New Year resolutions, anyone?

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Last Sunday, the Sunday after Christmas, was also the feast day of Saint John. Saint John is the patron, of course, of our church here in Caterham. However, instead of preaching about Saint John I decided to think about resolutions for the New Year. Here’s what I said.

Well – it’s fast approaching New Year’s Day. I wonder if any of you have thought about what resolutions you might make for the coming year?

Don’t worry – I’ve no intention of keeping you long this morning. I just have a few thoughts, as we look towards the New Year, about resolutions for the coming month.

In a normal year, 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. 

And I wouldn’t mind betting that at the end of this year, after all we have had to endure with lockdowns and tiers, that a lot of people have been thinking about how much they’ve been eating, how much they’ve been drinking, and how much – or how little – they’ve been exercising. 

So – January the 1st gives us an opportunity for a new start. What diet to adopt? What sort of exercise to do? How do we make ourselves feel better after the difficult year we’ve had.

And to help you, there are no end of magazines and books and TV programmes that will tell you what diet and what exercise regime to follow. I know someone who has already put in their supermarket order for delivery on the 2nd – full of salads, fresh fruit, 0% yoghurt …

Well, don’t worry if you don’t know where to start on a new health regime. I’m going to share with you some ideas from what was a ground-breaking book  on diet and exercise when it was first published

I came across it a couple of years ago. Though I must apologise at this point, because it’s only for men – though I’m sure anyone can follow its advice if you really want to. It’s a book called British Manly Exercise – and it was published in 1834, shortly before Queen Victoria came to the throne.

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. Apparently, when the book was published, the diet quickly proved to be very popular – not much surprise there then!

And 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 and that it’s a great deal cheaper than joining a gym. It’s been the same since hundreds of years before the time of Jesus, and it was a regime that the earliest Christians knew and followed right from the start!

It’s totally straightforward. We even used to sing a chorus about it on Church Army beach missions so that children could remember – and if it wasn’t the case that singing is currently banned in church, I’d teach it to you all this morning:

Read your Bible, pray every day, pray every day, pray every day.
Read your Bible, pray every day, if you want to grow,

if you want to grow, if you want to grow.
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 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 can be here in person, or by joining in online worship, or watching or listening to a broadcast – but engaging in communal worship has been the centre of Christian life since the beginning of the Church.

In a way, that’s the bit that’s a bit like joining a gym or an exercise class or a dieting group. It’s much more fun if you’re doing it with other people. Jesus attended worship every week – how we can expect to cope with less? 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 Jesus wants you to do. 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 Jesus 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.