We’re a few weeks into all those resolutions we made on January first. Or if you’re like me, the resolutions you didn’t make but the secreted whispers to self of, “I’m going to do better in 2019.” And I don’t know about you, but on this twenty-fifth day of January in the year 2019, I am not doing so well.
I have a work deadline for the end of the month that has me fatigued mentally, physically, and spiritually. I come to my desk each morning and stare at the blank page in front of me and think, “There is nothing good left inside me to contribute,” and yet, contribute I must because the project ahead of me is unfinished.
Perhaps you feel the same. We live an unfinished life and every turn reveals more unfinished work in it. The angst inside us to arrive, feel complete, and fully accomplish eats away at us, a constant reminder that we’re not where we want to be. My secreted commitments to “do better” this year and your New Year Resolutions become eclipsed by real life instead of the easy, bullet-point, black and white steps we made them out to be. We can’t even compete with ourselves.
I come to the word of God this morning drained of any “candoitiveness” I might have brought in any other January of any other year. I cannot do it, not this year. I barely have the mental fortitude to brew the next cup of coffee I need. My eyes are strained, my brain is muddy, my heart is cast down, my arms are weak, my aim is blurry, and my labor feels empty. I am of the belief that in my weakness I am made strong and so I keep waiting for that strength to come. I think of myself as the passive agent, receiving strength when I am unable to do a thing about it. But this morning I read Hebrews 12, “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead.”
I have sometimes thought of the latter part of this passage as something someone else would do for me. That someone would strengthen my tired hands and weakened knees because I certainly can’t. But that’s not what the writer of Hebrews is saying at all. It’s a directive: discipline yourself, strengthen your tired hands and weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet. This is not a passage for the passive recipient. This is a passage for the one who aches, whose discipline doesn’t feel enjoyable, who struggles to endure, who is weary of “the race that lies before” them. This is a passage for the resolute and the failures, the dreamers and the weak, the ones who proclaimed their commitments and those who secreted them away.
At first I am heartened, but it only lasts a moment because the race that lies before me today is still due on January 30th, and pithy devotionals and personal revelations won’t suffice. I need something more than discipline, more than strength. I need something I cannot discipline my way through or toward. I need Jesus. I need to look to Him, author and finisher of my faith and of my unfinished life.
As you head into the rest of 2019, the resolutions you had a few weeks back diminishing, I encourage you as I encouraged myself this morning: read the chapter in context and read your life in context too. Just as we can only be disciplined when we “look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our race,” we will also arrive on the shores of 2020 unfinished, incomplete, and irresolute. But, and don’t miss this, just as we arrive on the shores of 2020 unfinished, we will someday arrive on the shores of eternity complete in Christ. For all the discipline we have worked in ourselves, our Father’s love and discipline of us works far more—and the best part is no resolution of our own can increase or decrease his love or discipline.
God loves us as we are today, not as we envision ourselves to be tomorrow. And He disciplines those He loves today. Today, right now, as we squirm with all our unfinishedness, He sets Jesus before us showing us how it’s done and how it’s already been done on our behalf. Our work deadlines and exercise regimens and commitments to do better pale in comparison to the work He’s already accomplished. This doesn’t meet our deadline or get us in shape, but it does remind us that all the unfinished things around and within us, are under the good eye of our sovereign Creator, who finishes everything He begins, even you.