“A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” Isaiah 42:3
I sat down to write an inspirational reflection on resolutions for the new year. But within five minutes, my seven-year-old's head got slammed by a door (his sister needed PRIVACY), the one-year-old wanted to sit on my lap as I typed, the sixteen-year-old's basketball carpool left without him, and the timer started going off telling me dinner needed to be taken out of the oven. This lovely collection of events made me decide that my New Year's resolution is simply to keep my head above water.
How are you feeling as you head into this new year? Are you tired? Are you in greater need of encouragement than of someone raising the bar and encouraging you to try to reach it? If that's how you're feeling, I want to remind you of the gentleness of the Savior we love and serve. Centuries before Jesus's birth, the prophet Isaiah spoke prophetic words about the Rescuer who was going to come to save us all. “A bruised reed he will not break,” wrote Isaiah, “and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” If your heart feels bruised, if your life feels like a “faintly burning wick,” then this promise is for you.
So many of us have an image of God as one who sets a high standard and gets disappointed and perhaps angry when we don't meet it. Is this really who God is? I don't believe so. God knows our limitations. He is very familiar with our weaknesses. While people in our lives may have unrealistic expectations of us, God sees the whole picture and the degree to which we are trying. And when we're weary, He comes to us with arms of comfort, eyes of understanding, and lips that speak encouragement. When we are weakest, He asks that we rest in His lap and lay our head on His strong shoulder. He doesn't want to see us broken; He came to restore us.
This is the heart of the gospel. God saw the chasm that sin created between us. He knew that no matter how hard we tried, we'd never be able to achieve the perfection required to be in His presence. Instead of telling us to jump higher or try harder, He stooped down, and said, “I'll do for you what you can't do for yourself.” Jesus, who had never sinned, allowed all the sins ever committed to be placed on His shoulders. He paid the price of sin so that we wouldn't have to.
Jesus's sacrifice cleared the way so we could have a personal relationship with God. This is a privilege offered to everyone, but enjoyed by relatively few people. Do you know about Jesus, or do you know Him, personally? I don't ask this question as a rebuke, but rather as an invitation. He's inviting you to draw closer.
Once we know Jesus personally, we never need to be lonely again. We no longer have to worry about being perceived as too emotional when we pour out our hearts. We don't have to worry that our private concerns will be gossiped about if we share them with Him. He is the most intimate, true friend, connecting with us—body, soul, and spirit.
Because of Jesus, we can let go of the “try hard life.” We can rest in His all-sufficiency. We can ask the Holy Spirit to run through us like sap in a tree, nourishing us and doing in and through us what we can't do for ourselves. Now that I think about it, that sounds like the best New Year's resolution of all.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God…be glory…now and forever!” Jude 1:24
Happy New Year!
This post originally appeared on our blog on January 1, 2014.
2015 is here! I love turning to a new calendar page, using fresh notebooks with no markings, and looking ahead to limitless possibilities in the coming months. But the minute that someone suggests I make a New Year's resolution, I start to feel adrift. I become increasingly aware of all the things I am barely getting done as it is. Thinking of grabbing hold of another goal makes me feel like I'll get pulled under and never be able to come up for air.
Those of you impressive people who have resolved to swear off plastic grocery bags forever, or who are going to run a half marathon, or are going to lose a bunch of weight - I applaud and admire you. I invite you to come over and organize my closets. We could have a great time chatting and I promise to make you a lovely cup of tea. But I can't join you in pursuing your new year's resolutions because just thinking about it is making me feel stressed out and inadequate.
As I write this, I'm looking out at Megunticook River in Camden, Maine. The river is currently covered by a sheet of ice but during the summer our dock is surrounded by kayaks. My parents gave our older kids kayaks for their birthdays a few years ago, and pretty much every day of the summer my dad reminded them to tie up their kayaks to the dock. “One of these days, you're going to wake up in the morning and your kayaks will be gone,” he'd warn. But tying up a kayak takes forever, so more often than not, the kayaks were just dragged onto the dock and turned upside down.
One night, a storm hit Camden as we slept. Sure enough, when we woke in the morning, one of the kayaks was missing. My dad didn't need to say a word; everyone knew that the kayak should have been tied up, and that an expensive gift had possibly been lost. The kids searched for it for days, and when it was finally found, it was dirty and banged up and hard to pull out of the weeds.
The kids didn't enjoy taking time to search for the kayak, but probably the hardest thing for them was the knowledge that they'd disappointed their grandfather. He'd sacrificed to give them such a generous gift, and they hadn't valued it enough to take care of it. The untethered kayak makes me think about my spiritual life. God's given me the incredible gift of a close relationship with Him, and He promises to guide me and strengthen me through every moment of my life. It cost Him everything to offer me that gift. How does He ask me to take care of it? The answer is found in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Remain in Christ, being as grafted to Him as a branch is to the vine, like tightly tying the kayak's rope to the dock.
To remain in Christ takes time. And we are so busy. It's just so much quicker to take the easy way out. All too often, we settle for pulling the kayak up on the dock instead of tethering ourselves to God.
We talk about God, instead of talking to Him. We get our bodies to church, but keep our hearts somewhere else. We sit down to read the Bible, but end up reading about someone else's experience of God instead. We run on fumes from time spent with God a long time ago, hoping that it'll be enough to fill us and keep us going today.
All those things can look good from the outside. When the day runs smoothly, we'll probably feel that it's good enough. A good enough relationship with God. A good enough spiritual life. The kayak will stay on the dock and be there in the morning.
Unless the storm hits. And it will. It can be in the form of an unwelcome phone call in the middle of the night. It can come in the words of one who promised to be faithful but no longer wants to keep that vow. It can come when the accumulation of disappointment or loneliness or uncertainty just gets to be too much. It can come when kids are whiny or hopes are shattered or unkind words pierce the heart. It's at those times that we need an anchor for the soul.
Christ is our hope, and He is the anchor for our souls.
The daily disciples of prayer, Bible reading, receiving the sacraments…these are the ropes that connect us to the anchor. His presence and His promises never fail. He is steadfast. Our part is to remain in Him. Remaining in Him every once in a while won't bring the change and the peace that we long for. But if we resolve to remain in Christ every day, there will be no limit to the transformation and soul rest that we can experience.
My one resolution for 2015? Remain in Christ, tethered-every day-to the Anchor of my soul.
Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the wilderness I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.
Isaiah 43:18, 19
I can respond to the higher number on my scale in a few different ways. One is to joyfully say, "There's just more of me to love!" Another is to puddle in a heap on the floor, cursing the woman at the coffee shop who introduced me to Eggnog Chai Lattes. I can look back and regret every time I celebrated the holidays with a tasty morsel. Or I can look forward, lace up my shoes, and get going with some better habits starting now.
Many of us are starting 2013 with an awareness of all the things we should be doing better. We might have determined to start an exercise routine, to eat a healthier diet, to give more time to the people who matter most to us, or to deepen our prayer lives. These are all good goals and help us to live out Ephesians 5:15: "Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise."
Unfortunately, the best intentions can quickly become sources of discouragement as we encounter our weaknesses while trying to improve. In a few weeks, we might look back and see that false starts, failures, and ingrained bad habits have thwarted our efforts. We might feel disheartened when the very things we disliked in our parents have become so evident in our own lives. We may wonder if we'll ever change.
The prophet Isaiah challenges us to stop looking backwards. God is doing something new! The inspiration we feel to change in positive ways comes from Him. It's evidence that He is at work within us. "For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work," Phil. 2:13. No matter how much life might feel like a wilderness or a wasteland, God can transform it.
How does this transformation happen? Does it come from striving? Does it depend on our perfection? The answer is found in 2 Corinthians 3:18: "All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit." The inner change happens in us as we gaze on the glory of the Lord. It takes place as we contemplate Christ. As we sit in His presence and meditate on His holiness, we are soaking up His love. We are beholding His glory and, in the process, we begin to reflect it.
This is our hope. This is what makes us different. God wants each one of us to continuously grow more like Him, but doesn't expect us to do it alone. "I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus," Phil. 1:6. He is going to do something new in our life this year! What God can transform!
"Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to Him be glory!" Ephesians 3:20-21
Praying for Christ's richest blessings on you,