Monday, December 31, 2012

Starting 2013 Right 

Romans 7:21-25, Philippians 3:12-14, Ephesians 4:11-16, 
1 Corinthians 12:13-27

It is always interesting to hear what people are making resolutions about as the New Year begins. Ann Landers has made some good suggestions in her column. She writes, “Call up a forgotten friend. Drop an old grudge, and replace it with some pleasant memories. . . . Free yourself of envy. . . . Resolve to stop magnifying small problems and shooting from the lip. . . . Lighten up. When you feel like blowing your top, ask yourself, ‘Will it matter in a week from today?’ Be optimistic. . . . Read something uplifting. Deep-six the trash. . . . Walk tall, and smile more. . . . Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I love you.’”

Some other resolutions I read are a little less serious. “I have resolved not to do drugs anymore, because I get the same effect just standing up really fast.” “I have resolved to live in my own little world, because at least they know me here.” “I have resolved to stay married, because it is so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.” “I have resolved to not make any resolutions, because nobody is perfect. I’m a nobody, therefore I’m perfect.”

I've seen a lot of internet sites with suggestions for your new year resolutions. Not surprisingly, exercise and dieting topped the list. Also near the top were things like becoming a better person and a better spouse. But the one that caught my attention was the one that said, “Follow My Dreams.” People have dreams and they want to live them out. You might interpret that as wanting to live in a fantasy world, but I believe people have real dreams and it is important to reach for them. The problem is that dreams don’t just happen — you make them happen — and it takes work and sacrifice.

How can we move beyond just making resolutions and begin creating solutions for our lives? We do it by working on the core issues of our lives instead of just making cosmetic changes. We have to go to beyond the symptoms to the source of our problems. Losing weight may only be a symptom of the core issue of a lack of self-control in your life — around which there may be many other symptoms. Perhaps you are using food to sedate yourself. Controlling your drinking may only be a symptom of the fact that you are looking for something to deaden the pain and disappointment in your life, instead of finding your comfort and strength in God. Controlling your anger may only be a symptom of a deeper need you have to control life and the people in it with your rage. We focus on the core issues rather than the presenting problem.

I would suggest three areas on which to focus

Focus on Personal Development

I am talking about something more here than running out and getting yourself a new piece of exercise equipment so you can get everything toned. You can be the perfect weight and have a perfect body, and still miss the point of what it means to be a human being. You can read all the self-improvement books on the shelves of Barnes and Noble, and still be out of control. You can be the best educated person in the world, and still be clueless about how to live life. You might know a lot about a broad range of subjects, and still be ignorant when it comes to things that are ultimately and eternally important. You may have all the right investments and be set for life financially, but be bankrupt spiritually. 
On the other hand, you might be broke, out of shape, unattractive, in poor health and lucky to have graduated from the sixth grade, but you are in touch with things that have ultimate meaning. You are investing your life in eternity. You have joy because you understand your importance to God. You have accepted life for what it is and stopped demanding it be something different. You have learned to forgive. You have learned how to love imperfect people and live in an imperfect world. You have grown in your knowledge of God through reading his Word. You talk to him on a daily basis. There is joy in your life, and a peace that the circumstances of the world cannot take away, because your life is inseparably linked to the eternal God who holds your life in his hands. You trust him. You are conscious of his presence through the day. You want to do his will because of a love for him that has possessed your heart.

If you want to develop yourself personally, the first thing you need to do is see if there is any unsurrendered area of your life. If there is an area of your life that you are holding back from God there will be no growth in your personal life — no personal development. You cannot have victory and freedom in your life if you are holding some things back from God’s control. You cannot resist God and then expect his blessing in your life. It isn’t going to happen. Talk about core issues! If you are saying, “I will obey God in everything except this,” you are blocking God’s work in your life. This is not so much personal development as it is allowing God to do a work in you. The truth is that you cannot develop yourself — this is the reason that our resolutions usually fail. This is the work of God. Paul realized this when he wrote as a person without Christ trying to live for God by their own strength:
 “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” But then he answers his own question when he says, “Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:21-25). 
It is through Christ that we are delivered from our own wretchedness — not our own effort.

But what if you have failed so many times before that you have given up even trying? Take seriously the words of Paul when he wrote: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

Forget the past with its failure, and press on toward the future where God has called you. Every day is a new beginning for you with God. Future failure can often be avoided by building holy habits into your life. Mark off a regular time every day when you can spend time reading God’s Word and talking to him. You will not always feel like doing it, but if you do it faithfully, regardless of how you feel, your life will take on a new power. Read good books. Throw away the mindless magazines and stop watching trash TV. Fill your mind with good things, positive things. Set goals for yourself. You have to live life on purpose. Too many people exist day after day, just letting life happen. Don’t let your life happen by default. Build purpose into your life. Don’t let your life be an accident. It is easy to avoid life, and just sink into our easy chairs and let life go by. Don’t let others be in charge of your life; give your life to God and let him be in charge. Let him develop your personal life.

Elie Wiesel, the eloquent Jewish author, once told this story: “A just man comes to Sodom hoping to save the city. He pickets. What else can he do? He goes from street to street, from marketplace to marketplace, shouting, ‘Men and women, repent. What you are doing is wrong. It will kill you; it will destroy you.’ They laugh, but he goes on shouting, until one day a child stops him. ‘Poor stranger, don’t you see it’s useless?’ ‘Yes,’ the just man replies. ‘Then why do you go on?’ the child asks. ‘In the beginning,’ he says, ‘I was convinced that I would change them. Now I go on shouting because I don’t want them to change me.”’ 

I have known many people who were easily influenced by others. Sometimes they did not want to hurt other people’s feelings by disagreeing with them, or not going along with what they said. Or maybe it was because they did not want to be rejected. They did things they knew were wrong, and went places they wouldn’t have gone otherwise. And because they had not taken charge of their lives, someone else did. Because they had not purposely made commitments they found themselves following the will of others. Since they did not have a strong sense of purpose, they found themselves being controlled by others. Build purpose into your life or someone else will do it for you. Personal development is important, because without it you will be adrift in life. The Bible says that we are to grow in our spiritual lives, for, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:11-14).

To be continued.