A few days ago, my family made a special trip to a grocery store. On the way, we passed at least five stores where we usually shop for groceries. My daughter couldn’t understand why we were doing this, especially when picking up a little food wasn’t our primary goal. The reason behind our special trip was to check out a store which is brand new to our area. We like new grocery stores around here. A few years ago, Trader Joe’s came to town, and we couldn’t even get close to the parking lot for weeks. And on Whole Foods’ opening day, we were literally shoulder to shoulder with our fellow shoppers, but I don’t remember if we actually purchased a single thing.
We’re drawn to the new. “New” offers a possibility of different, perhaps better. Advertisers hope a “new and improved” product will capture our attention (and money). This week, many people will expectantly welcome the arrival of the New Year and the possibilities of different, perhaps better. Admittedly I’m really not into making the yearly list of “more” or “less” – as in “more Scripture memorization” and “less junk food.” (Yesterday we passed a church sign that I found amusing – ‘May your New Year’s troubles be as short-lived as your resolutions.’)
Of course, I’d love to be more organized, exercise more consistently, have more verses committed to memory, and eat more fruit, but what I really need is newness in my attitudes and not just in my actions.
Ezekiel 36:26 ~ “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”
2 Corinthians 5: 17 ~ “… if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
Ephesians 4: 23 – 24 ~ “… let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”
Romans 12: 2 ~ “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”
Each of these Scriptures indicates that transformation is God’s doing. I’m thankful that the Holy Spirit is alive and real and lives in me! He cuts to the heart of the matter and gives me power not merely for annual resolutions but for daily renewal.
My part is to be the offering. Of course that means tangible steps – making time to be in the Word, attending worship with the Body of believers, participating in Bible study, choosing to honor God with my choices in eating and exercise, living by the convictions He has placed in my heart. But these actions arise out an attitude (humility) and an approach (dependence).
Christ said to His disciples: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And Paul later wrote in his letter to the Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (4:13).
Jesus, the Vine, produces new life and new fruit in His followers, the branches. What do my striving, my goodness, and my resolve produce apart from Him? That’s right – nothing. Seems that the key is being made new each day is “abiding.” Some versions of this Scripture use “remain” in place of “abide” – “Those who remain in Me will bear much fruit.” Remaining = renewing.
Personally, I prefer the image of “abiding.” Somehow it gives me a fuller picture of resting in, depending upon God’s grace. In the book Abide in Christ, Andrew Murray describes abiding as “unbroken communion.” Now there’s a vision for the new year!
“A close walk with Me is a life of continual newness. Do not cling to old ways as you step into a new year. Instead, seek My Face with an open mind, knowing that your journey with Me involves being transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Jesus Calling, Sarah Young).
All this reflection about “new” has me thinking that while “new” usually means different, it doesn’t always result in better, at least in our limited perspectives. “New” implies transformation (especially in reference to the New Year), but “new” can also refer to transition (which is almost always stressful, if not downright difficult). Take divorce. Or widowhood. A new town or new school.
Sometimes we find ourselves in new situations because of events beyond our control. Here is where we have to rest in the One who is in control. What is new to us is not new to Him.
And sometimes we find ourselves in a place where change is truly necessary for our good. Going back to Jesus’ reference to Himself as the Vine, He spoke of times when the branches, through pruning, take on a new shape. Something that inhibits the growth of the branch has to be taken away. I’m thinking bitterness. Holding on to unhealthy habits. Needing another’s approval.
Pruning is painful. But through the process of pruning, branches are better able to produce new flowers or fruit.
I don’t know what 2013 holds for me in way of transformations and transitions. All I know is that each day is a new day of God’s mercy (Lamentations 3:23 – 24). Sometimes my actions will correspond nicely with New Year’s resolutions (more of the right stuff, less of the bad stuff). Sometimes they won’t. Pruning will come. But I pray that my focus this year will be on abiding.
Depending on Christ, for different, certainly better.
Romans 12: 1 – 2 ~ “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 ~ “This is what the LORD says— who makes a way in the sea, and a path through surging waters, ‘Do not remember the past events, pay no attention to things of old. Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.”