A new year beckons us, and as I’ve scanned Facebook posts over the past 24 hours, I’ve noted many posts filled with the hope and promise of the new year–2017. That is appropriately so. One of the joys of the celebrating any new year is the opportunity to “start over,” as if starting over isn’t something a disciple of Christ must do every day. Actually, I’ve found myself starting over multiple times many days, but that’s another story (and also another reason the name of this blog is “Nottheperfectpastor”) for another day.
12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us (Philippians 3: 12-14 NLT).
As I reflect over these words on this first day of 2017, anticipating all that lies ahead, allow me to share three things I can do to make 2017 a fruitful year.
I have said numerous times as 2016 drew to a close that I would never be so glad to see a year in the rear-view mirror. Taking a cue from Paul, I could make a list of all the things about 2016 that I’d like to forget. My problem is I’d likely want to forget the wrong things. Some things are best forgotten, and I’m grateful that God has the capacity and the desire to forget my sins, and to forgive them through the blood of Jesus Christ. I’d want to list all the bad circumstances, the losses, the failures and sadness, but I don’t think that’s what Paul had in mind.
Paul (in his notorious fashion) makes a list of those things he would forget as he offered his words to the believers in Philippi. What’s interesting to note is that he lists his achievements! That’s right! Paul listed those things that defined him for so much of his life–his zealousness, his righteousness, his connection to the Pharisees, his Hebrew upbringing, etc. He listed those achievements he had worn as a badge of honor for so much of his life. These were what he wanted to forget.
As I make my “forgetting” list for 2017, I want to forget my successes. I want to remember my failures, not because they depress me, but they remind me of God’s grace through them. They have lessons to teach me, and the lessons I’ve learned through my failures are vastly greater than the lessons I’ve learned through any success (perceived or otherwise). We should never forget the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve run the race of life, and we should never neglect to note the past faithfulness of our God.
Forget, yes, but make sure we forget the right things.
One of the images Paul uses in his words to the Philippians is that of a runner stretching toward the tape at the end of a race. Life is certainly a race, but it is a marathon and not a sprint. We’re in it for the long-haul, and we have to keep growing and keep going as we run the race. What ways can I stretch myself in 2017? Can I develop a new friendship? Can I develop a new spiritual discipline? Can I renew some friendships that have gone by the wayside? Can I begin a new friendship with someone who has a difference religious or political perspective than me? I’ll be challenging myself to stretch myself to become all that God has called me to be, and hopefully to do all Christ has called me to do.
One of the ways I’m going to stretch myself in 2017 is to invite more accountability into my life. It’s so easy for each of us (but especially for pastors) to isolate ourselves, and pretend that we can make it on our own. The reality is we can’t. We need each other, and part of what we need each other for is accountability–at least that’s what I need. That’ll be my stretch. What’ll be yours?
Paul had a goal. He would call it “this one thing.” A good word of advice for this new year is to define your “one thing.” If we know what the goal is, then we can develop strategies to help make THE goal become the reality. I think, too often, I’ve failed because I’ve tried to do too many things and to be too much to too many. Certainly, for those of us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ, the goal is to always be a better disciple, but simply stating that fact leaves the achieving a bit nebulous. Focus is specific. State the goal in the beginning. Write it down. Review it daily.
I can’t define your focus for you. Only you can do that. I can tell you my focus for the year. It’s to be a better spouse. Sure, I need to be a better pastor. My children probably think I need to be a better parent. I know I need to be better engaged in the community, and I’m certain I could be a better follower of Jesus. I want to be all those things, but this year, I’m going to start by being a better spouse. Does it mean all those other things I want to be are not important? Of course not! But, I have to believe that being a better spouse will help me to be better in those places, too. That’s the focus I hear God calling me to in this new year. What about you?
Go for Gold
Here’s the reality–we can’t win the race looking in the rear-view. The race is before us. We only win when we look forward. Here’s to the best year ever. Forget the right things, stretch yourself and focus on the “one thing” that matters most.
Until next time, keep looking up…