Welcome to January. It is my guess that January does not get many votes for “Best Month of the Year.” January is a month of consequences. Some of us spent too much and/or ate too much this past holiday season. Others got too little sleep and/or exercise. Some are recovering from the stress of challenging family dynamics during the holidays or the pain of no family connections. Even those of us with wonderful families can be simply tired after all the festivities. On top of this, New Jersey weather is not conducive to good feelings. I remember my first winter on the East Coast was quite a shock: there was a three-week stretch in which I did not see the sun once. Reduced daylight makes it tougher for our brains to deal with stress and the everyday demands of life. Flu season has arrived.
And then there are New Year’s resolutions. I am not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, and I’ve written about it in the past. From my perspective, New Year’s resolutions are an exercise in do-it-yourself failure. While they reflect a healthy acknowledgement of our shortcomings, they also promote a view of self-help and performance as the means to personal growth. I would like to propose a more Biblical approach.
Step One. Let God be God. He is the Creator of the universe and the Creator of seasons. January is as much a part of His design as June. The passing of seasons and the arrival of a new year are an expression of the order and rhythm of His creation. It is good. We can acknowledge this by closing the holiday season in the same way we began it: with thanksgiving.
Step Two. Let God be God. God is our loving Father, and He knows and desires the best for us. The beginning of a new year is an excellent opportunity to come before Him in humility and invite Him to search us and know us, much as King David did in Psalm 139. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12). God has given us His word to work in us and through us.
Step Three. Let God be God. Galatians 5:22-23 is a passage that searches us as it shines a particularly powerful spotlight on our lives: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” And with the light of God’s word, we can see where we have failed. For me, I need not look further back than the holiday season to see my shortcomings. I experienced and observed the evaporation of love and joy in the heat of holiday stress, the lack of peace associated with the pursuit of personal goals, patience and kindness in short supply in negotiating long lines and dealing with inexperienced sales help, goodness giving way to competition, faithfulness sacrificed to self-focus, gentleness less evident than pushiness, and self-control traded for “just one more” bite, sip, or gift.
Step Four. Let God be God. Confession is an exercise in acknowledging that God is God and we are not: we have fallen far short.
Step Five. Let God be God. When we confess our sins, we discover God as a forgiving God: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I Jn. 1:9). It isn’t that our sins don’t matter. It is that God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to die in order to cover those sins. As we confess and receive forgiveness, we can rejoice that God is God, and that He has done for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Step Six. Let God be God. The Bible places confession alongside repentance. Genuine sorrow for our sins means that we not only confess, we repent: we turn away from our sins. This is where I believe it is hardest and yet most important for us to let God be God. How on earth are we to consistently exhibit the qualities listed in Galatians? Please consider that these qualities are described as “gifts of the Spirit.” Please also consider with me John 15:4-5—“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Repentance is not a do-it-ourselves project. Repentance is a continual exercise in abiding in Christ and allowing His Spirit to enable us to bear fruit.
Step Seven. Praise God for being God. We cannot live the Christian life by ourselves, and that is indeed a good thing. We must depend upon God to reveal our sins, forgive us, and enable us to repent. We participate in God’s redemptive work by confessing our sins and abiding in Christ so that the Holy Spirit can do His work.
Step Eight. Praise God for giving us one another. Not only do we need God to live the Christian life, we need one another. It is as we worship together, work together, and serve together that our sins are revealed. It is as we forgive one another that we grow and manifest God. It is as we encourage one another that we can develop our gifts and use them in concert with the gifts of others to fulfill God’s purposes for us and to bring Him pleasure, honor, and glory.