“Begin Again”: A Weekly Devotional for a New Year, Week 20

‘Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.’

Acts 9:19-22

Have you ever lived with a bad habit, for a long time, and everyone knew about it – especially your friends? You reached the point where you knew you had to make a change: You could not go on like this, and you began to research next, best steps.

You got all your ducks in a row, and began to make the change. You made some good, early progress. Then your friends started to notice the change, but they didn’t stay silent about it, and they did not cheer you on. In fact, they started to provide snarky commentary on the good change you were trying to make: “Oh… Look who’s trying better herself… Wow, aren’t you stepping up?”

We live in a web of expectations that determine how people see us. If they have seen us live consistently in a particular way, that is what they are used to – that is what they expect. It would be wonderful if, when people see us break free from a web of bad habits, they would begin to cheer, pray, and rejoice.

But often they do not, and for at least a couple of reasons: One, our habits – perhaps our sin – has hurt them; two, they themselves may be in the grip of the same bad habit, or the same sin. When they’ve been hurt by you, part of walking out your change will be to eat some humble pie, and accept that this is how they will be until you are more consistently your new self. When they’re still living the same, destructive life you once lived, what they want is for you to stay with them: Misery loves company.

This was Saul’s (Paul’s) challenge: Right after his conversion, everyone expected him to be the same persecutor of Christians he had always been – the same violent man; the same fanatic: “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem….?”. But now he was a man transformed by God’s grace, and the early, hard part of this transformation was to keep putting one foot in front of the other despite understandable expectations.

This will be your challenge, too, if you’re starting to pursue emotionally, physically, spiritually healthy ways of life. The people closest to you may not be rooting for you, but God is with you, and has begun a good work in you that he promises to complete (Philippians 1:6). If you hurt people in your old way of life, part of God’s transformation is for you to own that and understand that they will be deeply skeptical until the transformation takes hold. If ‘friends’ from your old, destructive way of life are trying to speak into your new, healthy way of life, you need new friends – begin with Jesus, and trust him to provide them.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for turning me around. Thank you, for putting me on a path that means life and health and freedom. And thank you for helping me to take my first steps on that path. God, give me grace to seek forgiveness from those I’ve hurt, and help me to put up loving, but firm boundaries between me and those who want me to return to my old way of life. Amen.

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