For today’s exhortation, I want to talk to you a little about personal inventory. The last days of December are a great time for us to step back and think about the entire year, and try in some way, to gauge our spiritual progress. We ask: Are we more sanctified now than we were a year ago?
Do you ever ask this question?
I think we should ask this question, but we should beware of two mistakes. The first mistake is to instantly theologize the answer. We think: Of course I’ve made progress. God said I would. And we just don’t do any type of personal reflection.
The second mistake is to answer the question in terms of our daily disciplines. We can immediately mistranslate the question of our spiritual progress to mean whether we read the Bible and prayed enough — which are both good things, but that doesn’t really tell us whether we are more like Jesus a year later.
And that is the question. Are we more sanctified? Are we more like Jesus now than last year? And we should ask that, in that way, because sometimes we will feel like the answer is no.
Maybe we feel less like Jesus now than we did a year ago. We don’t feel like we’ve not learned as much, or loved as much, or killed enough sin, or stepped out of the boat when we should. Maybe we feel like, compared to previous years, 2015 was one big blah of spiritual progress. And if you feel that way, there is something I want to tell you. Something you need to feel.
It’s that you are more like Jesus now — and will be more transformed into the image of Jesus — even if, by your assessment, it doesn’t feel that way. Becoming more like Jesus isn’t a straight line. It’s more like a zig-zag.
But your destiny is set. Those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). We know this truth, right? We know this verse. And we understand it more not by skipping straight to it and bypassing sincere reflection, but by coming to it through sincere reflection.
And if that sincere reflection leaves us disappointed, then we hear the words of God speak over us and remind us that we are his — that he has united us to Jesus so that all of his benefits are ours. And that is never less true at one moment that at any other. We are never more adopted by God more than we are right now. You are never more his son or daughter than you are right now.
So if you feel that you made less progress in 2015 than you hoped, or if you feel that you stalled more this year than the last, Take heart, you are becoming more like Jesus. It’s a zig-zag. Keep running. Keep trusting. Even though you can’t see it, you are looking more like him and one day you will look just like him because you will see him as he his (1 John 3:2).
And now I want to lead us in a prayer of confession that I have adapted from an old prayer called “Year’s End.” It’s found in a book of prayers called the Valley of Vision. So I’ll pray this prayer and then we will have a time of silent confession.
Prayer of Confession
Father of truest love, you are good when you give and you are good when you take away. You are good when the sun shines upon us and when the night sets in over us. You have loved us before the foundation of the world, and in that love you have rescued us. And in fact, you love us still, and you have never regretted saving us, even when our hearts are like stone and we doubt and we are ungrateful.
Your goodness has been with us another year, leading us through the zig-zag slowly but surely. In our retreat you have helped us advance. When we have been beaten back, you have given us headway. Your grace has been with us this past year and will be with us in the next. So we hoist up the sail and draw up the anchor with you as the Pilot of our past and future.
We praise you that even though our eyes are veiled to the waters ahead, you will be with us. You have been with us, you are with us, and you will always be with us, because of your love. Lead us now, Father, as we come to you in silent confession. . . .