Happy New Year! I pray 2015 finds you healthy, happy, and thankful that you’re seeing the beginning of another year.
I’d like to open this new year with a story of murder…well, not really, but it’s in the midst of this type of passage that I found a beautiful nugget of wisdom the Lord showed me as I was reading last night.
When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. 3 When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, 5 but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected. 6 “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? 7 You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” Genesis 4:2-7
Now, we know that Cain killed his brother. It’s the very next part of the story, that I just didn’t feel the need to include since that’s not the lesson I wish to teach in this blog post (although please don’t murder, it’s a terrible thing). However, notice that just before Cain killed Abel, the Lord spoke to him, “…But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” (Genesis 4:7, NLT)
The New King James version reads a bit differently, saying “Its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” In other words, there will be a ruler…either sin will win or you will win.
The word “rule” is interesting to me because it implies an ongoing action. This is not a one-time occurrence. God doesn’t say, “Sin is knocking at your door, and you should beat it this one time.” He says to rule over it and become its master!
Several words jumped out at me when I looked up the definition of “rule”: control, conduct, and practice. Practicing the right conduct over and over again until we gain control over sin.
I love this warning from God. I love it because I saw something a bit different here as I was reading it last night. In this passage, God is pleading with Cain to exercise the practice…the fruit of the Spirit…of self-discipline.
I can almost hear God here saying to Cain…or to me, in the difficult times…Come on, you can do this! I know it will be hard, but you have the ability to control this. Just push yourself.
[Clears throat] Ok, you know what time of year it is. You know I’m about to relate this passage to that horrible thing everyone’s been swearing off altogether, and very publicly on social media. [Insert dreadful horror movie music] New Year’s resolutions! [Horror movie music gets louder….]
But seriously. Isn’t that the reason we stop making New Year’s resolutions? It’s not because they’re stupid. I can promise you resolving to do the dishes every night before going to bed is not stupid. Determining to finish an important project you started years ago or committing to lose twenty pounds is not ridiculous
We stop making resolutions in the new year because we have failed too many times in the past and, quite frankly, just don’t want to disappoint ourselves with failure again. Honestly, who wants to say as the year draws to a close, “Nope, I totally missed the mark. My kitchen is a wreck most of the week, and I actually gained thirty pounds!” Talk about admitting defeat.
And I do agree we sometimes get a little carried away. Making a list of ten giant goals you’d like to accomplish – that you haven’t even touched in the past year – might be a bit overwhelming. There’s no way I’m going to paint a mural, write a book, read 47 books written by other people, learn sign language, and exercise 4 days a week. And that’s only five things that I wouldn’t even come close to doing.
But to swear them off altogether? I think we should give ourselves a little more credit than that.
I have often read that willpower is like a muscle. When you exercise it to do something you’ve been putting off, it becomes stronger. (Remember the feelings of joy you got because you finally did that thing you’d been putting off? And you just want to bottle those feelings of joy? So you post it all over Facebook because you want everyone to see that thing you finally did! 🙂 ) And the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes.
This is how you gain control over sin. By exercising your willpower muscle over and over and over again. Until you look like SNL’s Hans or Franz inside. And sin doesn’t want to mess with you anymore because you’re ready to pump it up (you have to read that in a thick Austrian accent because trust me, it’s way funnier).
Making resolutions is a noble way to become the master over sin. So might I suggest one resolution we could all benefit from? I think it’s safe to say we all need more self-discipline – and what a worthy practice to develop since it’s a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). What if we just aspired to practice exercising that muscle? What if your resolution for 2015 is to practice more self-control?
What’s great about this is God says you can do it, according to the verse above. He is urging you to do it!
And if you need to attach one or two specific, intentional things to help you practice (reading a book of the Bible each month, adding more green vegetables to your diet, etc.), more power to ya!
When you fail to exercise the muscle one night – or one week – don’t be discouraged. Just practice again the next week. Remember, you’re building a muscle. It doesn’t disappear altogether if you stop using it once or twice.
Now fast forward in your mind to New Year’s Eve next year for just a minute…If I could end this year by saying that I am much more self-disciplined, I’d be ecstatic, and I think you would be, too. And if that were the case, look out 2016 resolutions! There’s no telling what we could do!
The picture I chose for this post is of my son, who is a swimmer – and we all know the self-discipline required to be good at any sport. He is up at 5:30 every morning of the week conditioning his body in the water, even throughout the winter (it’s an outdoor pool!). So this is your mental image when you want to give in and let sin win…take the plunge and rule! 🙂