“ Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us….”
-Ephesians 3:20 NIV
NEW! New Year, new goals, new dreams! Each “old” year is wrapped up with a grand celebration, and a “new” year will likely be embraced with vigor and anticipation, at least for a couple of weeks for most people (and maybe even a couple of months for some)! New diets, new habits, new hobbies, new jobs, and new proclamations to take better care of ourselves. New. With 80% of resolutions failing by the second week of February, according to U.S. News, this year I wondered two things: What is it that makes the “new” so appealing, and how do I beat the odds with my resolutions?
For me, the New Year has brought a plethora of emotions. For the past several years, there has been an unmovable aching. If it wasn’t a void that I wished would have been filled by now, then it was a regret over something that I wanted a “do-over” with or something I never got to do. The older I got, the more life seemed to pummel me, and I have longed for the naivete of younger years where the illusion of control still seemed within my realm of possibilities. I wanted the excitement of the New Year to hit me again. What makes the “new” so appealing? I venture to guess that it has something to do with identity, purpose, control, or hope. For me, the lure of the new was that if I could conquer the new, then the pain of the past year would have had purpose and I would be “good enough” according to cultural norms.
As usual, Scripture rings out with Truth! Here I am “knowing” that God has promised to do abundantly and beyond, or as some versions translate as “immeasurably more,” than what we can think, ask, or imagine. Yet, the life that I had been living had NOT been anything that resembled something close to what I could think up myself, let alone a picture of what our Powerful God could do! I would go so far as to say that I actually felt that if God would just give me the reins, then I could get this life exactly like I wanted it to be, and it would be good, really good! I have even been bold enough to ask, “How could You, God, give me more when You have not even given me what I want right now?” My short-sided view neglected to notice that my desires were connected to chains that would actually keep me from the “more” that God wanted for me!
And now for the reality check, or more like a back-to-back Spiritual Uppercut to my perceptions of reality! Are you ready for the 1-2 combo? The Right Hook…
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
-2 Corinthians 3:17
Followed by…. The Left Hook:
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
The reason these scriptures hit me so hard is in the revelation of the wording. The word “Freedom” took my breath away in comparison to the way I was living. A mental picture of a life freed played through my mind like a deliciously addicting commercial. Ironically, my own resolutions were falling apart by February last year, as per the norm for me (#SaraIsTheStatistic). So, I asked God for something unusual.
First, I thanked God for carrying me through 2017. Even among the trials, I was able to see God’s goodness with His provision and protection for me, despite my terrible attitude at times. It was like God could see me struggle to grow in my trust relationship with Him, and He patiently provided. Even so, I still struggled to keep a mindset of gratitude. No matter how hard I tried, I could only see what I didn’t have, and the blessings of the past weren’t enough to sustain me. So, I boldly asked God to help me abandon all of my New Year’s Resolutions in 2018 for one simple resolution:
“God, I want to know what True Freedom in YOU looks like, sounds like, and feels like!”
With that one statement nearly a year ago, my life would be altered, more like ROCKED TO THE CORE! Freedom. Why was it so hard for me to live in Freedom? At this point in my life, God and I were tight! We had a deep relationship, and if there was “Freedom where the Spirit of the Lord is,” then shouldn’t I have been able to see it, feel it, and be free? Why was I unable to stay content? Why did I still have days where I felt like I could hardly breathe and like I wanted to crawl under my covers and hide? I had also heard that “who the son sets free is free indeed,” (John 8:36) which made it that much worse! I was clearly failing in my faith walk and was still seeking new ways to fill voids, ambitions, and expectations. No matter the “new,” it always fell short in leaving me with the lasting Peace I imagined God’s Freedom to be, and I so much desired it!
The phrase, “Christ has set us free,” grabbed my perception of what I thought I knew and shattered it! It’s not “Christ WILL set us free.” No, it is Christ HAS set us free”! This means that the problem was clearly not God. The problem was me. The problem was my mindset. The Promise that “Christ HAS set me free” means that the only reason that I was not currently living free is that I was choosing, sometimes subconsciously, to be chained to something that was keeping me from the Freedom God has for me! Clearly, I had a case of “Outcome-itis”. I was sick from wanting my own way over God’s BEST. If that wasn’t enough, I found myself sliding back into the lies that “I’m just not enough and have no purpose in life,” especially when I would get tired.
This has been the first time that I understood why the Scripture says to “Stand firm” and “Do not let yourselves be burdened by the yoke of slavery”. (Galatians 5:1) Freedom is as simple as a decision. You can decide to do things God’s way and Trust His way, or you can try to take control. You can decide to live in the Word, or you can listen to the messages that the world brings. You can decide to constantly seek the newest way to fill spiritual holes, or you can lean into letting God fill the holes with what HE SAYS about you!
What is not simple is the fact that you do have to match action with your decision in order to stand firm. What makes it harder is that the yoke of slavery is designed to steal your freedom and tends to line up with your weaknesses. As I began to experience a Freedom that I had never known before, and my confidence had started to return, the onslaught would begin. From June through December, I flat out struggled. I was hit on every side. My car broke down unexpectedly and frequently, things were falling apart all over my house from appliances to floods, everything I had saved up was dwindling, my job took a hard shift with growing pains, I kept getting hit with unusual sickness and pains, not to mention my heart was mending from a friend who walked away unexpectedly. The newness that I desired was simply a new way to escape from the painful season I was in. I felt like I was drowning, with no life preserver, and I was only able to gasp for air in short bursts. More than once, I felt like giving up and giving in, even with all that God had taught me and provided for me.
Then the revelation hit me like a steamroller- “Sara, you keep waiting for that ‘new’ year, thing, person, skill, job, habit, or circumstance to come, and you keep missing out on the miraculous moments that you have RIGHT NOW!” (I have a Holy Imagination that keeps God pictured sitting next to me like a wise and loving friend who gives just the right dose of both well-needed Truth and Grace in a simple conversation over a cup of coffee.) The TRUTH part is that I have spent the majority of my life forward-focused on what I can do in the future, or equally paralyzed by the memory of what was in the past. Rarely, had I considered what I may have missed by judging the successes, or failures, of each day, week, month, or year on the fulfillment of circumstances. I have recently realized that I have a choice to immerse myself into the God-given daily bread of each day, or I can choose the anxiety and worry of what might or might not be.
Luckily, God provided a way to combat the lies and beat the odds with my resolution to stand in Freedom. He gave me The Word and His Truth. So, from February 2018 until the present moment, I have worked WITH God to identify my own yokes of slavery that had previously kept me from the freedom of contentment, acceptance, and gratitude. As God always does, He patiently Guided me to my “new” habit that would lead to Freedom. In 2018, my New Year’s Resolution morphed into fighting against the lies with His Word in a daily prayer:
“Today is the day that the Lord has made! I WILL REJOICE and BE GLAD in it! Now is the time! Tomorrow will take care of itself because God is in control and HE WILL work it all together for the good of those who love Him! I WILL be grateful in all circumstances. The challenges and disappointments are the training grounds for God’s Victorious Hand to take over and teach me. I can cast my cares on Him who loves me. With God ALL THINGS are POSSIBLE! I am excited to see what tomorrow brings, and I am grateful for the day that I am given. As a Daughter of The King, I am fearfully and wonderfully made for a purpose and on purpose exactly as I am. The Joy of the Lord is my Strength, and I AM more than a Conqueror Through Christ who strengthens me! In every battle, the Victory HAS ALREADY been won! That which is in me is stronger than that which comes against me! Nothing can stop what God has started, and by His Stripes we are healed! There is Freedom where the Spirit of the Lord is, and it is for Freedom that Christ has set us Free! I will stand firm against the lies that try to chain me old ways of thinking and claim the Truth that God is Love! God’s Perfect Love Casts Out all Fear! Who the Son sets free is free indeed. Today and every day, I will stand in the Perfect Peace of Christ’s Love, Protection, Provision, and Power! Thanks be to God! He gives us the Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
~Amen and Hallelujah!
Month after month of speaking life over my seemingly impossible, or identity crushing, circumstances, I could truly see the progress in how God was working together my past and my present not only for my good, but also for my future purposes! I was able to see the people God put in my path to bless me, sometimes when I least expected it! I could see the broken pieces being redeemed one at a time, and I could see the new opportunities that were lining my life with possibility. All along the way, more and more, I would worry less about my desired outcomes and surrender to God’s better plans. Now, stepping into 2019, my only resolution is to stay fully present in each day, thankful for what God has done, is doing, and will do this year! I am standing firm in His Freedom with surrender and Great Expectations of what my good Father will bring to the future!
Does a new year make you feel anxious, because of a particularly rough season that you would rather not repeat? Are you exhaling and looking forward to a fresh start and a blank slate to fill with new memories? Do you have a list of “new” that you are reaching for? The calendar has changed, and 2019 is full-on and moving forward, ready or not! I cannot wait to see the Power of the Lord break many chains and free us all throughout 2019! I pray that God’s Glorious mercies and favor fall like rain over your lives! If you are up for something “new” yourselves, I say that we declare with confident boldness that God is Who He Says He Is and anything that sets itself up against that Truth better watch out, because HERE WE COME in Jesus’s Great Name! The Glory and Honor be to God!
Happy New Year!