It was Sunday’s sermon that did it. That and a growing unease at my own ill discipline. And so I’ve now revisited the issue of New Years’ Resolutions. I’ve made some. It’s been a while.
Over the years I’ve grown accustomed to failure and hardened to the effectiveness of simply deciding to do things differently on the first day of the year. I heard somewhere that the average length a resolution remains in place is two weeks. As far as my own record is concerned, two weeks is impressive. Given such a disappointing track record I did the only sensible thing left; I quit. But that’s hopeless. Christians should never give up. The moment we became a Christian we embarked on a life of repentance and faith. The Christian life is a life of resolving to be different. It’s about turning away from the habitual patterns of sin and turning to the new life we have in Christ. And so, in dependence on the Spirit, I’m going to give them a go once again! I figure that there’s so much that needs to change that making a start on January 1st is as good a time as any.
But back to Sunday’s sermon. I wasn’t up. I was away, on holiday. And my good friend Tim Chapman was exploring the implications of Acts 2. It may have been his phrase. I can’t remember. But the expression ‘non-negotiables’ came to mind. And I started to think, ‘what are the non-negotiables going to be this year?’ In other words, what are the things without which I will not do? Acts 2:42 put four things to hand.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
And so, this year (with the help of God) I intend to show a renewed commitment to these four things [at least]
1. I’m resolved to be devoted to the Apostles’ teaching because I need God’s perspective on life, the universe and everything! It’s unbelievably arrogant to think that I can plough on through life without being devoted to God’s word. Bible reading isn’t merely a habit. It’s a necessity. And I need to go on remembering that. Wonderfully I get to study God’s word every day of the week. It’s my job. I shudder to think what my patterns of Bible reading would be like if I wasn’t employed to prepare sermons and teaching materials. But I need to hear what God has to say on everything and so I’m going to listen to God’s word more than I have so far.
2. I’m resolved to be devoted to the church family because I need their encouragement and they need mine. It’s not the easiest thing; living for Christ. It’s not meant to be an individual pursuit. God unites us to other brothers and sisters in Christ so that we can help one another live for him. Christianity is corporate. God does not expect me to watch from the touch-line whilst everyone else gets on with self sacrificial service. He expects me to lend a hand and to encourage others to keep on keeping on. Tim included a thought-provoking line about my bond with my church family being closer than that with my relatives. He’s right. That demands a commitment to everyone else in the pew that I’m not sure I’ve come close to just yet. I suspect I’m not alone.
3. I’m resolved to be devoted to the cross of Christ because I’m lost without it. I need to see everything through that one momentous event. The cross is essential to Christianity. There is no Christianity without it. And so there can be no Christian life without it. It’s the moment of salvation. It’s the basis of assurance. It’s the stimulus for holiness. It’s the content of the gospel. And it’s the pattern of the Christian life. Wonderfully I’m familiar with it. But that has its’ own dangers. Familiarity, whilst it’s not bred contempt, has bred presumption. It’s usual, common or ordinary. And I need to recover that sense of the unusual, uncommon and extraordinary nature of the death of Christ upon his cross.
4. I’m resolved to be devoted to prayerful dependence on God because I need his help to live life for Him and for His glory. I find praying hard. I like to think it’s temperamental; I’m an active rather than a reflective person. But it’s not temperamental, it’s spiritual. I’m a sinner. Wedded to that I also have the gift of procrastination. I’m lazy. And so i’ll put things off till they’ve moved from being important to becoming urgent. None of those unhealthy character traits helps when it comes to developing an ongoing prayer life that amounts to anything other than prayer as the last resort. And so I’ve had to learn to pray, despite myself. This is a massive battle in my life. Naturally I don’t pray. No one does, which makes me feel better! Spiritually, with the work of the Spirit in me, I’m developing an awareness of my dependence on my heavenly father. I know that I need to pray. And though it sometimes feels as though I’m talking out loud and running through a lengthy to do list, I’ve realised that it’s the reason for which Christ died. He died so that I might speak to the God of the universe as though he is my father. That’s not a burden, it’s a privilege. And it’s only my perverse self-destructive arrogant independence that stands in the way of my enjoyment of that privilege. This year I want it to be different.
I’ve made other resolutions which don’t need to be shared here. But I thought these ones were rather good. And they’re not mine and so I can say that without being arrogant!