Israel?  Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.

[6] Jer 1:6 - Alas, Lord God!  Behold, I do not know how to speak because I am a youth.