Here we are, already heading into the third week of the new year. Just a dozen or so days ago we turned a new page and felt that wonderful surge of hope.
We looked at the blank calendar and saw a chance for a fresh start. Anything seemed possible–new habits, permanent change, winning an Olympic gold medal.
Some of us may have made a New Year’s resolutions, perhaps one of the top five from last year:
1. Lose weight
2. Get organized
3. Spend less, save more
4. Enjoy life to the fullest
5. Stay fit and healthy
In recent years, being older and wiser, I’ve gotten away from making promises to myself. With my dismal track record on achieving past resolutions, it has seemed futile to set myself up for an inevitable fall. So I no longer make a no vow to lose x number of pounds or spend x amount of time on a project.
However, I’ve discovered I don’t need to set goals in order to fall short. Last week at the end of one day, I realized I had fritted hours away . And I had nibbled well past any semblance of healthy eating.
Yet even though I had no resolutions to break, I was still discouraged. It was hard not to listen to the chiding voice: “What, failed again??? Still no self control after all these years? Why do you even care?”
If I had listened to this voice for much longer, I would have gorged myself on a big box of chocolates and spent the rest of the week clicking on one web link after another. The way of cheap grace can be so appealing.
That’s not the way of Jesus though. When I listened to Him, I heard Him saying, “Today I’m calling you to change the direction of your mind and your heart. Turn away from activity that only pleases your ego and come to Me.” In other words, He asked me to repent.
I felt really discouraged then. Discouraged that I needed to repent for the millionth time . It felt so tedious to repeat my ancient litany, “I’m sorry. I’ve screwed up again.”
But this discouragement didn’t come from God. Yes, He judges, but He doesn’t want to pull me down. In fact, He wants to encourage me, only not by giving me false hope that perfection is within my grasp if only I try a little harder. Instead, He wants to encourage me with an uncomfortable truth: I am going to fall again and will always be in need of His grace.
Martin Luther likened this to shaving:
“Original sin is in us, like the beard.
We are shaved today and look clean, and have a smooth chin;
tomorrow our beard has grown again,
nor does it cease growing while we remain on earth.
In like manner original sin cannot be eradicated from us;
it springs up in us as long as we live.
Nevertheless we are bound to resist it to our utmost strength,
and to cut it down unceasingly.”
The mark of a Christian is not perfection. A Christian is one who knows they are God’s beloved and reaches for the hand of grace after they have fallen down again. That’s the sign that I follow Jesus: I come back to Him after I have turned away.
When I think I can repent once and be done with it, I set myself up for discouragement. It’s like someone expecting that one day’s shaving will give them hairless face or legs forever. That’s more than God expects of me. He knows I am but dust. Jesus didn’t come because I was almost perfect, but because I was hopeless.
That’s why the biggest danger I face this coming year is not the possibility of missing the mark. The biggest danger is that I will stop being willing to take the grace He offers.
I am walking with Jesus. Being with Him is what counts. My efforts to change don’t affect His love towards me, and neither do my failures. I simply need to be prepared to reorient myself to Him daily.
It turns out there is one resolution I want to make this year: To give up being discouraged about my need for daily grace.
Because regardless of how often I fall, He will always be there to get me back on my feet so I can continue the journey with Him.
What about you?
Where do you need to change your direction again?
Where do you need to replace discouragement with God’s grace?