What to Leave Behind for the Best Year Ever | 01.08.23 | Best Year Ever Pt 1
Pastor Drew Williams
I have a problem that I’d like to fix, and I wonder if you have the same problem as me.
My problem is that I’m kind of dissatisfied with life. Now, I know that sounds big and heavy, and don’t get me wrong, I love my family. My wife is the most amazing woman in the world, she’s my best friend, and she’s an incredible mom and leader. My kids are a joy and I just LOVE watching them grow and develop, and since they share a room, the giggles at night when they haven’t fallen asleep yet is the best thing ever.
I’m so grateful for my job and my ability to serve in ministry here at New Life. Ever since we’ve moved here, both Megan and I have loved the transition and have been deeply grateful for the new friendships and connections we’re making.
But there are still some things in my life that I’m not completely satisfied with. Some of the things in my life make me ask, “is this it?”
Maybe you’ve asked the same question before, and maybe you’ve realized that everything in the world around us is intentionally marketed to us in a way to increase our dissatisfaction.
“Thinning hair? Buy this product!”
“Feeling the urge to travel and see the world? Buy this new car that can get you there in style!”
“Getting overwhelmed with boring and unhealthy meals? Buy this meal subscription that gets shipped right to your house!”
Everywhere we look, we’re being told to feel dissatisfied with our life so that we will be more likely to BUY things to fill that gnawing hole.
But the problem is that none of the diets, none of the fads, none of the toys or the trips are able to provide LASTING change or satisfaction.
The momentary high goes away when we continue on with our normal routine and habits of life. And no matter how big the exciting “high” is, we don’t actually seem to be able to achieve greater things, or get a higher perspective on life.
And even the church, which tells the story of ETERNITY, the longest-lasting idea there is, can’t seem to help us get substantial life change. And many of us find ourselves attending Sunday gatherings, trying to read a new book or do a new Bible study with our life group, or even just struggling to make friends in church and feeling alone…and we wonder, “is this it?”
Have I arrived? I know I’m growing OLDER, but am I growing bolder for Jesus?
I know I’m growing WIDER, but am I growing Wiser?
I’m definitely growing tired, but I don’t feel DONE with life yet…so is this it?
Because this doesn’t seem like the abundant, transformed life that I was hoping for.
So then we set New Year’s Resolutions so that we can experience change, because we want to be inspired to live a better life, or get healthier, or make more friends. But the problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that they usually don’t work.
Here’s some stats on resolutions:
The percentage of Americans who USUALLY make NYR is 45%.
The percentage who INFREQUENTLY do is 17%.
And the percentage who NEVER do is 38%.
Of the people who DO make resolutions, here’s the top 4 types of resolutions we make, starting at #4:
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Self-improvement/education, which is where you want to learn stuff, like learning a new language, or learning a new hobby or skill.
Weight/Health, where you say something like, “I want to lose 10lbs or run my first marathon.”
Money, where you say something like, “I want to save up enough money to buy a _____.”
And the top type of resolution that Americans usually make is a RELATIONSHIP goal, where people say, “This is the year I’m going to find a new boyfriend or girlfriend,” or “This is the year I’m going to make 3 new friends so that I don’t spend so many weekends alone in my house.”
And looking at this list, these are all great things to want! These seem like great goals and resolutions that will actually bring life change and increase our happiness and purpose in life.
But there’s a problem. Do you know how many people are successful in achieving their New Year’s Resolutions? On average, 8%. Less than 1 in 10 people. If we were to take the averages and apply them to the people gathered here in person today, about 85 people would MAYBE make a resolution this year, and only 6 of THOSE people would actually accomplish what they set out to do.
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Oh man! How depressing! This is the worst sermon I’ve ever heard. It started with dissatisfaction at life, and now we’ve landed at the fact that meaningful change is hopeless and none of us are ever going to get out of the rut we’re currently in. Sheesh!
But what if I told you there IS a way to experience change in your life that partners with the growth and abundance that Jesus wants to bring? What if there was a method for daily and weekly activities that actually helped us overcome the things holding us back? What if there was a way to get out of the same old rut we’re in, a way to overcome the same old sins we keep falling into, a way to grow as apprentices of Jesus?
See, resolutions and goals are usually things that WE choose that WE think might improve our life, and then we experience success or failure based on whether or not WE follow through and make it happen. No wonder so many of us don’t get there, with all the stress and responsibility and things that we already have on our plates.
But we are starting a series this week that will be looking at Spiritual HABITS. You see, HABITS are repeated, small actions that ultimately form you. I like to think of it like a trail in a grassy field.
When people repeatedly walk the same path, it eventually creates a trail. Or if you ride a bike or push a wheelbarrow along the same path, it will create a deep groove or rut that becomes this easy-to-travel highway. It’s really easy to stay on the path, because it is so well-worn.
So, while resolutions and goals are things that WE attempt to do on our own power, habits can be things that form us slowly over time, eventually forming the type of person we are, or the things we believe, or even the personality we portray.
And many followers of Jesus over the last two thousand years have realized that if they install certain spiritual habits, habits that partner with the work of God as they are apprenticing themselves to Jesus, that the Holy Spirit actually begins to form them in ways that influence who they are and the things they believe.
These are habits like prayer, worship, reading Scripture, serving together as a family, intentionally pursuing Christian community, and learning how to trust God through practicing Sabbath.
And so we wanted to look at the habits of Jesus himself, as well as habits that his followers have used as a way for us to learn how WE might install some of these habits ourselves so that we can experience the transformation life that Jesus wants to work in us so that he can continue to work through us as we join Jesus on mission in our everyday lives.
So how do we ensure that the habits we install into our life are the ones that lead us to the abundant, transformation life promised by Jesus? How do we make sure that the habits we have already are leading us TOWARD Jesus’ call on our life, rather than away from it?
Well, today, we’re going to read from Philippians, chapter 3, so I want to invite you to open your Black seat-back Bible to page ## in the NT. We’re going to look at one of the teachings of the apostle Paul, because his story of transformation is incredible. The guy started as a super disciplined Jew, one of the best students of his rabbis, and completely zealous for the Lord. His pedigree and prestige that he had developed over his life was unequaled, but none of that mattered once he met Jesus and was transformed by him. Paul actually goes through this whole story in the first few verses of Philippians 3, so if you’ve found it already, we’re actually going to pick up with verse 12, where Paul has transitioned to talking about how he has taken that same zeal and passion and turned it towards his life of following Jesus and living in the WAY of Jesus.
So let’s read Philippians 3, starting in verse 12…
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Already, even in this short passage, we can see Paul’s character shining through. Before meeting Jesus, Paul could be described as Driven with a capital D. His zealous faith in Yahweh as the one true God led him to pursue and persecute Christians, because he thought that they were leading good Jews away from God. So he strained towards capturing them and punishing them.
That is, until Jesus captured HIM. Then, he turned his zeal and passion towards telling as many people as possible about the grace and love and lordship of Jesus Christ, including taking the message beyond the Jews to tell the good news of Jesus to Gentiles.
Paul had experienced so much hardship in his life and ministry. He was stoned, beaten, shipwrecked, bit by a poisonous snake, arrested, imprisoned, beaten more, and thrown out of towns for talking about the good news of the abundant life found in Jesus.
But he was willing to endure all that because of the grace that he had experienced from Jesus, as well as because of the grace that he SAW continually being worked out by God through him. Paul saw healings, people set free from demonic oppression, people experience new purpose in life, the joy of the Lord given to people in poverty and oppression. Paul saw leaders raised up, outcasts brought into family, and reconciliation given where brokenness had been.
And so, by the time he’s writing to the followers of Jesus living in Philippi, he’s now imprisoned in Rome on house arrest, awaiting trial, and he’s STILL zealous for God and not “done” with his journey of apprenticing himself to Jesus.
So let’s just walk through the passage to glean some of the wisdom that Paul wants to offer us today.
Paul starts in verse 12 talking about how he hasn’t “arrived” in any way as a follower of Jesus, but instead he’s still straining forward because Jesus still has work for him to do.
For Paul, he feels that as long as he’s alive, there must still be a mission that he can join in.
Then in verses 13 and 14 he says that even with all the things he’s achieved and attained and experienced, he knows he’s not “perfect” or PERFECTED — he knows his journey hasn’t been completed yet — but he HAS figured out something (“ONE THING I have laid hold of”) while he is still pressing on towards the goal, the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
The thing he has figured out is to forget what is behind and to strain towards what lies ahead.
The greek word that is translated as “forget” means to be inattentive to, or to neglect, or to overlook something. And what does Paul want to overlook or neglect?
“What is behind”, which probably points to all his previous “achievements” that he mentioned at the beginning of the chapter as well as his “achievements” that he has attained in his walk with Christ.
In other words, Paul isn’t just resting on his laurels. He isn’t allowing himself to dwell on the “good old days” of how things were before he ended up on house arrest in Rome.
I want to pause here, because this is a very common danger for many of us to get into. Any time we find ourselves dissatisfied with the period of life we find ourselves in, it is so easy to cast our thoughts back to a period of time that we think was “better” or “more exciting” or “easier.”
In fact, for us here at New Life, we are especially susceptible to this sort of thing, because New Life has already had a lot of “good old days,” even in the few short years this church has existed. And so we can be in danger of sitting back and congratulating ourselves on the great things that have happened here, rather than looking forward and asking “what does this make possible?” “Where is God calling us NOW that he has worked through us to get us to where we are?”
Paul says, forget that stuff. Intentionally neglect those things. Turn your attention away from looking back so that you can strain forward.
To strain means to exert yourself to the uttermost. It implies constantly stretching forward, never “arriving” but always pointing forward into eternity.
And what is Paul straining towards? The goal of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Paul is straining towards anything and everything that God is calling him to as he follows Jesus and learns to live more and more in his way of life.
Elsewhere, Paul writes to the Ephesian church about his dream to “know” the love of God that “surpasses knowledge.” It surpasses knowledge, but Paul will keep striving to know it more and more. It’s beyond his ability to comprehend, but Paul will continue to strain forward so that he can know God’s love more and more than he did the day before.
Is this how you would describe your daily pursuit? Straining forward after God’s call on your life so that you can know his love more and more in your everyday activities?
Paul continues in v15 to say that being “mature” in Christ has nothing to do with how much you’ve achieved or experienced, but it has to do with having the same thought process as Paul: that the call of God is the best, highest pursuit of our life. That there is no better way to spend your life than continually pursuing after Jesus, asking where he is at work in the community around us and then joining him in his work of restoration and reconciliation and healing.
The Way of Jesus is the BEST life. And it’s worth pursuing and growing in above all other things.
Then Paul says at the end of verse 15, “if you think differently…well, you’re wrong!”
And he continues in verse 16 telling his readers to hold fast to what you’ve reached. Don’t slip back. Earlier, Paul had talked about laying hold is “that” for which Christ laid hold of him. Jesus had captured Paul for the purpose of joining him on mission.
So here again, Paul is encouraging people not to loosen their grip on Jesus just because they’ve come a certain distance or achieved a certain level in their life.
The image of HOLD FAST makes me think of a very young baby. You hold a baby very carefully because they CAN’T hold you back. They can’t hold on.
But if you were falling off a cliff, and Jesus reached out and grabbed you, you would ABSOLUTELY grab onto him and grip as tight as you could.
That’s what Paul is getting at: Don’t fall asleep. Don’t assume there’s nothing left to learn. Hold fast to the ONE who has held on to you.
And then, in the last verse we’re looking at today, Paul invites his readers to be “joint imitators” or “co-imitators” with him. This term is actually one coined by Paul. It doesn’t occur anywhere else in the NT. It’s likely that Paul actually made up this term that can mean “fellow imitator.”
Paul is encouraging us to not just learn from him in an information-transfer sort of way and then go back and live “our” lives. But instead, Paul is encouraging us to spend our lives imitating Jesus.
Paul is encouraging us to spend our lives being with Jesus, becoming like Jesus, and then doing what Jesus did.
Because…the way of Jesus is the BEST life, and it is worth pursuing and growing in — above ALL other things.
But what does it look like to “imitate” Jesus? What is “the way of Jesus” and how do we make sure that we are living in that way?
That’s where we come back to spiritual disciplines, or, as we’ll call them here at New Life, Spiritual Habits.
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Spiritual disciplines are practices that followers of Jesus have done for centuries as a way of helping them spend time with Jesus in order to become more like him in their everyday lives. Practices like prayer, scripture reading, worship, serving others with compassion and mercy, opening yourselves up to community.
We’re going to use the language of Spiritual Habits, because habits are something that we all already have. Some of us have good habits like brushing our teeth, or keeping the gas tank topped off. But we might also have bad habits like leaving the toilet seat up or overeating until we’re stuffed.
Now, spiritual habits are just small actions that add up to a big impact. It’s like riding that bike or pushing that wheelbarrow on the same path over and over again until it’s well worn and easy to follow.
When we make the habits of Jesus a part of our life, it actually works to transform our lives to look more like Jesus rest of the time too.
As Benjamin Franklin quipped, “The things you do often create the things you believe.” A contemporary author named James Clear said it slightly differently a few years ago. He said “every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish you become.”
So that’s why we are going to be spending a lot of time here at New Life talking about Spiritual Habits. Remember, these aren’t things that we DO in order to “EARN” anything from God. God has already given us love and forgiveness in his grace, and these are actions that we take as we partner with the work that God is doing in us. These are habits that Jesus uses to form us to be more and more like him as we join him on mission in our everyday lives.
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But I want us not to forget the advice of Paul from our passage today. The ONE THING that he had figured out about living in the Way of Jesus is that in order to strain forward towards the things God is calling you to, you need to neglect the things that are behind you that threaten to keep you living in the past or threaten to get you off track from where God is calling you.
So I want us all to ask this question today:
What do I need to intentionally neglect so that I can strain towards the Way of Jesus?
It’s the beginning of the year, and many people are thinking about “new”. New goals, new plans, new habits to try and grow in. But in order to be able to START something new, or FOCUS better on what lies ahead for us, we need to make sure to STOP something that might be holding us back.
What is it that keeps your heart looking back? Maybe it’s the good old days. Maybe it’s a sense of fear because you’ve been struggling to provide for your family, so it’s hard to look forward with any hope or optimism. Maybe it’s unforgiveness that is keeping you unable to let go.
Listen to Paul when he tells us that we don’t have to stay back there in that place. We don’t have to hold on to ANYTHING except Jesus himself. We can intentionally neglect the things that have come before — not forgetting them completely as if they were unimportant, but letting ourselves not DWELL in the past anymore — so that we can strain forward towards joining Jesus on mission in our everyday lives.
So that we can exert every fiber of our beings in reaching forward to learn how to live in the WAY of Jesus, so that his good news of grace and wholeness can be spread through us to every man, woman, and child in the Sauk Valley.
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Let’s start this new year with a committment to learn the WAY Jesus lived his life, so that the words of Jesus and the works of Jesus can more naturally flow through our lives.
Let’s start this new year with a willingness to let go of the thinking that is letting us stay dissatisfied or complacent in our lives.
Let’s hold fast to Jesus, learning how to imitate him and living in the grace that he continually extends to us so that we can share that same grace with everyone we meet.