Looking back over the past year often helps us find ways to move forward. Looking back also enables us to think about changes we would like to make. However, at times this practice can be discouraging. We easily see our shortcomings and remember old resolutions we forgot about during the year. I believe, however, that the new year ought to be a time of refreshment and hope. I would like to share with you a few thoughts I find helpful when reflecting this time of year.
Discouragement can kill hope. One way to fight against discouragement this time of the year is to celebrate the successes of last year. We all have successes on a daily basis, sometimes they are just hard to see. Think about your last year and find areas of growth. Did you learn a new skill? Did a relationship improve? Did you learn something about yourself? Did you do a hard thing? If you struggle to think of any successes, ask a friend or loved one if they can think of any. It can be easier to see the successes of others than ourselves at times.
If you see mistakes when looking back, then learn from them and move on. Our mistakes can be productive or paralyzing. Mistakes are productive when we glean information from them and move forward using our newly gained knowledge. They paralyze us when we shame ourselves for making them. Everyone makes mistakes, shaming ourselves has no use. Mistakes are like gum, you chew on it until you get what you need and then you spit it out.
Setting goals at the beginning of the year can be useful. I would like to challenge you however. This year instead of asking yourself, “What do I want to do?” ask yourself “Who do I want to be?”. The primary job of the Holy Spirit is to change our character by teaching us who to be. The Christian life isn’t about doing good things or proving ourselves by certain acts or rituals. The Christian life is about becoming more like Jesus. Let’s focus on developing our character not on completing a to do list. Let the Holy Spirit do its work. Don’t worry, behavior changes will occur as our character develops.
At the beginning of a new year I don’t make resolutions. Instead of making a resolution I pick one word to focus on throughout the year. As the year goes by I ask the Spirit to reveal to me what this word means and how it can help to develop my character. Think of it as a one-word motto. If you would like to be a person who follows the Spirit no matter the cost, then consider words like “courage” or “risk”. If you would like to be a person who ministers to others, then consider words like “serve” or “love”. Pick a word you would like to define your character. For more thoughts on this topic listen to this sermon by my dear friend Amanda Clark.
Moving into the new year I’d like to offer you a benediction. Paul prayed these words for the Ephesians and I pray them over your year.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.