Refreshing the Old Before Bringing in the New
By SARAH MOCKLER
A new year.
A clean slate.
A fresh start.
A crisp planner.
There’s just something about a new year unfurling before us in unblemished beauty that propels us toward making a list of goals and resolutions … new things that will keep us focused and excited as we purpose to invest in what matters most.
It’s interesting, I was contemplating the tendency I have when approaching a new season (be it a new year, a birthday, or even the dawn from winter to spring) and realized that there is a pull to sweep to the side what didn’t work and embrace a new set of to-dos for the next several months. Out with the old and in with the new, right? I like the idea of a reset button that makes my broken systems and half-finished projects vanish into thin air, no longer to stare me in the face with last year’s reminder of what I didn’t get accomplished. Have you ever wrestled with the same thing, friend?
Allow me to start with a few New Year’s confessions. I confess that I have promptly begun (but never finished) probably a dozen perfectly good planners. I confess that I have excitedly crafted a yearly reading list, but can’t remember finishing the entire stack in a calendar year.
And I confess that, much to the chagrin of my instructor, I sometimes miss my 5:30 AM workouts.
But what if instead of sweeping away the old, we revived it? What if instead of sponging off the slate, we recopied our original intentions that have grown hard to read over the passing of time? What if … we were faithful to steward our respective assignments lovingly given to us by God?
Where Faithfulness Begins
Faithfulness has fallen out of favor these days and is not prized in our culture. We rarely see a positive example in areas like having a good work ethic, honoring our marriage vows, keeping our word, or maintaining our gym memberships. Faithfulness lacks the glitz and glamor of “the exciting.” Sleek and shiny exteriors of what was once new have been worn down to the comfortably familiar. Simply put, faithfulness is what remains after the newness has worn off. It’s what binds us to our commitments, our promises, and our responsibilities. And it’s growing extinct.
While the vision for personal faithfulness has largely been lost, even in the Church, if we would just open our eyes, we would see glimpses of God’s great faithfulness laced into our everyday lives.
Every morning the sun rises in the east, and every evening it sets in the west. This expression of God’s faithfulness goes unnoticed as we rush out the door for work or are too distracted with our devices in the evening to notice the glorious display outside our windows. Another example is the steady, rhythmic, routine change of the seasons wholly maintained by the One who holds time in His hands. Or what about the night skies? Many a sea-weathered captain has relied upon the North Star’s steady position in the heavenlies to guide him toward his desired destination. But God’s faithfulness doesn’t end with creation…
All throughout the Word of God we see how Jesus remains faithful to us — an unfaithful people — no matter what. A brief glimpse reveals that nothing will fail from His faithful Word (Ps. 119:138), He faithfully prays on our behalf (Heb. 7:25), He protects us from the harm of the enemy (2 Thess. 3:3), and He has faithfully created good works for us to walk in (Eph. 2:10). Faithfulness is the very essence of God.
And if the Almighty were suddenly to abandon His enduring faithfulness toward us, I imagine that we would instantly notice! It wouldn’t take long for our world to fall into chaos and dysfunction.
But perhaps my favorite thing about God’s unchanging faithfulness is that He faithfully finishes what He began in us, His beloved children. Philippians 1:6 says, “…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ…” The Lord doesn’t leave us half-finished. What He has begun in you, He will be faithful to complete! And just as He doesn’t leave us as a half-finished work of art, God has equal desire to lace His steadfast character into the fibers of our being, fashioning us into reflections of His faithfulness as we go about our work, invest in the relationships around us, and steward that which He has entrusted into our care.
Steward with Excellence
Jesus said, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much…” (Lk. 16:10a ESV). God starts small. In fact, He asks us to begin with stewarding the little island known as ourselves.
We are set up as the stewards of this one precious life God has given us. Meaning, we are given the responsibility to skillfully manage the spheres and resources God has given us — our bodies, our spiritual growth, our relationships, our homes and spaces, our callings and professions.
The idea of a steward is found in Scripture when the Apostle Paul reminded us that, “It is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). This word refers to a proprietor of a house who has been entrusted with the management of overseeing all of the household affairs. Imagine a trusty butler of a stately British estate who is as old as the walls themselves and knows the history of the manor, the list of household quirks, the state of the fields and crops, as well as the welfare of the employees beneath him.
In like manner, we, too, are a spiritual house, being built by God to express His glory in the management of our affairs — our very lives. Let me ask you, friend. What has God given you to steward today? Perhaps it’s a commitment you began when your horizon was clear but now has grown cluttered. Or maybe it’s slogging through the long “middle” of a college degree that feels as if it will never end. Or perhaps your prayers have grown dusty and dry.
Begin & Go
I, too, have been there. Many times, in fact. Speaking from personal experience, I have found that when I have an overly full plate, I am not able to faithfully steward what the Lord has asked of me in my particular season. But there is a simple phrase that I call to mind when I find myself with a stack of commitments that need managing or when I embark on a new season: “Begin as you mean to go on, and go on as you began, and let the Lord be all in all to you.”1
This little proverb has neatly separated itself into three easy steps so we can remain faithful in what we have begun:
1. Begin as you mean to go…
No one intends for their first steps of a fresh task or season to be shaky, uncertain, or half-hearted. Before we give our yes, it’s important to evaluate what is needed to make those first steps strong and seasoned with wisdom and grace.
2. Go on as you began…
Sometimes when pressing toward the goal, the original vision can grow lackluster or the grass can seem greener on the other side of the commitment. It’s here that it is important that we go on as we began — in faithfulness.
3. Let Jesus be your all in all…
In the midst of our journeys, we must keep Jesus as first place in our hearts and lives. When our focus remains on Him and not on our progress, imperfections, or willpower … we will have everything we need for a faithful life.
This stirring quote sheds light on how we wind up unfaithfully tending to things: “If you look to Christ for your beginnings, beware of looking to yourself for your endings. He is Alpha. See to it that you make Him Omega also. If you begin in the Spirit you must not hope to be made perfect by the flesh.”2
Oh, how true that can be! We can begin with Christ-infused intentions, but, after the passing of time, our striving selves can begin to pick up the slack and put our shoulder into what is dragging behind — creating a rules-based, life-draining approach to being disciplined rather than doing all as an offering of worship unto Jesus from beginning to end.
Let’s bolster our tired habits, worn-out resolve, empty endurance, and less-than-enthused outlook with a reminder that where there is a responsibility, there is also an ability to respond in Jesus! And He is able to supply a response befitting a gracious steward — a wise woman whose well-curated life and soul reflect the One who created her.
Below are just a handful of areas to review and refresh as the Lord guides you. I pray they breathe hope and life into your routines, responsibilities, and commitments.
Cultivating faithfulness where we have lost vision
A Reflective Starting Place
Pressing on in spiritual growth
- What have I left off or left out in my prayer times? Are there things I have stopped praying for because God didn’t seem to answer or because I forgot?
- Is there a Bible reading plan I did not finish? Why not? Have I ever read through the entirety of the Word of God? What’s holding me back?
- What Scripture passages have grown hazy in my memory? What passages have I begun to memorize but never fully mastered?
- Are there areas of serving and turning outward to bless the Body of Christ that I have grown inconsistent in or stopped investing in because of busyness or some other reason?
A starting point: Be inspired by the faithful lives of others! Read about Richard Wurmbrand who memorized 366 verses on overcoming fear that were greatly instrumental when he was imprisoned for his faith. Or, be inspired by George Müller’s prayer life. He faithfully prayed for the salvation of two men for over 50 years! Only one was saved before he died, but the other man was saved as a result of his funeral service.
- Who needs a fresh expression of love in my life?
- What relationships have I not expressed gratefulness toward?
- Are there areas of unforgiveness in my heart toward someone that is preventing me from being able to love well?
- Do I contribute to my friendships, or do I have a habit of merely receiving wisdom, encouragement, and practical help from my friends?
- What often gets in the way of cultivating meaningful, Christ-focused friendships with others?
A starting point: Look to Jesus’ example! When I grow tired of loving others well, I head to the Word of God for a fresh look at His sacrificial love. The “one another” passages in Scripture are a wonderful place to start, as is 1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 4:7–11.
Tending to the homefront
- What are the top three untidy areas in my living space?
- Are there tired and unusable items I am using and/or displaying in my home that need to be retired or repurposed so that it can be an inviting living space?
- Is there anything that goes chronically neglected when I tend to my home? Why?
- What projects around my living space have not been finished?
A starting point: Make plans to tackle one of the questions above. Set aside an afternoon and take a single step toward bringing order to your home. You’ll be so glad you did!
Excelling in the workplace
- Do I have ungodly attitudes toward my boss or coworkers that need to be refined and retuned according to God’s Spirit?
- Are there routines that need refreshing in order to be more present for the day or work week ahead? For example, are there things that I can do the night before or during the weekend that would smooth the start of the day or week?
- Are there areas I can intentionally grow in, developing skills that would bring strength to my workplace?
- What negative habits have I allowed in to my work ethic, and how would Jesus ask me to reconsecrate these areas in faithfulness? For example: being chronically late, checking social media during work hours, participating in unedifying conversations, etc.
A starting point: Spend some time in prayer seeking the Lord for His help in how you answered the questions above. What practical steps is He leading you toward that would further bring Him glory as you head to work?
Be Found Faithful
In our every pursuit, we must remember that faithfulness is not something we can produce in and of our own strength. Rather, it is a fruit of the Spirit that is naturally produced within us as we abide in Christ. (See Galatians 5:22–23.)
Friends, let’s be among those who begin as we mean to go, and then go on as we began — all from a posture of inviting Christ to be our All in all. If we do, we will surely hear this refrain from our precious Lord on the day we see Him face to face: “Well done, good and faithful servant…” (Matt. 25:21).