Jenna McDonald — Grace Is Waiting 

Got new wineskins?

Voices Feb. 23, 2019

Personal changes like exercising more are commendable when they’re not selfish, writes Jenna McDonald. We need to stop putting old wine in new wineskins and rethink our goals from a godly perspective. (Pixabay)

We all have areas of our life that need changing. Whether it’s losing weight or using our time better, making personal changes takes all our strength and sometimes an alarming amount of preparation. 

There are two ways to approach a season of change: from without or from within. 

The well-meaning self-help world has no shortage of suggestions for those looking to be successful/intentional/mindful: Get up at the same time each day. Write down your goals. Circle the most important five. Act like the uncircled goals are your enemies until the others are accomplished. Check off your list, systematically. Be vicious with your goals. Drink lots of water. Don’t let yourself off the hook. 

These solutions all come from without. Sometimes these types of changes are applied forcefully and suddenly. Sometimes they stick, and sometimes they don’t. Much of the outcome depends upon the personality in question. 

High-profile Christians are writing New York Times best-selling books about setting and chasing goals relentlessly. 

We’re all in a frenzy to have something to show for our lives. But the Gospel presents another way: we need to get some new wineskins. 

“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins” (Mk 2:22).

To suggest that we pour the new wine of our lives into new wineskins is a very exciting concept. Jesus is liberating us with these words in such a way that every single trendy self-help suggestion appears flat and uninspired in comparison. 

Wineskins, as the name suggests, were made from the skins of animals and were used to store wine and other liquids such as olive oil or milk. When the skins were used for new wine, they would expand to their limit as the wine fermented with age. To put new wine in an old wineskin would (as Mark’s Gospel warns) risk bursting the skins and spoiling both the wineskin and the new wine. A real tragedy! And quite frankly, this is what happens often when a goal of ours falls flat or “doesn’t take.”

How many times do we continue to do what has always worked even though we sense we have outgrown certain practices or ways of thinking?

When we sense a change is needed in our lives, the first line of defence for the Christian is found in this prayer: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.” 

Do we believe that these words have power? Now, after we’ve prayed them and let them spill out from our deepest parts, we pray for Jesus to outfit us with fresh wineskins – that is, the courage, capacity, motivation, fortitude (the sky is literally the limit) to forge a new path and then the conviction to pour ourselves into it. He gives us our daily bread and that includes the energy to see things through exactly as we should for our own fulfillment on God’s terms (who desires our happiness to a degree of which we are not capable). 

Why do we not entrust all our cares to him who loves us? Why do we leave our souls and our joy in the hands of the uninspired, self-appointed, pseudo-prophets of this age?

The “go-get-it camp” has it partially right; we should be ardently challenging ourselves, yes, but the major life goals and challenges should be harvested from deep within and excavated with the patience of prayer and listening over time.

It is commendable to establish rigorous routines. But, are we docile enough to know when our practices are for our own glory or fulfilment and when God is asking us to make changes so that we might serve his people better? 

Outfitting ourselves with lofty goals to reach for is a truly wonderful, godly thing. St. Irenaeus once said “the glory of God is man fully alive.”

 The important, distinguishing point here is: have we sat with our goals and looked at them carefully from all angles? Do our goals better us so that we can better serve our neighbour? The lines are fine here, but a good earnest look at ourselves should be all that is required. 

Exercise is not a selfish endeavour insofar as it is an act of gratitude for the body with which we’ve been entrusted. Exercise becomes something other than an act of gratitude when it robs from those who have been entrusted to us.

There is no end to the gift of free will that God’s love extends to us, over and over, every day of our lives. The opportunities for us to give thanks for the new wine of our lives are truly endless.