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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 1, 2017 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor

 

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 failures, mistakes, or sorrow 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. Almost. I certainly believe Jesus wants us to live lives of meaning and purpose, lives that are full and joyful, lives that are free from anxiety and worry, which means we have to live lives that are fully dependent on God.

 

Consider what Jesus says in John 10:

 

7“Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who have come before me are thieves and robbers. 9I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

14“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:7-15)

 

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 by surrendering what prevents us from trusting in the first place: our fears.

Notice that Jesus says...

14“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:14-15)

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 2017?”

 

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?

Where did you feel like you missed an opportunity to trust Jesus?”

 

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

We falsely believe that we can change by our sheer willpower. There’s a problem there because 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 (or 9 and half weeks) 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)

 

Think of this way, Jesus is saying he is the good shepherd that he will teach you how to have live, all you have to do trust that he is telling the truth. Now, believing this from Jesus should also affect the way we live, and what we do. It should also affect how we behave towards ourselves, others, and God.

 

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

 

The “will” is like the in-game compass for Pokémon Go, when you are trying to track down that Snorlax, you have to make sure you are going in the right direction. The compass (your will) points the way, but you have to do something to get there. For me that means walking in the right direction.

 

Let me play a little bit with words for a moment: 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, Jesus has something better to offer, if they are willing to trust and obey him. He’s not promising them a cushy life or to zip them away, he’s offering himself to them.

 

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.

 
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