I enjoy new beginnings, don’t you? On the calendar there are a few perfect points for beginning something new: every Monday, the 1st of every new month, and the first of every new year. I mean, who begins anything new on a random Thursday? January 1st is the ultimate beginning point for New Things: plans for better health such as eating less and exercising more; plans for newly invigorated disciplines such as rising earlier, tightening the budget, meal-planning, or renewed dedication to finally organize the bajillion digital photos stuffed away in the external hard drive—“This is the year!” (wistful sigh…)
Habits Worth Cultivating
For Christians, the disciplines we aim for may include renewed commitments to reading through the Bible, finally starting—and keeping—a prayer journal, Bible study, memorizing Scripture, or joining our favorite blogger in a hefty reading plan of books (new or old) which will feed our faith.
Unwrapping a shiny New Year with all its possibilities, grand plans, and providential gifts from the Lord has the optimist in me giddy with excitement. The realist in me, however, rolls her eyes and checks her watch waiting for the moment when my grand plans fall through with a muffled crash. My track record for following through with New Years’ resolutions is pretty poor. One of the first times I ever “successfully” completed a read-through-the-year plan was 2009, the Year of John Calvin, when I read through his Institutes of the Christian Religion. It took me 15 months.
Failing in any new discipline for anyone can be discouraging, but for the Christian it need not be. When believers begin any new regimen intending to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of our Lord—particularly the disciplines of grace: prayer, Bible reading and study, meeting together for worship, partaking of the sacraments, fellowship with the saints, and meditating on the word—though we meet opposition from the enemy and our own weak and fainting flesh, we also have the power of the Holy Spirit, the encouragement of Jesus Christ, and the grace of God our Father at our back. Learning and keeping new habits is hard on any level, but the disciplines of grace reap eternal rewards, and so they are worth cultivating, even if it takes a lot of starting and stopping to really get them integrated into our lives.
Christ’s Track Record for Us
Sisters, we know that our salvation does not rest on these disciplines. We know that we became children of God and members of his covenant community of believers entirely by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, which is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). Our success in Bible reading or prayer cannot keep us in the grace of God any more than our failure can cause us to fall out of God’s gracious hands. But perseverance in the disciplines of grace deepens our understanding of and therefore our gratitude to God for this faith in which we stand. As we persevere in these disciplines, our faith deepens and our love for God grows, which then lends strength to our disciplines of grace.
We can take comfort in knowing that we are in the faith, but not measured by whether we’re on track with any Bible reading plan or by the daily frequency of our prayers. Our assurance is grounded in the work of Christ on our behalf and is measured by whether we love God and our fellow believers, whether we desire to keep his commandments, and whether we trustingly believe that Jesus is the Christ. The disciplines of grace encourage us in our growth in love, obedience, and trust, but they do not establish these in us—that is the work of the Holy Spirit. We find our assurance grounded not in our faithfulness to him, but in God’s faithfulness to us.
This is the message of the first epistle of John, where we are assured that we can know that we know God because he took the initiative to know us—not because we are so loveable or that we loved him, but because God loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (4:10). We are known and loved with an eternal, redeeming love! After the inspired authors of Scripture there are few who described what this means better than J. I. Packer, read slowly:
What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact that underlies it—the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.
Sisters, let this be an encouragement to you. We have the very best of reasons to persist in cultivating the disciplines of grace in our lives: we are known and loved by God! These disciplines don’t secure our place in his heart, but they deepen our knowledge of and love for him in our own minds and hearts. So, begin your new Bible reading plan, break out the new prayer journal, and set a time for quiet meditation on the Scriptures. And if your plans fall through, don’t be discouraged. Your track record may be poor, but our Savior’s track record is trustworthy and true. Tomorrow offers you another opportunity to begin anew—even if tomorrow is a random Thursday.
 J. I. Packer, Knowing God, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1973), 41-42.
About the Author:
Barbaranne reads, writes, cooks, runs, and shoots an occasional photo in Texas. She and her husband Jim are the parents of five of the neatest people they know and grandparents to the first two of (hopefully) many grandchildren. She has been blogging ever since she accidentally signed up for a blog while attempting to comment on a friend’s blog post and figured, “Why not?” She now blogs at Gratefuland Women of Purpose, a ministry of the women of her church. Barbaranne and Jim are members of Christ Presbyterian Church in New Braunfels, Texas, where she leads a Bible study for women in the hope that she and they may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.