A Different New Year's Resolution

I love January. I get excited when the decorations come down, the schedule returns to normal, and I get a fresh stab at meal planning and house cleaning. I don't always set actual New Year's resolutions. but I like to take stock of things and pray through what I want to see change in my life in the fresh year.

In the digital age, we're all just an Instagram post or Tweet away from suggestions on goal-setting and goal-keeping for the new year. Many of these things are helpful and encouraging. But most of them are individualistic--it's about me. My diet, my exercise, my home, my wardrobe, my job...

I wrote the book Real because I struggle with this--a desire to isolate myself and think individualistically. But what if our goals for the new year included plans to dig deeper in relationships with others? God hasn't placed us here alone--He gave us one another for a purpose. And one of the ways we walk together in the Christian life is through confessing sin.

Christian friendships are a gift from God to spur us on in following Jesus—to help us to keep turning from sin and toward Christ. When we confess our sin to others, we gain allies in the fight against that sin. The truth of God’s plan is that we can fight sin better together than we can on our own.

We can learn a couple of methods of fighting sin from Greek mythology. The Sirens were island-dwelling women whose enchanting voices lured sailors to their deaths. Once their melodies were heard, there was no resisting their charms, and many a crew met their demise as they shipwrecked on the Sirens’ island. But two crews managed to escape the danger of the Sirens through two different strategies.

The Odysseus Tactics

When Odysseus saw that he and his men would have to pass by the Sirens’ island, he commanded the crew to put wax in their ears so they could not hear the song. But he wanted to hear it, so he had his men tie him with strong cords to the ship’s mast. The ropes kept him safe from danger, the wax kept his crew on track, and the ship passed by unscathed.

Psalm 1 suggests we do something similar when it comes to the temptations of sin:

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers. (Psalm 1 v 1,)

The picture here is of someone who is gradually carried along by the tide of “sinners” who reject God. Happiness and blessing come to the one who avoids a lifestyle that glorifies sin and wickedness, and who avoids the temptations that lead them in that direction.

This doesn’t mean we should avoid any contact with people who aren’t Christians—far from it. But like Odysseus’ crew, we must be vigilant to avoid the Sirens’ song of temptation—otherwise we will be carried away. Strength and health don’t come from laziness, whether physical or spiritual. We have to identify the messages and temptations we face on a daily basis and take steps to avoid them.

It’s a sign of maturity when we begin recognizing what leads us to temptation, and take steps to avoid those things. This is something that we can do in community, in part through accountability. True accountability involves a broken heart and a listening ear. Loving accountability says, “I hate that there is still sin in the world, and I hate that it keeps ensnaring you. I am here to fight with you, to pray for you, and to encourage you in your fight.”

This kind of accountability also encourages our hearts as we see prayers answered and battles won. We won’t win every battle, but the Sprit does empower us to increasing obedience and fruitfulness. Seeing God answer prayer in another person’s life gives me hope in God’s ability to change my own.

The Orpheus Tactic

But Odysseus’ method for dealing with the Sirens was not the only one, nor is it always the most effective. After all, any of the men could easily have removed the wax from their ears and steered the ship off course. Our best weapon against sin is rejoicing in something better than the Siren song of the world around us.

This is what happened when the mythological musician Orpheus sailed with Jason and the Argonauts and they passed the Sirens’ island. Orpheus’ music was so sweet, the Sirens’ song lost its allure.

When we rightly view God as our loving Father and Creator, and when we meditate on his supreme worth, the joy we find in tasting and seeing his goodness will cause earthly joys to fade. But it’s not a one-time thing. This is a song we must repeat over and over again in order to drown out the allure of the world’s song.

We see this in the next verse of Psalm 1:

“… but [blessed is the one] whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night. ” (v 2)

The happy person does not delight in things that are opposed to God’s word, but delights in meditating on God’s word. Delighting in the word of God is like soaking up the water of a stream and bearing fruit:

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers. (v 3,)

This brings to mind another fruit-bearing plant—the vine in John 15. Jesus said:

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (v 4-5)

The streams of God’s word in Psalm 1 are now the “Word made flesh” who speaks in John 15. And apart from him, we can do nothing.

We so easily forget we have all we need in Christ. We distrust his goodness and seek the good we want on our own. Or we coast by, easily swayed by every message that sounds promising, rather than fighting to fill our hearts and minds with what is truly good. Instead we must sing a better song in order to drown out the empty promises of the world.

And like the sailors on Orpheus’ ship, it usually helps when someone else sings it to and with us.

This is what it means to “let the message of Christ dwell among [us] richly as [we] teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in [our] hearts” (Colossians 3 v 16). When we join together on Sundays to sing, observe the Lord’s supper, and hear the word taught, or when we gather to pray together, we are like Orpheus, singing a better song to one another. We are reminding one another of what is true, what is real, and what is of supreme worth. We are reminding one another that all those things we thought would satisfy us this past week, truly won’t. In this way we retune our hearts to the song of the gospel and go out to share it with those who haven’t yet tasted and seen.

Part of this post was adapted from my book Real: The Surprising Secret to Deeper Relationships.