By Bill Webb, Word&Way Editor
Perhaps it's just my guilty conscience, but advertising for weight-loss programs, fitness equipment and gyms, and get-that-body-of-yours-into-shape books and videos have proliferated as the new year has begun - more than I have noticed before.
Those things are consumer-driven, of course. Prior to that eat-a-thon that begins with Thanksgiving and continues through the last Christmas leftovers, many of us excuse our overindulgence with a pre-resolution: "I know I'm going to gain weight, but I'll take it off after the holidays."
There are scientific reasons -- the earth's orbit and rotation among them -- that affect things like seasons and the block of time we call a year. But I am convinced that the Creator set up this cyclical pattern so that we would have regular opportunities for personal evaluation and "do-overs," or fresh starts.
The most dramatic and most important of new beginnings has to do with spiritual re-birth in the a person's life. But God built into His system a refining and maturing process enabled by repentance and forgiveness. We acknowledge our shortcomings before God and resolve to live more faithfully. Then we try again.
There is an old hymn ("Baptist Hymnal," 1956, p. 216) that is a spiritual resolution. Written by Palmer Hartsough (1844-1932), it is called "I Am Resolved." The first of five verses goes like this:
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.
And the chorus:
I will hasten to Him, hasten so glad and free, Jesus, greatest, highest, I will come to Thee.
I haven't heard that old hymn in a worship service for some time, but it can provide a firm motivation for any starting-over effort.
Does God care about poor health? Does He care that we abuse or neglect the care of our bodies? Does it matter to Him that we have relationships in need of repair? Does He care whether we exercise spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible reading and showing love to others? Does He care whether or not we live as good stewards? Does it matter whether or not we represent Him well in every aspect of our lives?
The obvious answer to all of those questions is yes. But when and where is a person to start? I am hardly an expert on new beginnings. My wife has reminded me that "starting tomorrow" is not a strategy for success. But here are a few thoughts that might help ensure success:
Be intentional. Determine what you need to do, set goals and develop a plan for meeting those goals.
Be accountable. Determine how you will keep track of success or failure. Involve up front anyone to whom you can share accountability.
Don't go it alone. Those who launch exercise programs are more likely to succeed if another person or a group is involved. The same is usually true of spiritual disciplines. A payoff is an additional layer of accountability.
Don't give up. The Apostle Paul suggested life -- particularly for believers -- is akin to a race that must be completed. Sometimes our relationship to God is the only thing that keeps us from going to the sidelines.
When necessary, start again. Do you remember learning to ride a bicycle? The advice I received went something like this: "When you fall, get up and try again." Failure is not the reason to stop; it can be the motivation to persevere and succeed.
As a new year begins, I wish for every reader a new beginning with Christ firmly in the center of all you do. God bless you. (01-11-07)