Posted by: Philip Rushton | January 3, 2012

Sustainable New Years Resolutions

“There is nothing wrong with making resolutions. However they often aim so high without first cultivating the change of heart necessary to prepare space for these new possibilities to take root.” Writer Elizabeth Paintner

On Sunday I preached a sermon on the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. The major focus of this message was to convey the idea that if we hope to experience growth we need to start by preparing space for God’s word to take root in our life. I thought I’d share a couple thoughts from the sermon for those who were out of town and provide a venue for discussion and feedback.

New Years day is an idealistic time. We begin a new year with high hopes, often making resolutions and setting goals. Yet, for me anyway, there is also a skepticism that encroaches on this hope. Memories of past failures often discourage our attempts at change.

According to one article I read this week, 95% of new years resolutions are broken by February. Another article on new years resolutions that I read in the New York Times sums it up rather bleakly concluding, “studies suggest that human willpower is a limited resource.”

The idea that willpower is a limited resourced is actually a very Christian idea. Jesus says in John 15:6, “apart from me you can do nothing.” What we discover in the New Testament is that our ability to grow and succeed is dependent on something external to us. It is only as we abide in the word of God and allow God’s spirit to dwell within us that we can experience new life.

James Bryan Smith argues that the will actually has no power. The will is simply the human capacity to choose. It does not have any power intrinsic to itself. Instead the will makes decisions based on what ideas, practices, and social contexts influence it. The will is like a horse, and the ideas and contexts we inhabit are like the rider determining the course that the horse will go. The key to changing the course of our will is to consider what things we allow to influence us. We can’t change our will directly, but we can change the ideas we listen to, the practices that we participate in, and the social influences we surround ourselves with.

The parable of the sower picks up on this idea. It reminds us that the key to growth is creating space to let God’s word influence our life. Like a sower, God sows the seed of his word. We have the opportunity to receive his life giving word if we want. The problem is that there are all sorts of barriers that prevent us from receiving his word.

Some seed falls on the path. The problem with the path is that it is trampled down in such a way that the seed is unable to enter in. In a similar way our souls are often well worn pathways. We are used to receiving a flurry activity that prevents us from having time and space to meditate on the word of God.

Some seed falls on shallow soil. There is initial growth but since there are no roots the plant cannot sustain the scorching heat of the sun. In a similar way our pursuit of God can lack depth. It is easy to be a nominal Christian. We can be a fan of Jesus and get excited about being apart of the church for a while, but if we do not grow deeper in our faith we can easily loose heart when the going gets tough.

Some seed then falls on thorny soil. According to Jesus, thorns represent the worries of life and the lure of wealth that can choke the word of God. While its important to be informed about our world and wise with our resources, these things can easily crowd out the voice of God. The daily news and the latest stock report cannot replace the word of God in our morning routine.

So if we hope to experience growth this year we cannot start by simply amping up our will power. The will alone cannot produce change. Sustainable growth begins by creating space for God’s to influence and direct our will.

The good news of this parable is that God is generously sowing his word on all of us. The parable, at the end of the day, is not a parable of the soils, it is the parable of the sower. The story pictures a gracious God who generously pours out his life giving word even on places where he knows it might not produce anything. In the end this is a parable of grace.

So where do you need to create space to be impacted by the word of God this year? What type of soil is your life right now?

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