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A week plus into 2023 seems an odd time to write about New Year Resolutions. I do so deliberately because by now most of those resolutions will have been broken. Julia’s ‘dry January’ resolution lasted a week … and yours you ask? Well the only New Year Resolution that I have ever managed to keep … was the resolution not to make any New Year’s Resolutions! Oftentimes, however, the sentiment to change something positively in our lives is commendable, and the turning from an old year to a new year can act as a catalyst to do so, especially if there is a lot of ‘stuff’ in our past we want to get rid of?

Periodically Julia and I go through our cupboards, search the loft and the garage, load our car with all the rubbish (the good stuff goes to the charity shop) and take it down the local dump where we can safely get rid of it all. We hate clutter. Over the years we have visited homes that are totally cluttered – stuff everywhere – because the people we are visiting seem incapable of throwing anything away, ever. And our lives can get like that, sometimes detrimentally so, when the junk of our lives clings on and won’t let go. When an incident or conversations (sometimes dating from way back), a time when we failed (badly perhaps), work troubles, or sin issues hang like a fog. Or when there’s been a diagnosis of ongoing ill health, or some unforeseen drain on our finances that we can neither avoid nor afford. You know that feeling? When it’s hard to get that certain something out of you head and see past ourselves. The past won’t let us move forward, but the future doesn’t seem all that bright either.

Some of us carry small, individual burdens that cause us to walk through life encumbered as though we had a ball and chain round our ankles.  Sometimes there are so many small burdens that the collective weight of these burdens is beginning to be too much for us to carry.  Some of us carry much larger burdens that have simply become too much to bear. You may carry a burden that has come to you completely outside of your control.  You may not even have known how much the burden was weighing you down until you suddenly realized that its weight had actually become unbearable.

Now this may initially sound too simplistic – shallow ‘Christian-talk’ rather than something helpful (I will try and respond to that later) – but God doesn’t want us to carry our burdens.  He wants us to lay them down at the foot of the cross.  He wants us to surrender our heavy loads to him. The Psalmist encourages us to ‘Cast our burdens on the Lord’ (Psalm 55:22) and Jesus himself invites us to ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:28-30).

It takes an act of our own will to give up our burdens.  We can sit in the presence of God and hear him speaking to us but we need to take action today – right here, right now – to allow God to give us the peace we crave by laying down that which causes us pain.  The act of laying down our burden may be just the beginning for us – it may be totally appropriate for us to seek further assistance in finding the relief we need.  Or it may be that a simple act of faith and surrender is all that it needs. When Nelson Mandela finally left prison after many years of unjust incarceration he said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Holding on to ‘stuff’ from the past does not make us strong, it makes us bitter. Letting go of ’stuff’ is not a sign of weakness, it sets us free. Don’t imprison yourself forever.

In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian, weighed down with the weight of so much ‘stuff’ from his past, finds himself on a highway pointing to ‘salvation’. Bunyan tells us that, ‘Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run; but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back. He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a Cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre … [and] as Christian came up to the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble; and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.’

Alas! and did my Saviour bleed

And did my Sovereign die?

Would He devote that sacred head

For sinners such as I?

At the cross, at the cross

Where I first saw the light,

And the burden of my heart rolled away,

It was there by faith I received my sight,

And now I am happy all the day!

Was it for crimes that I had done

He groaned upon the tree?

Amazing pity! grace unknown!

And love beyond degree!

Well might the sun in darkness hide

And shut his glories in,

When Christ, the mighty Maker died,

For man the creature’s sin.

Thus might I hide my blushing face

While His dear cross appears,

Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,

And melt my eyes to tears.

But drops of grief can ne’er repay

The debt of love I owe:

Here, Lord, I give myself away

’Tis all that I can do.

At the cross, at the cross

Where I first saw the light,

And the burden of my heart rolled away,

It was there by faith I received my sight,

And now I am happy all the day!

~ Isaac Watts (1674-1748) & Ralph Hudson (1843-1901)

Jim Binney

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