Sarah Small, Head of the Eden Network, shares her thoughts on new year resolutions.
I popped into Aldi this weekend for two things. I know what you’re thinking – that is not possible. And you were right! I foolishly visited the middle aisle and came out with much more than planned, including loads of bargain wrapping paper and an exercise mat! I saw my husband’s eyes roll before I even bundled my bargains into the car boot. The aisles were full of fitness equipment because the people at Aldi know – in January many of us make resolutions to get fit. It’s no bad thing to attempt to walk more steps, firm up those muscles or drink more water. But, as we take a brief inventory of our physical health, what is going to help us get our spiritual lives into shape this new year?
Many of us commit to Bible reading plans, set our alarms a little earlier than usual, buy a load of Christian books in order to read and digest them. But as the months go on the plans are forgotten, the alarms get turned off and the books continue to gather dust. What we need is not just a change of activity, but a change of perspective.
In Romans 12:1-2 Paul writes:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
I think the key to what Paul is writing about here is found in our understanding of sacrifice. The Jewish sacrificial system that Paul’s readers at the time would have been familiar with involved the ritual sacrifice of animals. For those animals, the sacrifice ultimately ended in their death. It was a one-off event for them, no turning back.
Much like our new year’s resolutions, we can understand sacrifice in similar terms, as a significant decision or choice to stop doing something or make a change. Often our friends think that the decisions we make in order to join Eden are sacrificial; moving to a tough estate, sending our kids to the local school, putting down long-held friendships in order to focus on building community with our neighbours. And there is some truth in that but it’s not the fullness of sacrifice that Paul is talking about here, these are just the externals.
Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection meant that we can no longer think about sacrifice in the same way. Sacrifice isn’t just a one-off decision, a final destination or an external act. It can’t be exemplified in a postcode or a label, it’s not about belonging to a certain group or giving up something we usually love. Sacrifice is more than that. It’s an attitude of the heart, a lifestyle. That’s why Paul calls us to be ‘living sacrifices’. Perhaps we could even say living sacrifice-ers. A decision at the start of the year to change doesn’t amount to much if we don’t translate that into daily choices to let Christ increase as we decrease.
This new year our challenge is to choose to be a living sacrifice. One who daily puts down ambition and picks up humility. One who sacrifices time and priorities in order to spend themselves on others. And one who stops the hurry and busyness and pursues quiet time with God. If we wish to truly see transformation in some of the toughest parts of the UK we first need to pursue transformation in ourselves. It’s not about one big decision, but hundreds of small daily choices to give more of ourselves to Jesus. That sounds like a good new years’ resolution to me.
Find out more about joining Eden by heading to joineden.org