JANUARY 6, 2016
The late Michel Quoist, a French Catholic priest, wrote the book, Prayers. (The French edition is Prayers for Life.) Over the years, since I was a young pastor, it has become a kind of safe place to go, often reflecting my own heart before God.
One of his prayers expresses the reason I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. It’s about sin and some of what Quoist prays reflects how I’ve often felt:
I have fallen Lord,
I can’t go on, I’ll never succeed.
I am ashamed, I don’t dare look at you.
And yet I struggled, Lord, for I knew you were right near me, bending over me,
But temptation blew like a hurricane,
And instead of looking at you I turned my head away.
I stepped aside
While you stood, silent and sorrowful,
Like the spurned fiancé who sees his loved one carried away by the enemy.
When the wind died down as suddenly as it had arisen,
When the lightning ceased after proudly streaking the darkness,
All of a sudden I found myself alone, ashamed, disgusted, with my sin in my hands.…
Lord, don’t look at me like that,
For I am naked,
I am dirty,
I am down,
With no strength left.
I dare make no more promises,
I can only lie bowed before you.
At the end of Quoist’s prayers, he always adds the response he gets from God (always arresting and biblical). In his response to this prayer, God says:
Come, son, look up.
Isn’t it mainly your vanity that is wounded?…
Do you think that there’s a limit to God’s love?
Do you think that for a moment I stopped loving you?
But you still rely on yourself, son.
You must rely only on me.
Ask my pardon
And get up quickly.
You see, it’s not falling that is the worst,
But staying on the ground.
“I dare make no more promises.” I get that. The truth is that most of my life I’ve made promises and broken them. On New Year’s Eve, when everybody is making resolutions and turning over a new leaf, I look at my old shriveled leaf and resolve not to do it again, not to turn it over one more time. So I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. When I change and get better (sometimes I do and sometimes not so much), it is surprising faithfulness.
The surprise is a gift and the guilt is a curse. So I’ve given it up.
I have a friend who, when he was young, promised God he would go on the mission field. Because of circumstances beyond his control and his own choices, it never happened, and he lived in guilt the rest of his life. When bad things happened to my friend, he was sure it was because of the unfulfilled promise made years before. My friend knew about forgiveness and grace; but, nevertheless, that promise haunted him almost to the day he died.
So I no longer make many promises. And I certainly don’t make New Year’s resolutions.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve prayed about it and this year I’ve decided to violate my only New Year’s resolution to never make New Year’s resolutions. I finally have a New Year’s resolution:
I resolve to begin again!
That doesn’t mean, of course, that when I begin again I’ll do any better than I did the first time…but I’m going to begin again.
Someone has said that the difference between a successful person and one who fails is that the successful one got up the last time he or she was knocked down. That has the false premise attached to it that if one keeps getting up after being knocked down, one will eventually be successful. The truth is that some people keep getting knocked down and keep getting up until they die…and never become a success.
I could be one of those but I don’t care. I resolve to get up and begin again. No matter what, I’ll begin again and again and again. My friend Neil Boron of WDCX (Buffalo) interviewed me recently. He said some nice things about Key Life and I thanked him, but kidded, “The only reason you wanted to interview me is that, at my age, you wanted to see if I was still alive.” He laughed and said that wasn’t the case, but suspected there were people who would rejoice if I had…and probably many who prayed for it.
Well, I’m still here…so deal with it.
I’m bloodied, afraid, and sometimes lonely, amazed and confused. I’m sometimes right and sometimes wrong. I’m badly in need of grace, embarrassed a lot, often think it’s insane that I do what I do, and frankly, I even want to run away on occasion. But I’m still here. In other words, I’ve always begun again. And not only that, I’m going to keep beginning again until I drool or die.
Steve, you say, where are you going with this? Are you just irritated and decided to rant?
In fact, I was reading Paul’s comments, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10). Paul told his young friend, Timothy, that he was the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) and put legs on that confession in Romans 7. He told his friends in Philippi (Philippians 4:12-13) that he had been rich and poor, hungry and full, and brought low and high, but through it all he got up and began again.
That’s doable! I can do that. All it requires is that I not leave and I won’t because (aside from the fact that I don’t have any other place to go because nobody will ever love, forgive and accept me the way he does) the only people who begin again are people who know that if they finally give up, God will still love them.
And that’s what it means to be a Christian. That’s it.
Someone told me about a New Yorker cartoon of a father talking to his prodigal son. The caption read: “Well, okay, but this is the fourth time we’ve killed the fatted calf.”
As I look to the coming new year, I think about all the fatted calves sacrificed for me when God wanted to have a party. Then I think about you and the fatted calves that died so you could celebrate.
Go ahead and make some New Year’s resolutions. You’ll probably be more successful with them than I am.
But should January 2 roll around and you’ve blown it, it’s okay. Ask the Father to kill another calf and enjoy the party. But the next morning get out of bed and begin again…even if beginning again won’t be any more successful than it was on January 1.
It will be enough.
He asked me to remind you.
Oh yes, there is also the possibility that you’ll be surprised by the faithfulness he will give you as his gift. There are parties to celebrate that too.
He asked me to remind you of that as well.