New Year, Same Race

I learned everything I needed to know about New Year’s resolutions by being in Weight Watchers. I participated in Weight Watchers for several years, but I never liked going to meetings in January. The meetings were always crowded with new people signing up. It wouldn’t have been bothersome if those people were really committed to being part of the program. But by February, most had stopped coming. Only a few would still be around in March. I am sure the same thing happens at weight loss centers and gyms around the country. The majority of our society wants different results, but they don’t actually want to change what they’re doing.

The commercials that are currently airing try to convince ‘resolutioners’ to spend money on products which promise to make it easy to lose weight and get in shape.  In the Bible we find wisdom which reminds us that discipline is required to reach any goal. More specifically, we need to exercise self-discipline to grow in faith and godliness. The good news is that God is more forgiving than our metabolisms. One of the difficulties we face as humans is that, if we resolve that we are going to read the Bible and devote time to prayer daily for a whole year, we are likely to get discouraged when we miss a day or two. It feels like failure. Discouragement builds up and leads to abandoning the plan altogether. Once the resolution is abandoned, we tend to have the attitude, “I’ll do better next year.” This is why I don’t really like New Year’s resolutions; why wait until the year is over to begin again? What about tomorrow? What if we started each new day resolved to do better? What if we didn’t allow the failures of yesterday to affect our choices for today?

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12-14

It takes time for a believer to establish lasting habits, and no one will ever truly master the spiritual disciplines in this earthly life. But the Apostle Paul urged, “train yourself for godliness.” (1 Timothy 4:7) We should seek to grow in faith and live as God would have us to. We should schedule time with the Lord in the Scriptures and in prayer. But we do ourselves a disservice if we try to change our habits overnight. Goals, if they are to be worth anything, must be attainable. And our resolution should be to keep reaching, training, and pressing on toward the goal. Like the Apostle Paul, we must forget what lies behind so that it does not hold us back as we strain forward toward the goal. We can try to hold ourselves to maintaining a perfect record in 2018, or we can give ourselves a little grace and keep reaching. How is it that we think we can master something overnight just because the calendar has changed? You can’t train for a marathon in a day or even a month. The Bible tells us that the race we’re running is one that requires endurance. (Hebrews 12:1)

For me, the new year isn’t about trying to make big changes that require more self-discipline than I have yet obtained. It is a time to reflect on how I’m doing and reorient myself with the goal. As I look back on 2017, I can honestly say that my faith and trust in God have grown. It is a growth that I can’t measure with a scale or a ruler; it requires me to examine my heart carefully. We can make sure that we read through the Bible exactly once each calendar year, we can count the number of verses we memorize, and we can calculate the amount of time we spend in prayer. But all of this is worthless if it doesn’t touch our hearts. And when we aren’t growing closer to God and learning to rely on Him more, we are slipping backward and trying to rely on ourselves. It isn’t an escalator, it’s a treadmill! Standing still simply isn’t an option in the life of faith. Isn’t this why Paul was “straining forward?”

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

1 Corinthians 9:24-25

So, 2018 has arrived and my eyes are on the goal. I want to live a life of faith that is pleasing to God. I want to experience the joy of growing closer to Him. A year from now, I want to look back to see that my faith is more solid than ever before, though I still won’t be perfect and I will still need to grow. I have learned that I don’t achieve anything by trying to stick to a legalistic, perfect record every year, but I’ve never achieved anything good without self-discipline, either. Does this seem like a contradiction? Studying the Scriptures and spending time in prayer with our hearts open to our Lord brings a joy and peace that will keep us coming back for more. It begins with discipline, but it becomes a longing in our hearts. The more we know Him, the more we want to know. Let us proceed into this year with minds prepared to be disciplined and with hearts set on drawing closer and strengthening our faith. We shouldn’t seek an award for “perfect attendance,” we should seek the ultimate “prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

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