“Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was jut the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off….
Well, he peeled [it] right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. . . .” Eustace Scrub, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
So we are here again. Christmas has come and gone, the decorations have come down. Aside from some lingering chocolate or christmas cake, the festive food has finished and most of us are secretly glad to return to a slightly healthier diet, with reduced booze and sugar content.
Another year has ended and a fresh one, full of hope and promise, has begun. We start dreaming about all the things we can achieve and the changes we will ring in.
It is tempting to start setting goals for the coming year, making resolutions and aspiring to transform from ‘lazy, selfish, unfit and slightly-heavier-than-I-prefer (insert own aspirations here)’ into ‘supermum-come-workout-guru-come-philanthropic-heroine (or whatever floats your boat)’, but it would be a recipe for disaster.
Either it puts me under tremendous pressure to succeed, and shame when I inevitably don’t live up to my expectations, OR my promises were empty (at best half-hearted), flippant and unintentional in the first place.
Because no matter how hard I try, by January 7th most of these resolutions have already failed. Supposing I even managed to get started, that is.
They all rely on my strength, my ability to make it happen, my vision of how I want to be/what I want to have/what I need to be to feel successful and appealing, in my eyes and the eyes of those around me, whether real or imagined.
The problem with this, is that none of it allows God to be God in my life. It is actually a way of trying to be God myself. But, at trying to be the one who makes it all work, I am completely inadequate.
There is nothing wrong with taking some time to reflect on our lives, our decisions, events and attitudes over the past year. It is good to look at things with the benefit of hindsight, to grow in wisdom and understanding of why things went the way they did, how they could have been different, and, crucially, taking responsibility for our mistakes and selfishness. But if we do this without allowing God to be the one to shine light into the dark recesses of our hearts, relying only on our vision, we will miss things. These are often the most important revelations about ourselves and our deeply rooted beliefs.
We are not the best qualified to undo bad habits and attitudes, and we are certainly not the best and swapping them for more godly ones. Only God is.
He loves us and has his glory and our best interests in the forefront of his mind at all times, which makes him best placed to bring about lasting change in our hearts and lives. If we will let him.
I am not urging you to abandon dreaming and speaking life over this new year, nor am I suggesting that there isn’t any need for discipline – if you are anything like me then there really is! But what I am saying, is that we need to spend some time reflecting on the perfection of Jesus and His wonderful example of life, the power of His cross and resurrection to break the slavery and addiction to ideas, particular people, habits and things in our lives and ask Him to change us inside out.
Because ‘New year’s resolutions’ when taken seriously, are actually about recognising areas where we desire to see breakthrough and setting our hearts to realise it.
It’s not about a flippant cry to ‘eat less chocolate or give it up altogether’ (for example), so much as it is a need not to be enslaved to eating habits which, rather than being life-giving, are actually developing our greed and selfishness and erroding our ability to exercise self-control.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
It makes much more sense to go to God and ask Him what areas we are holding back from his sovereignty, asking him to show and help us hand it over to him.
For me, it’s keeping a regular daily prayer time. I talk to God every day throughout the day about big things and small, but I need quality time with Him to really deepen in our relationship, just as I do with my husband and children and friends. This is something I have never yet cracked for longer than a few weeks and despite walking with God for years, I still struggle with this.
However, the minute I say to myself –
“Right, I will get this sorted and every day at X time, I will have half an hour’s quiet time,” I may as well have kissed the intention goodbye, because I have put all the responsibility for success entirely onto myself, declaring that I am capable of seeing that I don’t fail.
Which, frankly, I am not.
Instead, I need to admit that somewhere within me, I am not desperate enough for God’s presence and regular quality time, that I still don’t see a daily, intentional quiet time as vital for my existence, growth and continuing wholeness. From this place of honesty I can ask God to change my heart.
It is only by His transforming my heart to hunger for Him more, that I will respond by seeking Him daily, passionately and habitually in this way.
True discipline comes in the process of being discipled by the one we are learning from and following. Yes, it requires our concious decision to pursue discipleship, as we are not forced to keep walking this path, but if we allow God access to those parts of our hearts we don’t even like to admit are there, He in His power and authority, and His deeply tender love will bring about permanent change. It may take slightly longer to see the results of this change on the surface, but it will last.
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phillipians 1:6)
Unless our hearts change at their core, anything we do on the surface of our lives will be just that – surface, transient and ultimately false. But when we ask God to change us, He promises to keep going until the work is done, tenderly and with patience, kindness and gentleness – all fruit of His Holy Spirit – He resets our true north and as we desire what is good. We become more like him.
I invite you, whilst the year is still in it’s infancy, to ask Jesus to live in your heart, to be in charge of your life, all your decisions, all your hopes and dreams.
Like Eustace in the opening quote of this post, give Him permission to access the deepest places of your heart and transform everything which is not of Him, into a heart that beats with His dreams and passions .
Ask Him to give you His Holy Spirit to live inside you, and make you more like him – overflowing with Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. True Freedom.
Trust me, the cost is worth it – and you will find that you can still enjoy chocolate and wine, without being their slave.