Sitting in front of a blank page is a scary thing, especially if you are supposed to have filled it. In school, on a Monday morning, in the final two years of primary school and every Monday morning, we had to write a 600 word comprehension piece. This not the best start to a school week, especially when one of the subjects we were given to write included, ‘600 words on the inside of a tennis ball.’
There was a tremendous sense of relief when it was written and you counted 600 words on the page, not achievement because it wasn’t yet marked; I hate to think how some of my pieces would have read.
In Secondary School, part of our punishment was to write lines. Writing 100 lines as punishment was bad, but having to write 300 lines is no fun I can tell you. However, as long as you were only given 100 lines one line long to write, it was not so bad. I kept three pens handy which I had cellotaped together at the right distance. Therefore, for the trouble of writing one line, I was writing three lines. After a bit of practice the writing became quite legible.
Three problems needed careful thought: 1. If you were doing the lines in detention – ensuring that the teacher didn’t see the three pens in action was difficult, but not impossible – I much preferred being set them to do at home, no prying eyes; 2. Make a mistake on one line and the same mistake was on all three lines; 3. Ensure that you didn’t antagonise the teacher and end up having two lines at a time instead of one. One was okay, two required further thought, wider pen spacing, and was much harder to do well.
2021 is a Blank Page
2021 is a blank page for each one of us. We haven’t yet added anything to the 2021 chapter of our lives. A blank page with no idea of what to write in it is disconcerting and soul destroying; a blank page with a good plan, outline and an end goal is a wonderful opportunity. I believe 2021 is an opportunity to write a good chapter in our life stories.
What are you going to do with the blank page 2021 is offering you?
As for me – the following four things are a priority:
1. Keep Focussed
Hebrews 12:1-2 says, ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honour beside God’s throne.’
Christ is our perfect example of how to do this, but so are the saints who have gone before us. These saints have set an example of remaining focussed, and enduring in the life of faith in spite of overwhelming odds. As FF Bruce says, we look to their witness to how they lived the life of faith, and to the faithfulness of their God, rather than them witnessing or watching us as we journey through this life.
We are counselled to strip off every weight that slows us down in the race of faith. In this context, a weight is anything hinders us following Jesus. For each individual Christian they have to work out what things, not sins, cause them to take their eyes of Jesus. What is no problem to one, may be a huge hindrance to another.
The sin that trips, sometimes rendered, ‘besetting sins,’ do not necessarily means a particular sin – this is the effect of the power of sin; sin trips up believers and causes them to fall. It can be any sin, no matter how small, which distracts us from the race of faith.
In Philippians 4:8-9, Paul counselled to ‘fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.’
What a person allows their minds to focus on becomes a desire which in turn leads to action to satisfy the desire. Focus on godly, good things and we will desire more godliness – focus on sin, sinful things and we will desire more sin.
Jesus is the captain of our salvation – the champion of our faith. He kept true to Father’s will and to His own nature, even when His race included the cross. As a result, He is seated at the place of highest honour – God’s right hand. He will guide us through life as we look to Him.
2. Keep Short Accounts
We all sin, but it is important to confess such sin quickly – be open and accountable before God. There is no point hiding it – He already knows (1 John 1).
It is worth understanding how terrible sin is in God’s eyes, there are many words used in Scripture to capture the extent and nuances of sin. It is not just a mistake, something that is not that bad. The Puritan preacher, Edmund Calamy, said, 17 August, 1662, ‘there is more evil in the least sin than in the greatest outward calamity.’
It is also possible to say that there is more evil in the least sin than in the greatest temptation. The temptation may be deeply unpleasant, but while we do not act on it – we are not held guilty by God. There may be all sorts of unclean thoughts landing in our minds, but these are not sin.
They become sin when we start to embrace the thoughts, dwell on them and yearn for what they are enticing us to – it is then that evil desire is given birth to. The thoughts come and go, but we reject the temptation they bring and stand against them resisting their evil intents; by doing so, we stand in righteousness fighting the spiritual battle dressed in the armour of God.
I write much more extensively on the battle with temptation here https://telfordelim.com/the-battle-with-temptation/
3. Embrace the Spiritual Disciplines
These are ancient ways of training ourselves, indirectly, in things which will, over time, change how we think, act and worship. Instead of hitting an issue we are facing, or struggling with, head on – the spiritual disciplines change us from the inside out. So instead of focussing on trying to become more patient – as we practice the disciplines, the Spirit of God and word of God enable us to become godly and patience is one of the fruit of the Spirit.
Richard Foster’s list of 12 from his book, Celebration of Discipline:
1. The inward disciplines: Meditation – Prayer – Fasting – Study
2. The outward disciplines (inward realities resulting in outward lifestyles): Simplicity – Solitude – Submission – Service
3. The corporate disciplines: Confession – Worship – Guidance – Celebration
Seven others can be added to the list making 19: Bible Reading – Stewardship – Sacrifice – Obedience – Sabbath – Secrecy – Silence
Many times we bang our heads against the wall try to make progress in the Christian life but always end up, seemingly, back in the same defeated place again. It is as if we are yoked to the world and burdened down by its cares, weights and sins.
The Spiritual Disciplines are things we do which train us in righteous living and enable us to step into a new place of victory and Christian maturity. These also help us to develop good healthy habits which are good for the soul and yoke us to Christ.
The Disciplines of Self-Denial are important for getting rid of the weights that hinder our race of faith: Solitude – Fasting – Silence – Submission – Secrecy (doing good things in a quiet and humble way).
Others are really important in developing Christian Community: Bible Reading – Worship – Stewardship – Prayer – Celebration – Meditation – Service – Guidance – Sacrifice.
Others are really important for personal well-being: Simplicity – Sabbath – Obedience – Confession – Study.
4. Christian Community
The Covid-19 crisis has really brought to the fore the importance of community and society. We are social beings. Even the most introverted among us are designed for community and interaction with other people. When we don’t interact – our soul, that in us which connects us to our humanity: mind, relationships, emotions and will/choices – is impoverished.
I definitely want to give a lot of thought, in 2021, to how I can engage with more people, connect with them, build Christian community with, and equip people for life and ministry in the new digital and Covid in person landscape.
Father, as we have this blank page before us – enable us to consider carefully how we can write a new chapter in our lives in 2021. As we step into the New Year – equip us to engage with more people, connect with more, build stronger community with more, and equip more people to be disciples who make disciples.
Holy Spirit, train us in knowledge of and application of the Spiritual Disciplines leading us into a new place of Christian maturity and effectiveness as witnesses to Christ, His salvation and call to be disciples who make disciples. In His name. Amen
Happy New Year