It’s not that I’m against goals or resolutions. It’s just this cynical streak in me, observing people with lofty lists of New Year aspirations that fizzle by February. We can be quick to shout out intentions without weighing the hard work it takes to achieve them. I should add- I'm just as guilty of falling short and not completing what I set out to do. Honestly, I'd rather avoid big declarations or a goal I might not achieve. It's easier to avoid being resolute, settle into cynicism, and laugh at those who bypass kale for chocolate by January 4.
It can be disheartening to look back when a New Year looks an awful lot like the Old Year. This week I was evaluating my year and wondering if maybe what I thought was a road run was actually a treadmill run. I’ve exerted energy. I feel like I’ve been running. There was movement. Yet this looks an awful lot like the scenery from last year.
It’s easy in that moment to throw in the towel. Effort seems futile. Why be resolute when failure is inevitable?
I found my answer ringing in the New Year with Moses. I completed the book of Exodus in December and noticed something new… as usual. God has rescued the Israelites from Egypt and they are entering the desert years.
He sets a covenant before Israel. He explains to them they will be set apart and lists amazing promises He will fulfill if they obey Him. They are beginning to understand that this powerful God with the Red Sea under His command, the one who drops manna from the sky and brings forth water from rocks, wants to dwell with them.
They hear His goodness promised. It sounds like a good idea to serve this God and obey His commands, which they know to be true. “Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has said we will do.” Exodus 24:3
There it is. A resolution. A promise. A declaration of faith.
They build an altar and make a sacrifice. Moses reads the Lord’s commands and promises. “And they said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.” And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.” Exodus 24:7,8
There it is again. They’re all in. Not surprising, really. They know the truth and they want what is laid out in front of them.
The astounding part is that God didn’t laugh at them. God, all knowing and transcendent, knew full well eight chapters later the Israelites would break the freshly sealed covenant as they pooled their gold to build an idol. Still, He didn’t come back with, “Ha! Do you even KNOW the failures around the corner for you?” He never said, "I can't take you seriously. I know you're about to botch this."
He accepted Israel’s declaration.
The covenant was made. He knew Israel would fail and the Ten Commandments would symbolically and literally shatter. He knew they would ultimately repent and beg His presence not depart. He knew a second set of Commandments would be made and He would come to them once again, not to patch the covenant but to completely renew it. He knew that covenant would be broken, too. He knew it would ultimately break Jesus’ body to establish the New Covenant. Forgiving them would always cost Him so much.
Yet, He accepted Israel’s declaration.
While He knew of all the failure to come, God also knew something else. He knew His faithfulness and glory would be displayed, regardless of His failing people. He knew what He was establishing would take a long dry journey of mountains, valleys, and battles. It wouldn’t be a constant high or a shiny promise carefully maintained by them.
He knew each time they repented and determined to follow Him, He would reveal more of Himself to them. Their trust would deepen. As they stumbled along, as the scenery looked the same, they would learn He is the Promise Keeper. They would see His hand in their obedience and His holiness against their failure. They would experience His grace over their skinned knees. The Restorer would keep waiting for their repentance so He could sweep restoration through their lives.
It would have been easy after the golden calf incident for the Israelites to stop trying. “We screwed up. Clearly we can’t hold up our end of this thing. We don’t blame God for taking His presence from us. We’re on our own now.” They threatened on multiple occasions to head back to Egypt. “This is hard. It’s uncomfortable. The scenery sucks. I’m not seeing the results I want and (insert pout) God’s kinda hard on me.”
It sounds reasonable to say, “I may as well not try.” Ah, but being paralyzed by fear of failure causes us to do simply that... to fail. Not only do we seal failure, but we cut ourselves off from God who won’t fail. We lose ground in our moping. We are delusional to believe some day strength will magically appear and we will soar forward without stumbling again. We’re delusional to believe we can hit pause and wait for an easier out.
For all the Israelites sin and ignorance, they got up again. They couldn't fix their failure but they could ask God to reconcile them to Himself. They kept after the Lord. They kept picking up their tents and following the cloud of His presence. They fell. But with God’s grace and pursuit, they fell forward. They asked for forgiveness. They got up. A lot.
The years in the desert were treadmill years. Progress looked painfully slow. Failures marked the years and the food was always the same- manna, manna, more manna. Why get on the treadmill? Why stand up with embarrassing skid marks on my chin? Because there is a realization along the way: even in treadmill years my quads have gained strength and my calves have definition. Endurance is built for longer runs. Another mile. The Sustainer’s presence is still here.
Again standing up, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.” Because regardless of bloodied knees, embarrassing crawling, and a treadmill at an incline, there is a Promised Land. It’s real. The Israelites arrived at their Promised Land and realized the Lord had developed them, a disjointed mass of slaves and whiners, into a powerful army ready to take their land and live a completely new life.
To arrive and realize in the midst of my stumbling around, the Lord has made me into a warrior? It’s a wax-on, wax-off moment of, “I thought I’ve been waxing cars but I know karate!?” “I’ve been going nowhere on a treadmill but I can do this marathon!?” “I’ve been standing up to follow you Lord and here I am knowing Truth, believing your Word, ready to receive every eternal promise?!”
My cynicism is quieted. I’m not resolute because I’m able. I’m not resolute because I have it in me, this year again. I have very little muster. I’m all out of grit. But I stand up to declare my dependence on the Lord and my aim to obey Him because He will accept it. Without raised eyebrows, a guffaw, or cynicism… He accepts it.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...