Yesterday we looked at the first of several ingredients to a successful New Year plan. Our realization that God inspired fresh starts begin with something greater than our own motivation is crucial to our success. We need to lean into God for success and follow through. I'm as guilty as the next person but it's baffling that we strive and toil for so long before coming to God for help. As mentioned earlier, there are bunches of examples in Scripture of the fresh starts that you and I desire around the New Year. Joseph, Peter, Paul, a case could be made for the "sort of" fresh start that Jonah makes.
Let's take a look today at the account of Peter. Peter serves as a classic "fresh start" case. All four gospels record Peter's denial for us in varying degrees. The most concise of the accounts is found in John 18:25-27. This passage basically says, "Peter denied Jesus and the rooster crowed". Luke 22:54-62, Mark 14:66-72 and Matthew 26:69-75 each give more detail and even use significant phrases like, "Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind..." and " Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying..." Regardless of which passage you study, it's clear that Peter was on a rollercoaster. I mean it was Peter who declared in Matthew 16 that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Fast forward a few chapters and it's Peter who was flatly denying that he even knew who Jesus was. Fast forward a few more days and we find Acts 2:22-24 where Peter is boldly proclaiming the truth of who Jesus was and God's plan for humanity through the sacrifice of Jesus. Buckle up, because if that's not a roller coaster of emotion, belief, unbelief, action, inaction, confidence and terror I don't know what is. Sound familiar?
If we're honest, Peter's journey mirrors our New Year goals and all of our other grand plans throughout the year that come and go with the wind. One minute we're on fire, the next we've fizzled out. One minute we're going to change the world and the next we've settled for another episode of the latest Netflix series. What can we learn from Peter to overcome this, "Up one minute, down the next" journey that we so easily find ourselves on?
Allow me to suggest that Peter's rollercoaster ride was due to in part to the company he kept. Think about Peter's declaration of Jesus as the Messiah. The context of Peter's declaration was a conversation that Jesus was having with Peter and the other disciples. Peter was among friends. While the other disciples missed the boat on who Jesus really was, their suggestions were at least in the right ball park. "Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, some say Jeremiah, some say one of the other prophets". They may not have pinpointed Jesus as the Messiah but they were in the neighborhood. It was in this context that Peter, through the revelation of God, honed in on as Jesus as the Messiah. In other words, Peter had positioned himself in the right soil to experience a little growth. Click, click, click, up the hill we go.
Fast forward to Peter's denial of Jesus and examine his surroundings. According to each the accounts Peter found himself in the courtyard, outside, with the guards, with the servants, warming himself around the fire, at a distance, rubbing shoulders with people who made no claim to know or care anything about Jesus. Is it any wonder that Peter so quickly denied his knowledge of Jesus? Buckle up, over the hill we go.
Fast forward with me one more time to Peter's declaration of Jesus at the Christ and of God's plan for humanity found in Acts 2. Take a look at his surroundings. It's the day of Pentecost and Peter is surrounded by Jews from all over the known world. The Holy Spirit had descended as Jesus had promised and everyone was hearing the truth of the Gospel in their own language. The setting must have been electric. Imagine the "Passion Worship Band" or for you old timers, "Bill Gaither" singing your favorite song while Rick Warren or Billy Graham preaches. You'd be through the roof. You're surrounded by believers, engaged in worship and passionately pursuing the things of God. You couldn't help but cry out and declare the wonders of God right? Click, click, click, up we go again.
Perhaps the lesson we learn from Peter is that the company we keep contributes, at least in part to the success we experience. God inspired fresh starts are certainly sourced in God Himself. We need His wisdom to get a clear picture of where we should be going and we need his strength to keep making progress. But we would do well to learn from Peter on the company we keep. Surround yourself with people who share your values. Surround yourself with people that care about your relationship with Jesus.
Take a moment to honestly evaluate your ups and downs. Your ups and downs of goal setting or perhaps the ups and downs of your spiritual journey. Can you trace your ups and downs back, at least in part to the company you kept? Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that bad company corrupts good character. These are the lessons we teach our kids but often forget to apply to our own lives. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
The New Year. January 1. Fresh start. New beginning. What is it about January 1st that motivates people to want to start fresh? What is it about the start of the New Year that suddenly gives people that extra burst of “go get ‘em” attitude? In large part it has to do with cultural conditioning. If we’re honest, January 1st is no different than any other day of the year. Technically speaking, every day is the start of a new, fresh 365 day cycle. So what’s so special about January 1st? Most likely we’re motivated more at this time of year because everyone else is as well. We’ve been conditioned to get motivated at this time of year and everyone is posting and sharing their New Year goals so it makes it easier for us to jump in on the goal setting.
I say, “goals all around”. Why not? Regardless of our motivation, if the New Year proves to be a helpful time for you to get the ball rolling, then go for it. The New Year can be a fantastic opportunity to make changes spiritually, maritally, financially, organizationally, physically, etc. So go for it.
The Bible gives us some great examples of those that made fresh starts. In fact, God is in the business of facilitating fresh starts. Peter moved from denying Jesus to declaring His wonderful works. Moses moved from murderer to travel agent extraordinaire. God moved Joseph from abandoned to adopted. All throughout Scripture we see it again and again, God giving His children a fresh start.
As you and I seek this same fresh start in the New Year, let’s take some time over the next few days to examine some of the key ingredients of God inspired fresh starts.
God inspired fresh starts begin with something greater than our motivation. We need more than just us. That’s a tough statement to swallow in our “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” culture but it’s true. Real change, lasting change cannot be accomplished without God’s help. Psalm 121:2 says, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” We’re foolish to strike out on our when we have God’s help waiting in the wings. When we strive for a fresh start on our own we’re akin to the stranded motorist on the roadside blindly tinkering with his engine while he waits for the real help to show up. Why do we tinker with our lives? Why do we tinker with our goals? Does God not know best? Ahh, there’s the question that begs to be answered.
Perhaps our forsaken goals of the past have been sabotaged by the answer to that question. Do we really believe that God knows best? Do we really believe that our help comes from the Lord? Do we really believe that God is greater than our motivations? If we do not, then it’s no surprise that our best motivations have fallen short. It’s no surprise that we have set goals, given up, set goals, given up, set goals, given up.
Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”
We have an amazing example in the person of Jesus Christ. He understands our weakness. He faced the same struggles that we faced. But here’s the Good News, He did it successfully. He accomplished what He set out to do and you and I can as well when we look to Him for motivation, when we look to Him for guidance, when we look to Him strength.
As you move into the New Year, move with motivation. Move with God inspired, God strengthened motivation. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.