Make fresh-start commitments this year - Word&Way

Make fresh-start commitments this year

Did you make New Year's resolutions for 2011? Resolutions can help you develop spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally. And they still impact your life, even if you fail to keep them. Five Baptists in Missouri tackled an aspect of resolutions and goals – spiritual, change, guilt, realistic expectations and lifelong goals. Please see the Jan. 6 print issue for the complete package.

When our children were young, I would occasionally take them to the orthodontist. Hanging in the office was a sign: "The orthodontist cannot do for the patient what the patient is unwilling to do for himself."

I am absolutely confident of God's love for me and of God's good intentions for my life. But the scariest reality of faith is that God loves me so much, the Lord leaves me free to make my own lifestyle choices and develop my own habits, good or bad.

Over the years, I have changed my mind related to New Year's resolutions. I used to believe such resolutions were useless, that serious followers of Jesus could trust the Spirit to direct us to good habits. Now with more humility about my own failures (and those of others),

I have come to understand that we all need the impetus of a fresh beginning, whether it is tied to the calendar, a church retreat, a new school year or a move to a new neighborhood.

Furthermore, I used to believe that discipline in one realm automatically translates into discipline in other areas of living. Sometimes yes, but often, no.

Have you noticed? People who are highly disciplined in one area may be very lax in another. Consider the teen who can get up every morning at 5:30 for band practice but can't remember to pick up her room! Or the successful businessman who knows the location of every dollar he has ever earned but cannot control his sexual passions.

The Apostle Paul used sports language in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 to mention two realities that are very sobering. First, successful living requires intentionality and effort (vv. 24-26).

Paul claims in verse 26 he is not shadow boxing, but declares, "I drive my body and train it" (New American Standard). Second, we are all capable of stumbling; no one is exempt (v. 27). I like what Raymond Brown once wrote: "The Christian life requires all of one's life for all of one's life."

Perhaps Paul's Corinthian instruction could be summarized as follows: Learn the replacement principle. The way to rid ourselves of bad habits is to develop positive ones. A great paraphrase of Psalm 23:3 might be: "He leads me in right ruts." Bad habits don't just go away and good habits don't just show up. We must, as Paul said about the athlete in training, be intentional. Thomas ˆ Kempis wrote, "Habit overcomes habit."

"Temporary" won't cut it. The goal of New Year's resolutions is NOT temporary deletions or additions to our lifestyle; following Jesus is about choices that permanently alter us. A literal translation of verse 27 would show continuous action: "I am continually punishing my body and enslaving it…."

Learn to exercise your "yes" and "no" muscles. The word "addiction" is interesting. It comes from the Latin word that means "to give assent to." Put simply, our lives are shaped by what we say "yes" to and by what we say "no" to.

We're not in this alone. Be careful not to turn Paul's teachings into works salvation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once warned, "We are not self-renewers." We don't have what it takes in our own strength. Paul reminds us that we run for an imperishable victor's crown (v. 25). The God who sponsors our Olympic run is the same God who pumps energy into our souls. That's grace! A good habit is born in us when our appropriate, repeated choices meet up with God's resources.

Hear the parable of the tack. Behold, a man once sat on a tack. And lo, he was very sore. He summoned doctors to his house to find a cure for his pain. His case was featured on Oprah and on Dr. Phil. Eastern gurus came to visit him. But, alas, no one could give him relief.

Then one day, a little girl stopped by the man's house, selling Major Saver cards for her school. When she learned of the man's pain, she said, "I know what will help you. Just get up!" So the man got up off the tack, and life was different from that point on.

When our bad habits become self-destructive and painful, the solution is usually nearer than we realize. We simply need to act on what we already know. We can read all the books in print related to habits and resolutions. We can watch every self-improvement DVD.

Sooner or later, it comes down to a choice. We need to get up! In the name of Jesus, in the power of Jesus, get up!

Doyle Sager is pastor of First Baptist Church, Jefferson City.