It’s now 2012, already a whopping, startling four days in. The holidays are over and the shiny ornaments, the glimmering lights, and other vestiges of a “you’re-supposed-to-be-happy-season” are likely either hourly reminding us that we need to put them away, or they are already nearly forgotten in the back hall closet. Meanwhile, for many, the prospect of a New Year holds the delight of clean beginnings, new chances, and opportunities for a fresh start.
Melting into Moralism
Going through some old writings, I read my “New Year’s Resolutions” from several years back and was a bit surprised to see 1)how lofty they seemed, 2) how few I actually met, and 3) reminders of how discouraging it seemed to make so little progress. I also noticed that much of my focus was on my doing and striving harder, and that I equated that with spiritual success.
Resolutions or goals are often helpful to set around the New Year simply because 1) there is a lot of life that is measured from the start to the finish of the year, and therefore January 1 ends up being the best time to begin and 2) an entire year is a good space of time during which to pursue change and progress.
In and of themselves, they’re not necessarily a problem, because working hard and pushing ourselves can be a good thing. But it’s easy, as Christians, to allow our efforts and resolutions to “melt into Christian moralism.”
“One day each year, it seems that grace-alone, faith-alone Protestants abandon everything they believe. No, it’s not Halloween. It’s New Year’s Day. When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, even Christian pastors will pile on the law: read your Bible more, pray more, attend church more, read more Christian books, tithe more, witness more. In short: do more, do better, try harder. The gospel melts into Christian moralism.
So this year, I want to put the indicative before the imperative. I propose a different kind of resolution, a joyful abandonment to grace and a sure confidence in God my Father.
1. Resolved, that God, who made heaven and earth, made me also, and loves me, and delights in me.
2. Resolved, that God, who is infinitely holy and demands perfect adherence to his moral law, took upon himself the task of restoring me, his fallen child.
3. Resolved, that Jesus—through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension—has become my wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
4. Resolved, that even when my faith seems to waver and my conscience accuse me, God is greater than my heart and will reassure me.”
Read the rest of his resolves and post here.
Resolutions are not inherently evil or moralistic. Setting goals is helpful and often important in actually achieving goals. But without “a joyful abandonment to grace and a sure confidence in God my Father” as I aim to move forward, an endless cycle of guilt and consequential further adding of greater burdens can easily accompany and define our resolution-making.
Christ’s Call to the Weary
Likewise, the end of the year is not the only time we are wont to be weary or discouraged in our efforts. Matthew 11:28-30 is just as applicable on January 4, as it is on December 31:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Sometimes the burdens that weigh us down are self-imposed and reek heavily of striving to fulfill the Law that Christ has already fulfilled. Other times, they are externally imposed, perhaps by well-meaning leaders or spiritual-influences who “tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders.” It is easy to think we are doing good by going above and beyond the principles of Scripture, or by adding on our “own rules,” and it is deceitfully natural to bind our consciences to think we ought to be straining at gnats while swallowing camels.
When we’ve erroneously equated piety and self-effort to be the epitome of godliness, yet are constantly defeated and discouraged, Christ calls us to lay down our unnecessary yoke for His—His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. There is abundant rest in Him.
To Come, to Rest, to Be Still, to Trust.
Other times, the weight and defeat we feel is merely the result of living in a sin-ravished world. Our gentle and humble-hearted Savior bids us come, too, to find rest for our souls. In Him, we hear the gentle reminder to let our souls be still and rest in Him. And for those of us who may not have lived out all the lovely scenes of “silent nights” and a barn full of smiling sheep (Mary, Joseph, and Jesus didn’t either), “the hopes and fears of all the years” are still met by Christ tonight. I think often of some of the words to the song “Still, My Soul, Be Still,” by Getty and Townend:”
Still, my soul, be still
And do not fear
Though winds of change may rage tomorrow
God is at your side.
No longer dread
The fires of unexpected sorrow.
God, You are my God
And I will trust in You and not be shaken
Lord of peace renew
A steadfast spirit with me
To rest in You alone.
To come, To rest, To be still, To trust. When my resolutions fail, when my goals are not even close—these are the things I pray God to grace my heart and soul to do. And even when the sun is shining brightly, my world is happier than anticipated, these still are the gifts still I ask God to grant as a lifetime of resolve: to come, to rest, to be still, to trust in Him.
“Lord of Peace, renew a steadfast spirit with me to rest in You alone.” That is our hope for the New Year, the new day, the new hour, or the new moment..