One of the nagging things about facing a new year this business of New Year Resolutions. We all make them — or at least feel that we should make them — and like the Christmas toys, they are soon broken. An examination of the lists of resolutions made by members of this congregation would no doubt see goals ranging from losing weight to staying with an exercise program to developing more spiritual discipline to being more kind to being a better husband or wife or parent. Are these things on your list or am I just giving my own list of resolutions?
Have you ever stopped to ponder what is really behind our New Year resolutions? I hear someone saying, “Yeah, twenty pounds!”
No, seriously. When we clean out the underbrush of this resolution thing we find our best New Year resolutions are based on spiritual realizations.
The Desire To Be A Better Person
First, resolutions say that deep down we want to be a better person than we are. We sincerely want to be more decent, more generous, more spiritual, more fulfilled than we are. Like the stories of the toy soldiers who wanted to be real, we know we are destined to be more than we are.
The Realization That We Fall Short
And since we want to be a better person, that means we realize that we fall short of being the kind of person we ought to be and should be and want to be. Even though all of us have private areas of our life known only to us and God, we know we fall short even if others don’t know. And with this knowledge comes a sense of guilt.
I know social scientists are saying that our society has lost its sense of guilt. And judging by one of the main gauges of spirituality in our culture, the TV ads, we have moved away from guilt. Back in the ’50s and ’60s the TV ads worked on your guilt — remember the ads, ladies, that heaped shame on you for having the “ring around the collar?” Or the ads that said surely your family deserved a floor that shines more than the neighbor’s floor? Now the ads tell you to lay off that housework, prop up your feet and have a break. “You deserve it,” “Treat yourself!” is the theme. You are worth it; you are the greatest! No longer is the appeal to guilt and shame, but to ego.
And still, an article in yesterday’s newspaper talked about how the boomers are searching for God, but for a non-threatening, non-authoritarian God. That very spiritual search is accompanied by a sense of moral failure, by a sense of guilt — no matter how much we deny it or how well we camouflage it. Ever since the fall, humanity has known that we ought to be better people than we are. Turning to the Bible, remember that scene in Luke 5 in which, after spending the night fishing and catching nothing, Peter and his partners obey Jesus in lowering their nets and catch a marvelous catch of fish? Now see in Luke 5:8 Peter’s response: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” That sense of unworthiness, of falling short, of being a sinner, welled up in Peter’s heart. I believe the Bible teaches that feeling to be universal.
We Haven’t The Power To Change
Lay beside these truths — we want to be better than we are, and we know we fall short of what we ought to be — a third truth: Experience teaches us that we haven’t the power to change ourselves. Oh, we may, through this resolution or that, push the battle lines back here and there in our life. But above the wrecks of countless resolutions there stands the bitter truth that in ourselves there is not the power to become the person we ought to be and want to be. We need only to read Paul’s struggle with himself in Romans 7 to realize this is a universal human situation.
Becoming Better People
How can you and I become better people in 1998? By that I mean how can we become the fulfilled, moral, spiritual people we desire to be? Are there some plain steps to take that bring more power to the struggle than mere resolutions? I am certainly for resolutions, written or unwritten, but can we not find more strength than that? A study of people in the New Testament reveal some steps to our becoming the person we ought to be.
A Better Person Through A Vision of Christ
The first step: To make lasting changes in our lifestyle, there must be a guiding vision. In Paul’s own life, there was the vision of Christ on the Damascus Road. As Paul traveled the known world preaching Jesus and standing before kings, he said, “I was not disobedient to that heavenly vision …” In Colossians we are told, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (See Colossians 3:1-10).
I know that a popular teaching is to practice “visioning” what you want, what kind of person you want to be. But envisioning yourself rich or famous or happy can only draw on the power within your own flawed life. If the vision you put in your mind and heart is the vision of Christ himself, you draw upon all his power and love to shape your life.
Let our resolutions be based upon a vision of Christ on the cross, dying there because of our sin. See Christ on the cross paying the penalty for our sin. If we keep that vision before our eyes, we can find strength.
But let the vision of Christ be not just Christ on the cross, but also of Christ resurrected. Sometimes we put all the emphasis on Jesus’ death. But to stop at Jesus’ death is to taxi to the end of the runway and stop; it is to buy the opera ticket and forget to go to the opera; it is to mix up the cake and not bake it; it is to cook the meal and not eat it! As Paul says, “If Christ be not risen, then we of all men are most miserable!” Without the resurrection, Jesus is just another dead Jew! But with the resurrection, there is unleashed in this world a mighty spiritual power in the hearts of those who believe that Jesus is the Savior. “To as many as believed gave He the power to become the sons and daughters of God!” The death on the cross takes away the punishment for sin; the resurrection brings into our lives a new power for daily living.
But how can we who believe keep this powerful and power giving vision of Christ crucified and risen before our eyes, in our hearts and minds and daily lives? We can practice the presence of Christ through daily prayer, through Bible and devotional reading and through gathered worship and fellowship with other Christians. The first two, prayer and devotional reading, are private and essential. Also essential and public is your relationship to the church, the fellowship of believers. And sometimes we take the church for granted. Take this church out of your life and imagine what the past year would have been like.
A Better Person Through A Vision of Self
After we establish through our resolutions, through new habits, a fresh vision of Christ, then we are ready to add to this a vision of ourself as God intends us to be. Concentrate with me for a moment: Think of yourself, your habits, your lifestyle, your values and goals, your personality as you are. Now vision yourself as having the goals, values, personality that God wants you to have. That’s the fulfilled, charming, winsome person God wants you to be. That’s the person who can make a difference in this world for Christ. Now go further — with that vision of you as you ought to be, should be, could be if you kept the vision of Christ before you — think about the difference it would make at work, in your home, in is church. My goodness, it is amazing what God is doing with us as we are, broken and rebellious; image what this church would be like and what we would be doing if each of us became the person God wants us to be!
A Better Person Through A Network
There is one other aspect of this new year resolution business I want to touch on. We can become the person we want to be if (1) we keep a vision of Christ before us to motivate us; if (2) we keep a vision of the person we want to be before us; and (3) if we build a network of support to encourage us and help us be accountable to the vision. Now the church family helps us do this in many ways. But we need more.
Our deacon chairman has a vision of many small groups developing within our deacon body to accomplish this need for spiritual growth support. That is a great idea. I encourage you to seek out three or four other people, or couples, and begin to meet with them on a regular basis to pray together and discuss spiritual things and how it is going with you spiritually.
Well, it is time to get on win the carrying out of our resolutions. And it all begins with the vision of Christ in our hearts, in our minds, before our eyes. A vision that leads to confession and faith, to repentance and spiritual growth, to becoming who God wants us to be and who we want to be. There is an ancient hymn from the eighth century which puts it well:
Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that thou art:
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
And there is a gospel song written 100 years ago by a man on the way to a convention of Christian workers which presents the challenge:
I am resolved no longer to linger,
Charmed by the world’s delight;
Things that are higher, things that are nobler,
These have allured my sight.
I am resolved and who will go with me?
Come, friends, without delay,
Taught by the Bible, led by the Spirit,
We’ll walk the heavenly way.