The turning over of the calendar feels like pressing the reset button, and after the year of turmoil we’ve experienced, wouldn’t we love it if that were actually the case? Alas, there isn’t that much difference between December 31 and January 1, and yet the start of the year is a prime opportunity to assess our habits, institute new practices, and try a little harder to be a better human.
At least that’s the idea behind resolutions, but does Jesus Christ really call us into trying a little harder to be a little bit better?
The message Jesus brings is a greater calling: to love, to forgiveness, to freedom, to holiness, to fullness, to love. Paul challenges the Galatians to surrender the yoke of slavery to the Law so that they might live by the Spirit, and “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV).
It’s hard to develop a list of resolutions that don’t feel like “do more, be more, try harder.” A fruit tree doesn’t try to produce fruit; it produces fruit by soaking up sunlight, drinking up water, and connecting with the community of bees who connect each tree to the others.
So how do we, as branches in the Vine of Christ, produce the fruit of the Spirit? Jesus tells us in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
We remain in Jesus by soaking up the Light, drinking up the Living Water, and being a part of the Body of Christ. Here are some recommendations for what you might resolve to do differently this year, to remain in Jesus:
Rest: Keep the Sabbath
The concept of Sabbath can feel legalistic, but in our go-go-go culture of now, what is more counter-cultural than saying no, pressing pause, and making space for what fills your soul? If you do no other thing differently in 2022 as a follower of Christ, make this the one thing, and expect a changed life.
In his book, Sabbath As Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, Walter Brueggemann writes, “In our own contemporary context of the rat race of anxiety, the celebration of Sabbath is an act of both resistance and alternative. It is resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods. … It is an alternative to the demanding, chattering, pervasive practice of advertising and its great liturgical claim of professional sports that devour all our ‘rest time.’ The alternative on offer is the awareness and practice of the claim that we are situated on the receiving end of the gifts of God.”
What might it look like for you to position yourself one day out of the week to be the receiver of the gifts of God? What fills your soul and brings you peace? When was the last time you didn’t feel hollowed out and instead felt filled to overflowing?
I don’t know what a Sabbath day looks like for you personally, but I find soul refreshment in listening to certain music, spending time outside, playing board games, assembling puzzles, and reading books. It is a rest that is not void of activity but filled with the right kinds of activities, activities that connect me to loved ones and renew my spirit.
Reconnect to the Body of Christ
With COVID restrictions and virtual services, it has been easy to disconnect and slip away from the real life community of believers. Maybe your community of believers looks different than it did two years ago, when the pandemic shut everything down. Maybe your faith has evolved and your journey with Jesus has brought you into new, unfamiliar territory, and the faith community you were part of before doesn’t feel like a fit for your faith anymore.
The body of Christ isn’t just about attending church to learn from a pastor or to be an audience for a worship band. It’s about not walking alone in this life. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” writes the author of Hebrews, “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV).
In our current world, how can we spur one another on toward love and good deeds? Might we meet together every week or every other week with trusted friends in our homes? Might we start a group text and ask after each other’s lives? Might we pray together regularly, eat together regularly, share our Sabbath day together regularly, open our hearts and our minds to each other regularly?
Soul friends like these replenish our reserves and give us renewed hope and optimism to make it through the challenges and anxieties of life. They celebrate with us when we’re victorious and comfort us when we’re down. Resolve this year to reconnect to the body of Christ and to practice the “one-anotherness” we find preached over and over again throughout the Bible.
Refuel and Remain in the Vine
I am a list maker, and the idea of going an entire New Year without coming up with some kind of quantifiable goals I can be working toward makes me itchy with dissatisfaction. Here are several ideas for ways to invest in your spiritual life that might develop into spiritual practices:
- Visit # Local, State, or National Parks: Set a goal to visit and hike the parks in your surrounding community. Immersing yourself in the natural world is a journey into the Big Book of God’s Creation.
- Read Scripture: Whatever your quantifiable goal, chapters or days or plans or books, any time spent in the Bible is time wellspent. Read with a friend or family member or as part of a Bible study to enrich your experience of studying the Word.
- Journal, Meditate, Pray, Create: Find or remember a practice that brings you peace and set a goal to set aside time for that activity daily or weekly or monthly.
- Read # Books: Set a reading goal and challenge yourself to read beyond your normal list. Read in multiple genres. Read from The New York Times bestseller list. How many persons of color are on your reading list? How many women? How many men? Start or join a book club where you can connect with others.
Those are a few ideas, but I’m sure there are more. What are other ways you are resolving to enrich your spiritual life and journey with Jesus in the New Year?