The 27th of December is the feast day of Saint John, the patron Saint of our church. Although we have a mass on the day itself everyone is usually recovering from Christmas, so it’s our custom to keep the feast on the first Sunday after Christmas. This year, of course, that meant New Year’s Day. I decided, rather than to talk about Saint John, to touch on the subject of resolutions for the coming year. Here’s what I said in my sermon.
Well, here we are – New Year’s Day and in Church when I’m sure we’d all really like to be in bed recovering from the late night last night. Don’t worry – I’ve no intention of keeping you long this morning. I just have a few thoughts, at the beginning of this New Year, about resolutions for the coming month.
After the indulgence of Christmas – all that food and wine – among the most popular New Year resolutions are new diets and new exercise regimes as people make the decision to get themselves back into shape. So – what diet to adopt? What sort of exercise to do?
Don’t worry – I have some ideas. Friday’s edition of The Times carried a really interesting article about a particular diet and exercise regime which I’ll share with you this morning. It’s not new. In fact, it dates back to before Queen Victoria came to the throne. 1834 to be exact, and it’s found in a book called British Manly Exercises – it’s just been discovered by researchers at Cambridge University. Though I’m sure that, despite its title, it’s equally applicable to women.
One way, it suggests, to attain the highest condition, is to drink nothing but cold beer and cider, avoiding all other liquids save for half a pint of red wine after dinner. The article goes on to say that the diet proved popular – not much surprise there then!
As for what to eat, the daily diet should consist of lean meat, stale bread and biscuits. And as for what to do about your five-a-day – no vegetable matter was permitted!
And as for exercise – you should increase your exercise gradually to 20 to 25 miles of walking or running a day. Also encouraged were swimming, rowing and climbing trees. The manual was, after all, aimed at young gentleman from the middle and upper classes who had nothing better to do like actually work for a living.
Well – we all know that a diet like that would never work and would probably make you less fit, not more! And that the proposed exercise regime is just impractical. Fads change – and the latest celebrity diet or exercise regime will remain popular for a while until it is overtaken by something else.
And, of course, the problem with any of these programmes is sticking to them. It’s not long before people start to think, “Oh, a day off won’t hurt, I can make up for it next week!” And before you know what has happened you’re not doing anything at all – it’s all gone by the wayside. As for all those gym memberships that people take out in January, Which, the consumer organisation, calculate that every year people will waste £37 million on gym memberships, exercise and slimming classes they never use.
Getting fit is one of the top new year resolutions. And in case you’ve been thinking about it yourself, I’d like to encourage you to take getting fit seriously in the coming year. Only the fitness I want you to think about is not your physical fitness but your spiritual fitness. And the great things about a spiritual fitness regime are that it doesn’t go out of fashion and that it’s easy. It’s been the same since hundreds of years before the time of Jesus
It’s totally straightforward. We even used to sing a chorus about it on Church Army beach missions so that children could remember:
Read your Bible, pray every day, pray every day, pray every day.
Read your Bible, pray every day, if you want to grow.
Simple isn’t it? Basic spiritual disciplines. Read your Bible, pray every day. And to that I’d add weekly attendance at Church worship – because Christianity is a communal religion and we do it better when we do it with other people, just like any health club really. It’s a group activity and we can help and support each other. Jesus attended worship every week – how we can expect to cope with less? So, there you have it – a simple straightforward diet of just three things.
So why – like all those things people stop doing to keep themselves physically fit – do Christians all too often think that not keeping up these basic and essential spiritual disciplines from time to time won’t matter, or even think not doing them at all won’t matter! It’s not an arduous regime – but it is important for your spiritual health and it does need discipline because it needs to become a habit. Or, if you’re not careful, after that initial bout of enthusiasm when you first become a Christian it all starts to drop off and before you know where you are there is no prayer, no Bible reading, and little or no worship – and you don’t notice the difference.
Read your Bible. Scripture is vital. It’s one of the ways that God speaks to us. And it’s how we learn about Jesus, what he wants of us, how he expects us to live.
Pray every day. If you don’t talk to God it shouldn’t be a surprise if he doesn’t talk back. Prayer is a conversation. And just as God listens to us so we need to listen to God.
And join together with other Christians in worship more often, if weekly attendance isn’t your habit. It’s what God expects. The Church is the body of Christ and it needs to work as a body, not as a collection of individuals all doing their own thing.
These three spiritual disciples are all things God wants you, encourages you, to do. And if you make a resolution to keep up those three spiritual disciplines this year – if you decide that you want to improve your spiritual health – I guarantee that this time next year you will feel a whole lot better. You’ll feel a whole lot closer to God and a whole lot more fulfilled in your Christian life. And you may even find that what God wants from you, what God’s will is for you, is also a whole lot clearer!