Friday, January 11, 2008

resolved: to grow

I have no great faith in New Year's resolutions. I have seen too many resolutions confidently set sail, only to founder on the shoals of my inertia and intractability.

But I just can't resist the start of a new year, like a pristine white page waiting to be written on (or, so as not to mix metaphors, an empty sea waiting for ships to sail ... oh, forget it).

So the turn of each year finds me walking along the beach at Apollo Bay, not making pointless commitments to diet and exercise, but practising what the Puritans called "self-examination": prayerfully reflecting on my life during the last year, asking God to show me key areas of (un)godliness he wants to work on, and committing myself, with God's help, to grow in these qualities in the year ahead.

This year I resolved:

1. to grow in self-control, especially to exercise godly moderation in eating, spending and computer use.

    Recently, I've been doing a lot of research on the meaning of self-control, the final fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). I concluded that it means to control our passions, not as an end in itself (as if intense pleasure or feasting are bad, and moderation and self-denial good in themselves) but in the service of love and godliness. (One of these days I'll get around to writing that blog on dieting, and explain my reasoning.)

    So we might eat less because it reduces our irritability and laziness, and helps us to serve God more energetically (a far more important goal even than health - see 1 Tim 4:8); spend less so we can be more generous towards others; and use the computer less so we can spend more time loving our family.
2. to grow in my commitment to spiritual disciplines such as regular (notice I don't say daily) prayer and Bible reading.

    Now there's a resolution I make every year! I was motivated this time by something I read in Martyn Lloyd-Jones' Spiritual Depression, where he explains that one of the most common causes of spiritual discouragement is simply lack of discipline: distracted by all our modern entertainment options, we put in some screen time or read a newspaper instead of praying or reading the Bible.

    It's time for me to sit down and figure out exactly what form prayer and Bible reading are going to take this year, in the midst of a busy life filled with the demands of children: a useful annual exercise.
The key word in both these resolutions is "grow". Oddly enough, I've never much liked talking about "learning", "improving" and "growing. Perfectionist that I am, I'd rather have it all learnt, improved and grown already. But that is exactly what God wants to see in my life: growth.

So I am praying to "grow" in self-control and discipline - not to perfect them, not to make bold resolutions which invite failure, not to adopt amazing new programs which promise success and inevitably fail to deliver - simply to grow, with God's help.

May God help all of us to grow in grace and godliness this year. Amen.

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