A New Leaf for the New Year

Guest post by the Rev. Matt Garrett.

What am I going to do about my expanding waist line! When am I ever going to start being more patient! When will I learn to keep my house cleaner! Now is the time that so many people are making New Years’ resolutions. They are promising themselves that they will make many important changes in the coming year. They will eat only nutritious foods, they will exercise regularly, they will rise early to pray, they will stop losing their tempers at home or work, they will learn a new language, they will watch less TV, and they will take up some new hobby. Hope burns in our hearts as we believe the changes that our resolutions promise to bring. Sadly, most of these resolutions will fall by the wayside before January even ends.

But a resolution can be a good thing indeed, if it is our response to the Holy Spirit leading us to walk in the Word and follow our Savior. Didn’t the Apostle Paul tell us his resolution when he said “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14).

Forgetting those things which are behind? Like what, Brother Paul? Let’s face it, we all have baggage that weighs us down and interferes as we try to make our way through this life. We have all made mistakes. We all have certain weaknesses and inabilities. We all have some sins in our past or some present struggles with sin that may still plague us with guilt. (We would do well to remember Psalm 103:12 — “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west,”) Perhaps some of us carry a sadness or a past grief that prevents us from fully knowing the joy of the Lord. Most people admit that they missed some great opportunity that would have reaped a great profit in some endeavor, but the opportunity is long gone. Sadly, a few people allow themselves to be distracted with bitterness, hatred, and the desire for revenge, not accepting that it is inevitable that we will all be mistreated and misunderstood at various times. (“Is the servant greater than the master?”) And I better include envy as a typical baggage. Even in ministry we struggle not to envy the other minister whom God seems to bless and use so abundantly, while we may plod along faithfully sowing, but seeing little harvest. And beware of past successes. They can become baggage too, as we try to keep repeating the old methods that “worked” before, as if following God is a science that can be “cook booked.” As a new year dawns, what is limiting you, distracting you, holding you back from fulfilling your potential? What is dimming your hope?

What are we to do with our baggage? What is Paul’s resolution? “To forget those things
which are behind.” You can only forget those things, however, if you also follow Paul’s example in the rest of the verse to “press on toward the prize.”

Did you happen to see any children tearing open Christmas gifts this year? Oh my, how some of them go at a package, simply ripping the paper in every direction, so eager to get inside. St. Paul encourages us to press toward our prize with that same vigor and intensity. What is that prize? It is the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, of course! It is to live like Jesus, to know Jesus, to please the Father like Jesus, and to do the work of the Father that He has planned for our individual talents. And as we do this we will collect a lot of spiritual fruit as by-products along the way. Joy, peace, love, wisdom, and so on will be welling up in us and seeping out to everyone around us. Oh press on, Saints! Press on toward that prize. Nothing else is worthy of your best efforts.

“But Matt, I’ve tried all of this before and failed.” Oh no, who said that? Friend, you’ve missed the whole point of the verse. Didn’t you hear Paul say “Forget what happened before and press on toward the prize?” So don’t bring that old failure up. Just press on with your eyes on Jesus, who personifies the prize. Keep your head up, God’s Word on your lips, a song in your heart, and forgetting what’s behind, press on.

There’s an old hymn that I sang in church as a child. It is about resolutions, that is, it’s about being resolved. The first line is “I am resolved no longer to linger, charmed by the world’s delight. Things that are higher, things that are nobler, these have allured my sight.” May that be our theme in the New Year. And that, my fellow pilgrim, gives great cause for hope.

Matt Garrett is the pastor of Moncure Baptist Church in Moncure, North Carolina.

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