This sounds like a commercial line from a weight loss clinic, a fitness club, a hair salon, or a skin cream company, but it’s not. It’s about making decisions about spiritual well-being. Are you satisfied with ‘you’ at the beginning of a new year? This is the time of year we generally look at ourselves and make resolutions for self-improvement. We often write them down or tell someone so we’ll feel some pressure (encouragement) to stick to them. As you think about ‘a new you for the new year,’ please consider these common clichés and their spiritual applications.
THIS YEAR, LET’S ‘PUT OUR HAND TO THE PLOW.’
The Christian life is compared to running a race (Hebrews 12:1-2), winning a fight (1 Corinthians 9:27), sailing a sea (2 Timothy 4:6), ‘departure,’ analusis, literally means ‘to loose the ropes of a ship and let it drift way’), and plowing a field. Jesus said, ‘No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:62). A farmer who looks back while plowing will have crooked rows. A Christian who looks back longingly to the life he has left behind will find that he strays from the ‘strait and narrow way’ (Matthew 7:13-14). This year, let’s keep our eyes focused on the pearly gate of ‘the city laid foursquare’ (Revelation 21:16), and never look back at the devil’s glittering trinket jewels.
THIS YEAR, LET’S ‘PUT OUR NOSE TO THE GRINDSTONE.’
We use this phrase to refer to applying oneself to a dreaded task. Is there a spiritual duty we need to do which we have been putting off? Perhaps it is obeying the Gospel. Have I believed, repented, confessed, and been immersed for the remission of my sins (Acts 2:38; Galatians 3:27; Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21)? Perhaps I need to make a public confession of sin, but have dreaded humbling myself and asking for prayers (James 5:16). Perhaps I have offended a brother and have put off getting things straightened out. It’s time to do it (Matthew 18:15-18). ‘Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself, when thou art come into the hand of thy friend; go, humble thyself, and make sure thy friend’ (Proverbs 6:3). It could be the grindstone of a bad habit–drinking, smoking, cursing, gossipping–that I need to break. Let’s go ahead, ‘put our nose to the grindstone,’ and get right with God and others.
THIS YEAR, LET’S ‘PUT OUR EARS TO THE GROUND.’
We use this phrase to refer to listening for feedback from associates. It comes from the practice the Indians had of listening for approaching horses or buffalo by literally putting an ear to the ground. We are wise to listen to the constructive criticisms of those who love us. ‘Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning…he that regardeth reproof is prudent…A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool’ (Proverbs 9:9; Proverbs 15:5; Proverbs 17:10). Those ‘dull of hearing’ were criticized by Jesus (Matthew 13:15). This applies to stopping the ears to God’s Word (Psalm 58:4) and refusing to hear God’s messengers (Acts 7:51, called ‘uncircumcized’ ears here). We should also be open to those who have been offended by our actions who come to talk.
THIS YEAR, LET’S ‘PUT OUR MIND IN GEAR.’
If you had a daydreaming employee or student under you, you might tell him to ‘get his mind in gear,’ which means ‘concentrate on the task at hand.’ The young Solomon was told to serve God with a ‘willing mind’ (1 Chronicles 28:9). God says that we must ‘renew our minds’ (Romans 12:2, ‘renew,’ anakainosis, literally ‘renovate’), because they can become ‘faint’ (Hebrews 12:3, ekluo, ‘relaxed’). If we have just been going through the motions of worship and Christians living, it’s time to ‘put our mind in gear’ and get serious about serving God with all our heart, soul, and mind.
THIS YEAR, LET’S ‘PUT OUR SHOULDER TO THE WHEEL.’
If a weight is small, a man might move it with the strength of his wrist; if it is of medium weight, it might require the strength of his arm; but if it is heavy, he will have to put his shoulder to it. We use the phrase ‘put your shoulder to the wheel’ to mean ‘give this project your full strength.’ Christianity is not to be approached with ‘wrist’ or ‘arm’ strength, put with all the force of the ‘shoulder.’ Jesus said, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind’ (Matthew 22:37). During this year, let’s give ‘all diligence to make our calling and election sure’ (2 Peter 1:10, ‘diligence,’ spoude, ‘speed, by implication, dispatch, eagerness, earnestness’).
THIS YEAR, LET’S ‘PUT OUR BACK TO THE WALL.’
One with his ‘back to the wall’ realizes the gravity of a situation. He has but one option—fight. Christians need to appreciate the gravity of the situation in which they daily exist. We are in a free-for-all-no-holds-barred-winner-take-all fight for our souls. We are not playing war games or firing blanks. This is for real. Nobody gets out of this world alive physically (until Jesus comes), and few get out alive spiritually (Matthew 7:13; Ephesians 2:1). This may be the year that determines my destiny. Am I taking my battle with Satan seriously (1 Peter 5:8)? Have I strapped on my armor (Ephesians 6:11-18)? Will I survive? Will my family?
THIS YEAR, LET’S ‘PUT OUR FEET TO THE FIRE.’
A man whose feet are held to the fire tends to become enthusiastic! To put a person’s ‘feet to the fire’ is to make him/her responsible for his/her actions. God does hold us responsible for our actions. ‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad’ (2 Corinthians 5:10). Jesus even spoke of each word we use being significant: ‘…every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned’ (Matthew 12:36-37).
God likes enthusiastic people. Phinehas was given a covenant of peace because he was ‘zealous for his God’ (Numbers 25:13). Dorcas was loved by many because she was full of good works (Acts 9:36). God redeemed and purified us that we might be ‘a peculiar people, zealous of good works’ (Titus 2:14). We ‘are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them’ (Ephesians 2:10). God wants us to ‘consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works’ (Hebrews 10:24).
THIS YEAR, LET’S ‘PUT OUR EYES ON THE PRIZE.’
A man with his eyes on a prize has it as the object of his heart, the apple of his eye. He wants nothing more; he will settle for nothing else. Paul had his eyes on the prize of heaven: ‘Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3:13-14). May our eyes, too, stay on the prize until we hold it in our hands.