Practice for the New Year

cropped-extraordinary.jpg“The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:9

 Rehearsal.

We do it all the time. We’re doing it right now. And what we rehearse will determine what we become.

We practice thought cycles, speech patterns, self-presentation. We practice prejudices and defenses. We develop habits.

Can I ask you what you think about while you brush your teeth?

Can I tell you what I think about?

I replay wrongs others have done me.

I think of what I might say to them if I had the chance.

I feel sorry for myself.

I come up with great one-liners that would really sting.

I remind myself why I’m right and they’re wrong.

The result? I snap at my kids. I yell at drivers on the road. I am easily irritated. I become an angry person.

Or maybe….

I worry about the day.

I think of all the ways it might turn out badly.

I try to plan, plan, plan for every problem that may arise so that I’ll be prepared.

I grasp for control, and the feeling that I have none manifests itself in the acid in my stomach.

The result? I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I can’t concentrate. I am easily agitated. I feel alone. I become an anxious person.

Every day, I practice things that determine who I become. And I often don’t like who I’ve become. It’s easy to feel hopeless and helpless when we look around…or look back on the year…and feel disappointed. Wasn’t I supposed to be different by now? Successful? Happy? Kind? Strong?

But there’s this Paul, who was a zealous murderer and became a compassionate leader to those he once hated.

How did he make such a radical change?

As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but het up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” – Acts 9:3-5

Do you know what Paul was doing on the road to Damascus? Only “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord”, seeking to drag “any belonging to the Way, both men and women” bound in chains to Jerusalem.

God interrupted Paul. In the midst of Paul’s ordinary, the Extraordinary broke through.

God is going to interrupt my self-serving, defensive, destructive thoughts today. How will I respond? How will you?

This same Paul urges you and I to join in following in his example. Were there things in Paul’s life that he regretted? Things he could never make right? Things that grieved his heart? Did he look around at who he’d become and sob?

He actually tells us what he did:

“…But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, and I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:13-14

And a couple verses later, he urges you and I to walk according to the pattern we have in him and Timothy who was with him. What is this pattern? It’s the culture and practices of those from a different country.

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” – Philippians 3:20-21

Let God interrupt your day today. Let the Extraordinary break into your ordinary and remind you where you’re really from…where you really belong.

As we ponder the year gone by and the year to begin, let’s both begin a new practice. Begin again the practice of those whose home country is heaven:

  1. Forgetting what lies behind. Let God be in charge of your past. Roll the entire year over to Him. Is there anything He wants you to do? Reconcile with someone? Forgive someone? Reach out to someone? He will make it clear if you’re willing to trust Him with it. Practice trusting God with the past, present, and future.
  2. Reaching forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus. Invite Him into your day. Thank Him in the happy, run to Him in the worrisome. Practice reaching out to Him when He reaches into your life.
  3. Remember that the God of peace is with you. Let Him bring peace into your thoughts, your commute, your workplace, your school, your family. It’s what He does. Practice remembering His presence with you.

Does practice make perfect? I don’t know, but I know One who is making all things new. If we are willing to practice the things that draw us closer to Him, we can expect to see the extraordinary brand new in our very own ordinary lives.

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