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A New You for the New Year: Are You Willing?

A New You for the New Year: Are You Willing?

Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • Jan 3, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor

 

Preamble

Good morning and welcome to the Vineyard!

 

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th, we are honored that you are here today in our community. Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful for your presence. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience peace, welcome, and acceptance. We also pray that you would find space to encounter the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!

 

Happy New Year!

Such a power-packed hopeful phrase! In this simple greeting is so much promise, spunk, grit, and potential.

 

Happy New Year!

“Don’t worry, Be happy. Leave the past in the past.” We rehearse. We have so much to look forward to, we are greeting and welcoming a new year, and maybe a new me too.

 

Introduction

The Babylonians, who are credited with creating this annual celebration, were a clever bunch. Taking a rather unremarkable transition of no special significance–the passing of time–and infusing it with so much hope, promise, and potential. In the matter of a second, everything that was past, is gone, banished into the abyss, and behold it’s a new day, a new year, a new you!

 

And this celebration is as universal as breathing. Almost every culture around the planet celebrates the passing of another year. It’s a perfect occasion to take inventory of the past 365 days and reflect, looking back on regret, failures, mistakes, with new hope and increasing our gratitude.

 

I made it.

Maybe this year will be better.

 

And this gets us looking forward, making resolutions to ourselves and others. It’s about our feeling better or good about ourselves, “I want this year to be better than last year.” It’s all leaning into our desire to live healthier, stress-free, and longer lives.

 

Jesus Invites Us to Live Full & Dependent Lives

Jesus wants the same thing for us. He wants us to live lives of meaning and purpose, lives that are full and joyful, lives that are free from anxiety and worry, and lives that are dependent on God.

27“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:27-32)

 

Our New Year’s resolutions are our attempt to take control over what went wrong last year and prevent it from happening again in the New Year. But we are led astray believing the misnomer of the “New Year” since nothing actually changes in us on New Year’s Day.

 

We may resolve to... but until we actually do... everything is still the same.

 

That’s because transformation doesn’t happen all at once, in an instant, or as a mere exercise of will. In spite of us “willing” it to be so. Our transformation involves our will, for sure, but it doesn’t end there.

 

Transformation happens

one action at a time,

one step at a time,

and it starts with our willingness to surrender.

 

Transformation assumes something doesn’t it? It assumes that we aren’t as we should be, that we are still in progress, growing, learning, failing forward. It assumes that we are on a journey that we are going somewhere.

 

As I think and pray about what I want for us as a church and community, I keep landing on trust. I want us to increase our trust. We increase our trust, as we practice trusting. And practicing trust starts with surrendering what prevents us from trusting in the first place.

 

Here’s a question for us to ponder together, “Assuming we are on a journey together, what might we need to surrender to clear our path in 2016?”

 

Would you be willing to participate in a little exercise?

 

Take a moment, reflect on the past year, as you do, consider these questions,

 

“What did you struggle with or in during the past year?

What disrupted your peace, rest, and joy?”

 

As you consider your answers to those questions, take a moment and use the pen in front of you and the blue prayer card and capture it as a prayer request. You have a lot of freedom here, but I would encourage you to capture it as a single word or phrase. If you are able, you could form it into a prayer request and capture it on the card.

 

Let’s take a moment to do this together.

False Narrative: We Change by our Willpower

About 92% of us fail completely at our New Year’s resolutions and over 50% of us have given up by the end of January. We fail because we don’t understand how change works. On average, it takes 66 days to form a new habit.

 

When people decide to change something, they believe they can muster their “willpower” and set about trying to change some behavior. Except we don’t change as a matter of will.

Transformation happens

one action at a time,

one step at a time,

and it starts with our willingness to surrender.

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

 

This is why I say that transformation is about surrender because we have to be willing to believe something about ourselves that Jesus teaches: we aren’t who we think we are. It’s hard to accept what Jesus is offering as true, unless we are willing to take seriously the possibility that what we presently believe is not true. (REPEAT)

 

At best, our will is a decision point the process of our transformation. It’s the place of desire.

 

The “will” is like a compass that you take out to geocache. Before you can find your treasure, you have to be sure you are going in the right direction. The compass (your will) points the way, you have to do something to get there.

 

Let me play a little bit with words: will, willingness, and willfulness.

 

Remember the will is at the center of desire, it’s an indication of our intention.

 

Willingness is a surrender of our individuality, it’s about joining-in. It’s the realization that we are a part of something larger, something cosmic, something grand, and it’s a commitment to participate in that larger story. This is at the foundation of what Jesus invites us into when he says come and follow me. All it requires is our willingness.

 

And finally, willfulness is setting ourselves apart from the whole. This is the classic, “I’ll go it alone” mentality. We don’t need others because we believe we know what we want and how to get it.

Are You Willing?

When Jesus encounters someone in the New Testament, there’s a consistent pattern, he invites them to consider that he has a better way for them to live their lives.

 

You see this in call of the disciples, in the lives of major characters like Zacchaeus, The Rich Young Ruler, the Mary and Martha the sisters of Lazarus. In every encounter, he has something to offer.

 

But before transformation can happen, we have to believe something about ourselves, we aren’t who we think we are. As we welcome in the new year, we don’t tend to look at what we are doing right, a lot of us focus on our bad habits, our flaws, and weaknesses, the things we want to change. However, God sees us differently…

 

We start our transformation with our acceptance of God’s kindness, forbearance, patience. Imagine with me one of those dreaded “trust-fall” exercises, you know where you have to trust that the people around you will catch you. Accepting God’s kindness, forgiveness, and patience is just like that, except you can’t see who is going to catch you. This is a very active letting go, you’ve been holding onto a rope for dear life and then Jesus says, “trust me” so you have to let go.

 

You have to let go

of fear,

of your false self,

of control,

of power,

and fall into powerlessness and vulnerability suspending your disbelief and trust that you are falling up into God’s love, kindness, forgiveness, and acceptance.

 

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? (Romans 2:4)

 

As you surrender, consider that you are surrendering to the God that Jesus trusted with his life and said was always good and at work for you and your benefit.

 

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:31-32; 37)

 

And this is the God that Jesus knew, a God, good to his core. It starts with the basic truth that God is good, all the time, and it is his goodness that leads us to repentance.

 

Practical Tip

Surrender: It might be helpful for us to take this time of the new year to write down our hopes and dreams and present them to God in prayer.  As we do this, try to become aware of the way that we are striving on our own to achieve these hopes and dreams or expecting others to get with our plans and help us. Doing this will give God a chance to speak to us about whether he has the same hopes and dreams for us and if so, whether we are trusting him to make them happen.

 

Being Present:

Relax

Trust God for later.

Relax.

And be present to what is happening around you.

 
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