I believe in new starts. A Methodist can never be content with staying at stage one. Besides, while we Methodists believe in the power of Christ to save our souls, we also recognize our capacity to neglect our souls, which sometimes leads to backsliding, which in turn makes a renewed start necessary. We Methodists don’t “believe” in backsliding, as some have accused us, but we’re honest enough to confess a fact when it stares us in the face, and we’re sensitive enough to our spiritual condition that we can tell the difference.
All of which is to say that I rejoice in new starts. For that reason I look forward to every Monday morning, every new month, every birthday, and especially every New Year. I take inventory at the year’s end, not of my finances but of my soul. Where am I now, compared to where I was last year at this time? What is the state of my prayer life, my use of my resources (especially my time), and my relationship to others? How is my covenant with my Lord, and how shall I renew that covenant as a new year begins?
The United Methodist Hymnal has a Charles Wesley hymn for the New Year. There’s no evidence that he wrote the hymn for this purpose, but it fits.
Come, let us use the grace divine,
and all with one accord,
in a perpetual covenant join
ourselves to Christ the Lord;
give up ourselves, through Jesus’ power,
his name to glorify;
and promise in this sacred hour,
for God to live and die.
I like that! It isn’t as cozy as some hymns and choruses but it treats us like spiritual grown-ups, folks with the sense to know that we can be better than we are, and that God expects as much of us. It reminds us that grace not only saves us, but that we can use grace in joining ourselves to our Lord. And that Jesus gives us the power to glorify his name, and that this is a sacred hour, one in which we can promise to live and die for our God.
That makes a person want to throw back the shoulders and march for the Kingdom. There’s some land that the Philistines have held too long; it’s time we claimed it for Christ. And by “the land” I don’t mean some exterior cause, but contested territory in my own soul that rightly belongs to our Lord.
So it’s a new year, 2014, and the Wesleyan accent says, “Claim it for Christ! Who can imagine what He cherishes for us in this coming year?”