'2019: Don't you worry about a thing' by Dan Green - January 6th 2019
Whatever we've resolved for 2019, God has some amazing and surprising plans for us. How can we join in with them?
The start of a new year is a great opportunity to reflect, refresh and ask ourselves (and God) what to focus on in the coming year. Research shows that most people's new year resolutions are about diet, exercise and organisation, but most fail by the end of January.
Why do we struggle with changing the things we think are most important to change? It may be because we don't understand how transformation works. Our willpower alone can't change our habits and the ways of thinking that we are living out of.
But God has shared some things about the changes he can make with us: true transformation starts with surrender, it is a process, and we can't do it on our own.
Some of our excitement about 2019 might be mixed with anxiety. What if this year doesn't go well? It's easy to get into a spiral of worry when we focus on what could go wrong with relationships, money, Brexit, etc. Even when we feel relaxed after a holiday, the reality of work can quickly make us feel anxious again.
How do we avoid getting swept up in worry about what we haven't yet done? Are we trying to do this by filling our diaries and hoping for things to change if we can somehow make it through the year? This kind of reaction to anxiety can make us feel trapped and behave in ways that we don't like and wish that we could change, including anger.
9:00 Encouragement from the Bible
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27, NIV)
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV)
Jesus modelled peace in his life in situations where religious people were freaking out. For example when a woman was about to be killed for choices she made, the peace Jesus showed led to these people settling and the woman's life being saved.
11:36 How do we receive this peace?
"Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:33-34, NIV)
If this is true, it can change everything, including the way we live.
13:27 God's kingdom
Jesus' core message was that the kingdom of God was near. He was not talking about a political solution to Rome occupying Israel, but a way for Jesus' followers to receive the Holy Spirit's power to demonstrate God's presence and influence throughout the world.
A kingdom is where what the ruler wants to happen happens. We have our own spheres of influence which are like our own kingdoms, but we have to decide this year if we want to surrender our kingdoms to God. His presence, peace and power are available to us if we yield to him and let what he wants to happen happen.
17:29 God's righteousness
We might think that righteousness is doing the right things, but Jesus shockingly said that no-one can enter the kingdom of heaven unless their righteousness is greater than the highly religious teachers of the law.
Jesus gave the example of "do not murder" as something people knew not to do, but showed that God's real concern was with the state of people's hearts - what we think and want - so we should not even get angry.
Religious people try to manage behaviour, but may not pay attention to whether people are kind, judgemental or generous. Jesus said those things matter. The righteousness he talked about was not primarily about our outward behaviour.
Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves, dying on our behalf and rising from the dead so that he could put new life into us. Our righteousness does need to surpass that of religious teachers, but it comes from surrendering our kingdom to God and receiving the grace that changes us from the inside out.
21:24 All these things will be given to you
Jesus said that God gives birds and flowers what they need, and as he values us greatly he will do this for us too. People who do not know God chase what they need and worry, but people who do know God can surrender to him, seek his provision and avoid worry.
23:17 How do we "seek first" as Jesus instructed?
We start with surrender but also need training. This takes time and happens in relationship or community with others.
"Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." (1 Timothy 4:7-8, NIV)
We have all tried and failed simply to will ourselves into changing. But we know that physical achievement (e.g. running a half marathon) requires training before we can do it. The same applies to changing how we live - we need a rhythm of spiritual habits and disciplines.
Most change in our lives is indirect, not direct. For example, if we want to stop getting angry, this is addressed by becoming the kind of person who sees life and relationships in a way that no longer requires anger.
If we want to become more peaceful this year, we need to practise being open to peace and taking our eyes away from the things that make us anxious. An example might be to practise pausing and being aware of God's presence every time we do something we do often, such as starting a cup of coffee.
We have to ask ourselves where we want to see breakthrough, and what practices would be helpful to achieve that breakthrough this year.
None of us were designed to live our faith in isolation, but in relationships, just as God is relational between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The words "one another" appear 59 times in the New Testament as we are told to love, forgive, confess to and live in unity with one another, for example. So being part of a community group which commits to meet and encourage one another is vital for us.
Questions for group discussion
What is the ratio of excitement to anxiety that you feel as you look forward to the year ahead? Share one or two key areas of each together.
"The promise of Jesus as we start this new year is that it is possible to live surrounded by a world of worry and anxiety and yet be peace-ful." Can you think of a time where you have experienced this? Where do you need to experience the peace Jesus offers at the moment?
"True transformation starts with surrendering 'our kingdom’ to ‘God’s kingdom’.” What does this mean for you this year? Are there any areas where it may be a challenge?
"A reactive and busy life can lead us to act in ways, and exhibit behaviours, that we don’t want to exhibit." What are the things that you would most like to change in your life this year, but where you feel stuck or unable to change? (Warning: this could require some vulnerability!)
"'Seeking first’ is going to require some training. To become a different kind of person requires a rhythm of spiritual habits and practices.” What are some practices that could help you move towards the breakthrough you have discussed in the previous question? Be specific and practical.
"You won’t be able to achieve change on your own. True transformation will happen in community with others.” Who will you share your journey with this year? How can those people best support you along the way?