Whilst the New Year characteristically demands us to looking forward, setting new goals, making resolutions, re-evaluating their purpose and losing that niggling belly fat, it is not often about looking back!
Sure, we look back at the top 100 musical hits of that year and we reflect somewhat on our achievements and joys...but how often do we look back at our mistakes, our transgressions?
Do we look back and then acknowledge these wrongs? And if so, is acknowledgement enough? Is the identification of sin sufficient in order to move forward?
New Year, but not so new 'me'
I suppose identifying sin is rather easy after you acknowledge that you are indeed a sinner. I know that when I swear I am sinning. When I am gossiping I am also sinning. So I guess the identification part is kind of the first step in the journey towards growing and changing and transforming through Christ.
But what happens if we stop at that stage? What happens if all we do is identify our sins, feel genuinely bad, but then, do little to repent?
When the New Year struck earlier this month, I realistically looked at the year that had just passed; a year that I had not only laughed through but also struggled and cried rather heartily.
I looked back at this year with pity, disappointment, humour. But through looking back, I also identified my lack of remorse...my lack of complete and utter repentance.
Whilst I frequently identified and acknowledged my wrongdoings, this was rarely followed by a truly repentant heart.
So when I looked at 2014, I saw many mistakes, made again and again. And often, they weren't that different at all. But rather they were the same wrongdoings, the same transgressions, the very same hurts time and time again.
What had I learned? And more importantly...why hadn't I evolved over that year?
Surely I should have grown! I would undoubtedly make mistakes! That's a given. But why oh why did I make the same ones so consistently?
So what comes after the acknowledgement stage?
Confession is key. Through confessing to God, we are not only identifying the sins and hardships and struggles within our lives, but we also humbling ourselves. We are asking for his wisdom, his mercy, and his Grace.
But even more than that, confession and repentance should inevitably lead to a forsaking of our sins.
We actually NEED to want to change, right? It's not simply enough to acknowledge that you possibly 'swear too much' or 'tend to gossip'....you also have to confront the sin and repent.
This has become especially difficult for so many of us to grasp because the simple act of acknowledging seems to be an acceptable resolution to so many issues these days. Even apologies infrequently carry the word 'I'm sorry'. Rather many people simply acknowledge the hurt or the wrong doing and follow it up with a, "Well, I apologise that YOU feel that way'!!
And sadly we can often mirror this superficiality with God, especially when we disobey and hurt him.
We simply say, 'Yep Jesus, I'm a sinner' and then we continue on our way without little regard for what we have actually said or done against him.
So repentance is that one step closer to God. It's the step we take when we REALLY desire to change. It's the step that totally humbles us before God, declaring that we cannot change unless we have him by our side. Repentance then, is not only a true acknowledgement of our sins but it's inviting God into the process of renewal. It's that amazing process that invokes the Grace of God; that undeserved, unmerited and unearned favour from God that we so desperately need, yet often discount.
In Proverbs 28:13 it says "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy".
So although we live in a world that often abstains from authentic apologies, humility and even the word 'sorry', we need to go beyond this surface level acknowledgment and truly repent. It is only through this step that we can be humbled, healed and changed.
Alison Barkley lives in Newcastle and is a post graduate student at Deakin University. Alison is serving in the Philippines with an aid organisation.
Alison Barkley's archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/alison-barkley.html