Goals. Targets. Aims.
These words appear all too often as the new year approaches. We’re all too quick at setting ourselves new goals for the year ahead without first reflecting on how successful our previous targets were. Don’t get me wrong, New Year’s resolutions are great and January often brings a new burst of motivation. But perhaps we should also look at how well our previous resolutions went, and realize that there is still a lot to learn.
I’m notoriously hard on myself. I often feel like I'm failing in so many areas of my life. I always want to do better because I know that I am capable of better. This can be a good thing, because it pushes me and encourages me to lean in to God for His guidance on how to walk more consistently in the new life that He has given me. But it can also lead to despair, self-hatred, and a feeling of helplessness. So when we reflect on 2015, it’s important to get the balance right between recognizing our mistakes and not dwelling on them.
That being said, it’s safe to say that I’ve messed up a lot this year. I’ve done some stupid things and I’m not proud of them. When I come to think about said things, I realize something: having a New Year’s resolution, or a mental attitude of "Yolo, do what you want" just isn’t good for anybody. Some of the most stupid things I have ever done; some of the worst decisions I have ever made, have happened in moments of impulse, in doing what I want, when I want.
Can we just come together, regardless of whether you follow Jesus or not, and agree that doing what you want, when you want, isn’t working. In this culture, we are told to follow our feelings, to do what feels good. If this was working, if it was improving life on planet earth, then where do I sign up?!
But the more we do what we feel like doing, the more people get hurt. We feel emptier and emptier, perhaps without even realizing it. It isn’t helping at all. It isn’t helping the political system, the educational system, the workplace, our families, relationships; the list goes on. The more we act on impulse, the more our existence degenerates. Do not let "Yolo" appear on your resolutions list. Do not allow yourself, no matter how good it may feel at the time, to act on impulse. God knows it doesn’t work, He’s told us right from the start, but all too often we have a severe lack of foresight and we end up going the long way around to realize that God was right all along.
Something else comes to mind when I reflect on the mistakes of 2015: God never lets go. When I look back and point out the moments where I’ve messed up, I cannot imagine God letting go of me, withdrawing His Holy Spirit from inside of me, and removing me from my seat in Heaven. If this were the case, I would constantly be moving in and out of God’s presence; or rather His presence would constantly be coming and going from me. But Scripture says that God gifts us with His Holy Spirit the moment we ask Jesus into our lives, and that He never leaves us. John 14:16 reads, "And (Jesus) will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever." Furthermore, we know that our place in Heaven does not ride on us behaving well. So, this being the case, it seems incredibly out of God’s character to withdraw from us and go back on His promises whenever we mess up or walk away.
It’s at times like this that I am in complete awe of God. Whether I walk the path of righteousness or go astray, I am His. Whether I live the new life He has given me or not, I am still a new creation. My failures do not negate the fact that I have been born again.
I also look back on 2015 and realize that some of the times when I have felt closest to God have been when I’ve failed. Isn’t it incredible that when we feel so completely useless, unworthy, and dirty, we often feel closest to God?
"When I’ve messed up, intentionally or unwittingly, when I’ve said or done the wrong thing, when I feel smeared with shame because of a poor choice, when I feel most dismal and disqualified from being a part of the family of God - that’s when I feel him close.
That’s scary to say, because it might suggest that we should sin our brains out in order to feel God near, and of course that’s not the idea at all. Scripture warns us against thoughtless hedonism: "Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase?" (Romans 6:1)
But stop right there. Is it possible that this warning had to be given precisely because a sense of grace really does multiply when we know we’ve messed up? When did the prodigal feel closest to his father; most grateful, most relieved? It was after that turgid excursion via the pig pen. In contrast, his self-righteous elder brother found himself outside the party, stranded by his own sense of superiority and moral outrage. When did the woman caught in adultery feel the greatest gratitude towards Jesus? It was when her proposed stoning was cancelled.
And so, although it may sound a little self-indulgent, the plain truth is that I feel closest to God when I feel that I need him the most. And when I’ve wandered or marched into sinful stupidity, well, that would be the time when he’s most needed."
(Pages 148 - 149 of ‘All Questions Great And Small’ by Adrian Plass and Jeff Lucas)
Now, with all of that being said, I do not encourage us to take not walking in righteousness lightly. We know that it is what’s best for us, so why not do it? More than that, how do we do it? How do we walk on God’s path in our day-to-day life?
Many people’s answer would be to write a list of things that we could improve upon, otherwise known as a New Year’s Resolutions list. Rend Collective recently posted this on their Facebook page:
"So tempting to make self-improvement our new year's resolution but what we need is SELF-SACRIFICE. Don't give up a habit- give up your heart."
The only way that we will ever learn how to walk in the new life that God has given us is to daily give up our hearts to him. We need to constantly focus on Him. Instead of trying to work things out ourselves, we need to immerse ourselves in God - in His word, in prayer, in worship. We need to refocus; we shouldn’t bring our list of self-improvements to a piece of paper in the form of a list. We should bring our failures, our baggage and our mistakes to the only One who can truly change us: Jesus.
The Bible teaches us that God will give us ‘peace that surpasses all understanding,’ which suggests that we can’t expect to understand it to experience it. Christianity is full of paradoxes, one of which being that when we walk away from God, we end up feeling closest to God. I don’t understand it, and I don’t believe that we were meant to. Instead, I choose to embrace this fact with open arms, and simply fall at the feet of Jesus as I realize He has well and truly paid the price for me to be able to dwell in God’s presence, and for God’s presence to dwell in me.
You have turned
Mourning to dancing
You have covered me with grace
The struggle here
May last a moment
But life with You
Will last always
There is hope
Beyond the suffering
Joy beyond the tears
Peace in every tragedy
Love that conquers fear
I have found redemption
In the blood of Christ
My body might be dying
But I'll always be alive
(‘When My Heart Is Torn Asunder’ - Phil Wickham)
Alice is 18 and from England. She gave her life to Jesus about 5 years ago, and was baptized in July 2015. She feels that she is called to creative evangelism after receiving many prophecies from various people. She's a keen musician, photographer, writer, and speaker, and she hopes to involve all of these passions when sharing the love of Jesus to the world. She looks forward to moving to a city to attend university, engrossing herself in youth culture and wider communities.