Here is a question for the New Year and for the ages: How quickly does God's patience run out? If you are like me, you may tend to measure God's patience according to your own. I am often dissatisfied with my own progress toward godliness. I feel I am merely stumbling toward sanctification. My own sense of failure often prevents me from moving forward because I judge myself unworthy. That judgment deters me from renewal and spiritual refocus because I presume that the Creator, so perfect and holy, must be even more disappointed in me than I am. Does that sound familiar?
Believe it or not, that is why I am a fan of New Year's resolutions. Some say they are worthless because most people fail to keep them. So what else is new?
The Bible tells us, …it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance" (Romans 2:4). God likes it when we turn from our sin and self, and turn toward Him. Personal resolve toward godliness, healthiness or renewed discipline can always be an opportunity for growth. Why shouldn't we use the New Year to mark a special time of resolve? Just be careful not to make your resolution merely a matter of human striving. That is a waste that drains resolution of its spiritual potential. If we remember to make our resolutions prayerfully and pursue them through the power of God's Spirit, then New Year's resolutions will not be an exercise in futility.
Which leads me back to the point of God's patience. I don't think we exactly disappoint God when we fail. He is patience personified, in part because He already knows the end from the beginning. He knows our weakness better than we do and yet He is slow to anger. When Peter asked Jesus how many times he was required to forgive someone, he assumed that it would be seven, the number of completion. Jesus replied seven times 70. He was not marking the point at which our patience should run out. Rather our Messiah was saying that our patience and forgiveness toward others should never run out. In this, Jesus was not excusing sin but amplifying grace.
It can be hard to extend grace to others if we find it difficult to receive it for ourselves. The good news is that for the child of God who repents of sin, God's patience, His grace and mercy will never run out. Some have said He is "the God of second chances," but that is too limiting. He is the God of seven times 70 chances.
Maybe that is a reason why God's mercies are new every morning. He knows that we need His mercy each and every day. He pledges new mercies because He does not want us to give up trying, even if we find that we have to endure many failures before we succeed.
That is one of the reasons that we in Jews for Jesus continue to reach out to our own people, even when we face indifference or downright hostility. How can we grow weary of offering God's mercy to others when He never ceases extending His mercy to us? I have met many Christians who are afraid to commit themselves to witnessing to unsaved family and friends. They are fearful that if they don't do a good enough job the first time, there may not be another opportunity to speak into that person's life. So, to avoid losing the opportunity to speak in the most effective way possible, they avoid saying anything at all of spiritual substance. The fear of saying the wrong thing or saying the right thing in the wrong way prevents them from saying anything at all, and that is sad. How liberating it is to realize that it is not our witnessing skills, but God's patience and mercy that determine how many chances a person has to receive the gospel.
In the same way, many people may avoid making resolutions for the New Year (or other times) because it is discouraging and/or embarrassing to fail. There is a Jewish proverb that says, "He that lies on the ground cannot fall." A resolution doesn't have to be a boast of what we intend to do. It can be a humble admission of what we need to do and what we plan to do with God's help. That brings us back to the importance of making our resolutions prayerfully and pursuing them through the power of God's Spirit.
The good news is that God welcomes our efforts, as long as we recognize that in the end we are dependent on Him for the results. While we may never fault God for our failures, we must always praise Him for the small steps forward we are able to make. He is the one who enables us to move ahead despite our weaknesses. It pleases our heavenly Father just to know that we want to take those small steps to begin with.
Imagine a Christian father who happens to see a misplaced list of resolutions his teenager has made. At the top of the list is "daily quiet time with God." If you haven't had a teenaged child, you can remember having been one, right? Most teens find it hard enough waking up in time to get washed and dressed for school without any additional activity. So the father finds this list. Do you think his first reaction will be disappointment that his child has not managed to succeed with the daily quiet time? Or would he be pleased that his child had recognized the importance of it and wants to do better?
I don't know about you, but having found such a list, I was glad to see that my son was concerned about having a quiet time, even though I also knew that this resolution was still something he was struggling to fulfill. So I placed the list on his pillow. Neither of us said anything about it. But this morning I heard an alarm go off earlier than usual. As I was getting ready to leave for work I walked past the kitchen and saw my son, sitting at the table reading his Bible. I stopped and gave him a big hug. I was just so pleased by his desire and effort to get it right. How much more pleased is his heavenly Father?
I think that God has joy in each step His children take to do what is right. He knows that we will falter and fail many times over. But it blesses Him to see us striving, wanting to do what is right—especially when we ask for His help to do it. I'm not sure what the equivalent of a heavenly hug is—but I'm pretty sure that you'll recognize it as God makes known His delight in your efforts this New Year and in the days to come.