2017 can’t come quick enough. Most of us are waiting on 2016 to end like a child waits for the morning on Christmas Eve. This year had an overwhelming amount of troubles for a lot of us. An unfortunate majority of us have come into contact with the misguided and unrealistic teachings that the invitation to follow Christ comes with an all-access pass to an unlimited life of blue skies.
However, Biblically-sound wisdom for tough times doesn’t promise everlasting smooth-sailing. It promises an ever-sufficient Christ. So if expecting nothing but sunny skies is a way to set yourself up for failure, how else can we be thinking wrongly going into the new year? Philippians 3 sets us up with a few perspectives to help.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Philippians is Paul’s letter of joy, gratitude, and encouragement to the church for their faithful service and sacrifice to him. In chapter 3, Paul shares his desire to be like Christ in his suffering, death, and resurrection. Yet he also recognizes the gap between that goal and his present state. This is where verses 12-16 enter into the conversation.
These verses reflect Paul’s maturity in recognizing the discord between where Paul wants to be and where he is. Yet he recognizes this discord in a way that empowers him to strive toward the goal instead of being stagnant. These same themes are relevant to how we can look forward into our new year growth goals constructively.
For this piece, here are a few things that will ruin your year before 2017 even starts.
1. Be Stuck in the Past.
There’s only 1 reason to look back, and that’s to learn from it. Apart from the lessons of 2016, thinking on the past is wasted energy. Paul, the writer of the passage, states that he doesn’t even consider his former state. This is drastic, considering his past of persecuting Christians and of self-righteous religiosity. He says that he puts it so far behind him that he forgets it. Being stuck in the past is a trap, that’ll only take energy from a progressive focus.
In football, defenders are taught not to expect perfect plays, but to have quick memories when bad plays do happen, so that they can focus on adjusting for the next play. The next time you find yourself mentally stagnant or frustrated, ask where your focus lies. Is it of something in the past that you can no longer control or is it near the future goal you’re pressing toward? Ask God to reveal where you might be stuck in the past and to help you look in hope toward the future He has prepared for you.
2. Don’t Prepare.
Using another sports metaphor, the quickest way for a good team to be defeated is by being unprepared and outcoached As a Christian, your opponent Satan, has no claims over you. To counter that, he is literally Hell-bent on accusing, deceiving, and outcoaching you. We already highlighted the importance of learning from your experience. Not being outcoached is just as important. Doing so is grounded in the keys of mental discernment, emotional self-control, and practice.
In this new year, be vigilant and watchful of the thoughts you allow yourself to take in. Be mindful of how you allow your emotions to guide your thoughts and actions. Be intentional and prayerful about the habits you actively and passively allow yourself to practice. The mentalities reflected in verses 12-16 show great examples for us to strive for. I wonder how many of the L’s you took in 2016 could’ve been avoided from better preparation. Don’t let that be the case going into the new year.
3. Wait for Things to Get Better.
As a Southerner, I’m an avid spades player. Some of the craziest losses I’ve taken in the game came from overestimating the hand I was dealt or underestimating the hand the opposing team had. There’s a lesson there for how we should look at the new year.
When it comes to having a better year, don’t depend on life to deal you a better hand. As Christians, we have to stop waiting on the world to be less worldly and more kind to us. That will only lead to passivity and excuses. On the other hand, verses 12-16 in Philippians 3 is full of examples of what it means to reject passivity.
The structure of verse 12 starts from the disposition that things are already bad. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal…” but it follows up with proactive and possessive language to show us how to step up to the challenge. “…but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” This is possessive because progress is possessive. Christ claims you as His own, you can claim growth as your own. In that assurance you can do as verse 14 instructs: “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Many people would dismiss this wisdom because of its difficulty. The reality is that the Christian life isn’t a life of ease, but a life of assurance and hope. The choice we have in facing the difficult seasons we’re all guaranteed to have in life, isn’t in regard to how bad it’ll be or how long it’ll last. We have the choice by grace to hold tightly to the source of life we have in Christ. A firm grip to this source in addition to tending to the wisdom communicated in Philippians 3, is what’ll ensure you don’t set yourself up for failure going into the new year.