Dave Stewart, former Oakland A’s pitcher known for pitching well in the big games, was asked how he was able to shine when the spotlight was brightest. He explained that as children he and his brother would play against each other in the backyard. They would pretend they were in the “big game,” and it was always “3-2, with the bases loaded.” So, Dave would face the situation as if it were always the big game. He conditioned himself to confront the pressure situations, and through this he came to excel in the playoffs and World Series.
How do we excel in life? It is not by expecting and waiting for smooth sailing and an easy life. You do not grow in life when the sun is shining and there is zero wind resistance. Why not embrace challenges as catapults for personal growth? Look adversity in the eye and take it on.
The first-century church was in a situation where they faced opposition on an ongoing basis. They probably did not welcome this, but neither did they cower before it. In the face of fiery trials, they won the lost and kept the faith. In our own personal lives, we may dislike the thought of suffering. However, looking back, we may find these as the times where most growth occurred.
How do we face life? Are we looking for a beautiful, problem-free life? If so, we will be disappointed! More than that, we shall fail. We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God! Former Minnesota Vikings head football coach Dennis Green once told his team, “We are going to go on in the road, in the cold, in a hostile environment, and we don’t want it any other way.” That’s the philosophy to embrace in our spiritual lives. The world opposes us as we stand faithfully for Christ. That’s OK! It is a chance to excel to the glory of God.
Have you ever wondered about the origin of New Year’s resolutions? I have. If they are to be trusted, the folks at the History Channel denote the Babylonians, nearly 4,000 years ago, as the founder of such culture-wide determinations. It was as part of a 12-day religious festival known as Akitu. Later, at the prompting of none other than Julius Caesar, the Romans, again as a nod to a god—Janus, the two-faced god who looked backward and forward—observed the advent of a new year with the intent of improving areas of their lives in need of such. Sarah Pruitt, author of the piece, claims that Christians, since early times, have approached the new year to rededicate themselves to Christ. Pruitt seems to be indicting so many today who observe this holiday in a purely secular fashion, and wonders if such humanistic emphasis is why so many resolutions fail (source).
It is noteworthy that the history of making resolutions is so closely tied to religious devotion. Perhaps this is because we, as human beings, recognize our innate inadequacy. Paul, feeling it necessary to defend himself against unnamed critics of his work, wrote, “Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant…” (2 Cor. 3:4-6a). Paul, so accomplished as a Christian, preacher, leader, mentor, missionary, and more, was always striving to do more for Jesus. He was not trying to earn God’s love and approval. Whether looking back at his successes or failures, Paul, in his love for his Lord, wanted to serve Him more effectively. He told Philippi that he pressed on (Phil. 3:12), “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:13). He advised the conscientious Christian to follow his example (Phil. 3:15-16).
Christianity is not a religion of annual intention. It is the religious of daily determination (Luke 9:23). January 1 is an ideal time to reflect, review, and resolve, but is far from the only time. In a significant sense, each new day for us involves a resolve within ourselves to deny self and dedicate to the Savior. As I have done every year of my adult life, I will again set out objectives and goals, physically, financially, and familial. Yet, the most important will involve my faith. As always, these will need review, not just in January, but throughout the year. In my prayers today, I prayed for every Christian who resolves to conquer a sin problem, reach a lost soul, be more active in their local congregation, and any other noble aim for the Master. If you make some such specific resolution and would honor me with the privilege of partnering with you in prayer about it, please email me (email@example.com) and let me know. Then, let me know how it goes and especially tell me about your success. May God bless each of us with the resolve to be more faithful in our relationship with Him.
As this year is still very new, you may be looking back at the your past and contemplating your future. You may be the type that says, “I don’t ‘do’ resolutions.” Perhaps it is silly to suddenly jump into healthier habits and aim for higher heights just because the calendar indicates that the new day is a new year, but there is biblical precedence for continual striving to do and be better.
Paul writes Thessalonica and twice urges them to “excel still more” (1 Thess. 4:1,10). Reading the text reveals that this more excellent approach includes proper walking and pleasing God (1). It includes practicing brotherly love (9). It includes sexual self-control and purity (3-7). It is attached to such behaviors as industriousness and evangelistic example (11-12). So, it takes in a wide variety of conduct that makes us better personally, morally, evangelistically, and ethically.
When you examine yourself this time next year, should the Lord allow time to stand, will you be living more excellently than you are today? If not, does that thought satisfy you? Don’t wait for January first, but don’t delay for any reason. Get started today on becoming a better you. This will benefit yourself, those around you, and the kingdom of God! Who needs more incentive than that?