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2016 is ending as unpredictably as it began.
David Bowie died in January; Debbie Reynolds died last Wednesday, one day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher. In between, the Chicago Cubs ended their 108-year drought by winning the World Series. The Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA title, ending forty-five years of frustration. Brexit was the greatest geopolitical surprise of the year until Donald Trump won the presidency.
It’s not shocking that Merriam-Webster named “surreal” its word of the year.
Now the news is filled with predictions for 2017 covering everything from the Nobel Peace Prize to the closing level of the Dow Jones. Meanwhile, most of us just want to live our best lives. We know that the higher our goal, the greater our success. As Dallas Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith recently noted, “Hall of Famers think about the Hall of Fame. Pro Bowlers think of going to the Pro Bowl.” Great players make great goals for themselves.
But there’s another side to achievement—we must lose to gain. The best athletes are fanatical about what they eat and how they exercise. Tim Cook routinely emails employees at 4:30 in the morning. Mark Cuban didn’t take a vacation for seven years while starting his first business.
To grow in our relationship with the Lord, we must refuse whatever keeps us from him.
The same principle holds spiritually. To grow in our relationship with the Lord, we must refuse whatever keeps us from him. Scripture calls us to give up everything that does not lead to God (Titus 2:11–12).
But that’s hard to do.
Oswald Chambers describes the “hell of a renunciation before God.” When I read his words, I made this note in my journal: “I must repent of all that is not God’s best for me if I would experience God’s best for me. Sin rewards for a season, which is why it is so tempting. It is hard to renounce the present for the sake of the future.” But God cannot give us what we will not make room to receive.
My first car was a 1967 Mercury Cougar in significant need of repair. Fortunately, my father was a terrific mechanic. Unfortunately, I was not. I learned quickly that asking his advice and accepting his help was much more efficient than botching the repair and turning to him after I failed.
But it’s one thing to admit I needed my father’s help with a water pump. It’s another to admit that we need our Father’s help every day in every way. Our pride doesn’t want to admit our weakness. That’s why the first words of the Sermon on the Mount are foundational to all the rest: “Blessed are those who know their need of God” (Matthew 5:3, NEB).
Here’s the good news: whatever we refuse for God will be replaced by whatever is best for us. So make this investment in the new year: take time this weekend for a spiritual inventory. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind whatever is keeping you from God’s best for you. Write down what comes to your thoughts. Confess everything you write and claim God’s forgiving grace (1 John 1:9).
Do this regularly. Then ask God to lead you in his “good and acceptable and perfect” will (Romans 12:2). Your Father will redeem whatever 2017 brings, and his best will be yours.