A very belated Happy New Year!
As I write this we are two weeks from 1 January, the day that some of us made New Year resolutions. Typically at the beginning of a new year we start to think about some changes that might help that year go better than the old one.
According to my Google research, the big four resolutions are: aiming to be fit and healthy, vowing to lose weight, trying to enjoy life more (less stress) and spending time with people we care about.
Other standard resolutions include spending less, getting more sleep and watching less television.
I wonder if you made a resolution. Mine was not so much a resolution but a reminder verse for the year: “. . . the joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10). I started to think about how this sense of the joy of God might become increasingly part of my daily life. That started me thinking about the difference between trying and training.
Only eight percent of those who make resolutions end up keeping them. I think this is because we overlook the critical difference between training to do something and trying to do something. Just trying is not enough.
Indeed spiritual transformation is not a matter of just trying my best, as commendable as that might be, it is about training wisely. As Paul says to his young protégé, Timothy: “train yourself in godliness” (1 Tim 4:7). Every sporting coach and music teacher knows that becoming competent and to continuously improve requires regular training and instruction.
When it comes to living an effective, loving Christian life, the call to a disciple of Jesus is a call to lifelong training in the school of Jesus. Bonhoeffer put it this way: “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”
The need for training is as relevant for physical and intellectual activity as it is for the art of forgiveness, joy, prayer or resilience.
John Ortberg describes this fine art well when he says “following Jesus simply means learning from him to arrange my life around activities that enable me to live in the fruit of the Spirit.”
Any activity, discipline or training that produces the fruit of loving God and people more deeply is worth exploring. Down the centuries, Christian practitioners have discerned that daily prayer, solitude, regular worship, servanthood, music, confession and meditation on Scripture are all proven training grounds.
There are others like the ones we pursue during Lent; fasting and godly contemplation on the work of the cross that can also enhance our spiritual health. My hope for 2018 is that it will be a year of growth, going deeper and wider in the love of Christ and in the Christshaped mission to the world. May we be in training and in step with the Spirit towards these ends.
Rev Steve Francis, Moderator of the Uniting Church WA