Most New Year’s messages are all about fresh starts and new beginnings. There’s something about the New Year that gets us pumped up and ready to take on the world.
But once we get past the first couple of days in January, it often feels like the excitement wears off a bit and we realize we’re still dealing with the same stuff we were dealing with last year. The calendar may have turned the page; but stressful relationships, financial worries, wayward children, anxiety, stress, all the things that were heavy on our hearts last year tag along to the New Year with us.
What an encouraging message, right! But hang with me. I’m going somewhere extremely important with this.
Our theme for our conferences this year is Choose to Keep Going. Laura and I were struggling with what to do when, all of a sudden, I remembered this phrase that was on a shirt I had been given as a gift. We took one look at it, and we both instantly felt the Holy Spirit giving us a loud Amen!
As we started throwing ideas around, the movie Rocky quickly came to mind. The main message in this iconic movie is simple but profound: never give up. In the words of Rocky himself, “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
To be honest, I haven’t watched the Rocky movies in a very long time, but I remember vividly how bloody and beaten he would get fighting in the ring. I remember seeing it the first time and cringing, begging him in my mind to quit and admit defeat. But he’d get back up time and time again, ready for another punch. He believed he could win, and sheer determination kept him in the ring.
But since we don’t live in movies and we have to function in real life, how we can put this principle into action? How do we keep going when everything inside us wants to quit?
The simple truth is, life throws us punches. We are in a daily battle with the enemy of our soul; and sometimes we feel a bit like Sylvester Stallone, bloodied and worn down, like the underdog in our own story. We’ve done all we know to do, but we’re still waiting for our breakthrough.
I want to help us draw strength from a model of perseverance in the Bible, the Apostle Paul. He went from persecuting and killing Christians to writing almost 25 percent of the New Testament. He was fiercely determined and never afraid to face hard, complex issues head-on. And most of the beautiful letters that he wrote to encourage believers were written while he was in prison, literally beaten and bloodied. He got hit and flogged and beaten over and over again, but he continually chose to keep moving forward, to do the work God had called him to do.
Rocky has nothing on Paul!
Paul’s legacy is immense and full of encouragement for us to never give up. Some of my favorite verses penned by those blood-stained hands include:
“…because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Galatians 6:9 (NIV)
“…Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV)
“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
1 Corinthians 13:6-7 (NIV)
You may feel like an underdog. You may feel like you can’t take one more punch from life. You may feel discouraged, anticipating that this year will just be more of the same old same old. You may feel like you’re in the middle of that boxing ring, and you simply want out. I get it. I’ve been there, my friend.
But let the sweet words of Paul, a hero of the faith, give you encouragement when you feel down. He was down too, but he got back up because of his love for Christ and the work he knew he was called to do. Forget the past and press on toward the prize. And remember, failure simply means that you’re trying something new. Failure is your friend!
And take a moment and ponder this: if you do give up, you will never know what could have been. You might have been a day, a minute, a second away from the prize you were longing for.
I believe the only true failure we face in this life is never even trying…or quitting too soon.
So let’s remember the sage advice of our movie hero, it’s not about how hard you get hit, and then let's add Paul’s words to that sentiment to give us that knockout punch we need to keep going when life throws us down. And in the midst of the punches you’re taking in life right now, remember that you can do all things through Christ. Jesus is right there in the ring with you!
And with Jesus by your side, you might get hit, but you can choose to keep moving forward... and NEVER GIVE UP!
Love and hugs,