Straining Toward the Goal

I find myself almost every mid-January feeling lousy about how its only taken 2 weeks for me to let my New Year’s resolutions fade into the background. This January has been no different. I think I’ve excersized only twice in the past 15 days and let’s just say I have done my part to finish off all the stale Christmas cookies. Really…I have no self-control. I also have lost patience with the kids and not been faithful with my time in the Word.
So I started thinking, “What if my goals are all wrong?” I know that I set some really good ones. And as I mentioned in my previous post, I fully intend to approach these goals with an air of grace. And so, I still know that I’ve got time and freedom to reach my goals. Heck, 2 days of excersize is a whole lot more than what took place in 2011!
I read Phillippians 2:13-21 today, and this is the famous straining towards the goal passage. I thought it was rather fitting for how I was feeling. And for all the times I have read this passage on the back of a field day or Christian basketball t-shirt, I saw a few new things today.
Paul’s goal is knowing Jesus and the power of His ressurrection, sharing in his sufferings, and becoming like Him in his death. And, apart from learning the guitar and losing a few pounds, my New Year’s resolutions aren’t that far off from his. As he talks about reaching for this goal he gives some good advice: “Forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what lies ahead.” How often do I let my past failures and hurts immobilize me. I can get stuck in this endless cycle of focusing on how bad things have been or how wrong I’ve been, and forget about all the ways in which God has saved me and redeemed me in those situations. Or, even on how awesome I used to be, or am, and how if I just muster up enough goodwill and motivation, I can do it all by myself. And in either situation, I forget how God will actually be the One doing the work in me. I think the enemy loves to have me dwell on the past and keep me from moving forward and drawing closer to God and those who are in community around me. Romans 12:9 comes to mind: “Abhor what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” Phillippians 2:16 echoes this, “Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” (That being freedom in Christ.)
And Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
God will take me, just like Jeremiah, through some hard times-some painful times, in fact. But his plan for me is for wholeness, and for a hopeful future. I love meditating on “wholeness”. Almost immediately my shoulders relax and I feel at peace with almost anything or situation. “Wholeness” includes healing and restoration and joy. Thank Jesus that is in His plan for me.
A second bit of good advice from Paul: processing life in any other way, without focusing on that future hope, is immature. And that God will reveal that immaturity to us. Hmm…need I say more. Thank you, Jesus, for revealing my immaturity, for revealing to me when I am focusing on the past and not focusing on my future hope and on Your plan for me. I love that my God doesn’t just leave me stuck. Even in those moments of resigning to failure and even more those moments when I am focusing on all my worldly value in my good works, He still saves me. He pulls me out of the pit.
And the third thing that sticks out to me today in Phillippians: Paul encourages us not to do it alone. Our goal setting and reaching, even if we are doing it right and focusing on our future hope in knowing Jesus more and more, cannot be attained without the Body. We are encouraged to “imitate” and keep our “eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” In community, we hopefully find ourselves surrounded with fellow believers who are straining toward that future hope, who are wanting to share in His sufferings. Hopefully, in Christian community we are also speaking truth in love to each other and therefore, sharpening each other and moving together towards that goal. Paul gives a warning, explaining that there are those who have set their minds on earthly things, not that future hope and glory, and have rather put their glory in their shame and sinfulness. These people he says, “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.” Through a loving and truth-filled community, firmly rooted in the truths of Scripture, we can help each other along the way, so that too is not our end.
And so, as I think about my own goals and ideas for the future, really all I want is to know Him more and to share in His sufferings. So I put the past behind. I will try to not fixate on what is behind me, but to move forward, focusing on the promises He has for me in His word. And I will be vulnerable with the safe community around me, so that I can grow and walk in the examples of love and patience and discipline around me.
“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” Phillippians 4:1

Grace-filled Resolutions

This year I am committed to not getting overwhelmed with a list of resolutions and to-dos for 2012. Rather, I decide here and now to face the new year in a posture of grace and discipline. I think all this resolution-making really boils down to two different types of potential goals.
I have some things that I would love to accomplish in the next year: get back in shape, earn some extra income, and learn how to play the guitar. These things are things that whether I do them or not don’t really alter or effect my relationship with Jesus or others. So, with these things I plan to approach them under the umbrella of grace. Next November, if I haven’t worked out all year, I don’t want to be eating rice cakes and doing lunges in a last ditch effort to meet my goals. I want to remember who I am in Jesus and whether I am leaner or rounder, He loves me still the same and sees me as beautiful. If I don’t ever find a way to make some extra money, my comfort won’t depend on a paycheck, but on the faithfulness of the Lord. If I spend all year trying to remember which guitar string is the B string, God will still define my worth not in what I am capable of doing, but in the power of the resurrection that lives in me. Knowing all this when I set to begin my goal-making process for the next year, dramatically alters how I approach the action plan to completing them.
I have other goals for this next year too. This second set are different in that they do make a difference in who I am. They are goals that transform me through discipline. They are resolutions that ultimately disciple me and shape me so that I act, look, and speak more like the creation I am intended to me. These kind of goals will greatly effect my relationships, both with Jesus and others.
My first “disciple” goal is to commit to memory more truths from His word. I have been learning over the past year to identify those lies with which Satan attacks me the most. Now, for this next year, I need to seek out and know in my heart God’s truths that directly apply to my insecurities and fears. This will take discipline and routine for me.
I also want to teach my children scripture that will speak directly to the needs of their heart. As they grow, I am learning more about how they too are attacked. I think this will bring our family together over the next year, focusing on the truths and promises Jesus has for all of us. To disciple my children will also take discipline.
Viewing these types of goals as an effort to disciple and to be discipled also causes a different posture when laying them out. These goals in particular seem to draw out in us a hunger for Jesus. The awesome thing is that this kind of labor and goal-setting will always be fruitful, because here, ultimately the work is in the hands of Jesus to do the transforming and growing…so no regrets come 2013.
Under the umbrella of grace, even when I let a month go by without looking at my memory verse, I can live freely in the assurance that Jesus continues to teach me and shape me. I don’t have to keep tabs and live in a law-driven relationship with Jesus. I rest in the promise of his providence and redemptive love.
When I feel guilty for eating the extra slice of cake or for feeding the lies my children are believing I can turn to a loving and forgiving God who loves me simply for being me. He knows my heart, He knows my journey, He knows my weaknesses and failures. He will forever remain a faithful Father rejoicing over His daughter.