New Year’s Day. Traditionally, this is a day for reflection. This is a day when we look back at the previous year and evaluate “how we did” and then look forward to try and determine how we can “do better.” This is the day when the often-mocked and likely broken resolutions get made. Most of us will resolve to exercise more in the coming year, finally lose that weight we’ve been struggling with, rededicate ourselves to a better career path, and on and on. The new year presents us with an opportunity to make it a better year than it was last year.
I’ve been a resolution cynic for better part of the last decade. I tended to “resolve not to resolve,” but if I’m honest with myself… I only resolved not to tell anyone that I’d resolved. I still made resolutions each year, I just didn’t call them that. I still took stock at the end of the year and chose to make a forecast of what I should change for the coming year. Resolutions happened. There’s just something about the start of a new year that naturally creates this opportunity.
Today, my pastor gave a rich sermon on “A Better Resolution.” A number of things he spoke on provoked a lot of thought and I jotted a series of notes down (using the Evernote app on my awesome new Kindle Fire). What started me writing notes (I’m really not a note taker during sermons… though I should be, I know) was the concept of repentance being tied to resolutions. While this is a somewhat obvious connection, there was something specific about using the word “repentance” in the context of a sermon on resolutions that made a deeper connection for me. I wrote, “Ask what it is that you still have to repent of in order to truly resolve to do that which God has put it in your heart to do for His glory.” That’s a potent question and I’m asking God for the answer, and, honestly, I’m a little bit afraid of what He’ll say. While I rejoice in the knowledge that sin revealed is sin He’ll heal, I know that the process is always painful.
There are so many things I want to do. So many irons I want to put in so many different fires. I am a man constantly riding on the edge of the chasm of discontent (quite often dangling from the edge). That constant nudging of discontent leads me to create artificial excitement through the allure of that next new thing… whatever it might be. I want to write regularly – every day in fact. Why don’t I? That’s a question I’ve been pondering a lot lately. When I write, I go through a roller coaster ride between elation and condemnation with a lot of cynicism peppered throughout. But, the crux of it all is what I wrote in my notes: “If I feel strongly that I should write, I need to ask why. Where does that motivation come from? How would I use this to give Him glory? What is He calling me to do with it?” What, indeed. Do I want to write to be recognized? Is pride fueling my desire (and therefore my constant roller coaster ride) or is He fueling my desire and my flesh doing everything in its power to use this desire to throw me into despair and condemnation? Good questions.
What about exercise? I was on a solid tear to exercise and I hit a number of milestones, then something happened. I got sick and that caused me to stop running. I’ve never been able to get back into it. I have a race in February, so I’m praying that this will cause some motivation, but I now find I’m afraid of demotivating myself because I haven’t the time to train well and I may actually do worse in this race that I did in my last. Again, from my notes: “What is it about exercise that I know He wants me to do?” While this may seem like an overspiritualization to some, it honestly isn’t. It’s the same question I’m asking in my writing. I know I should exercise for my health, but it’s important for me to ask why it is that I’m doing it. Where does the motivation come from. If it’s from a desire to simply achieve for the sake of achieving – I’ve pretty much doomed myself. Self-achievement as motivation is a pride-fueled dance to despair (at least it’s always turned out that way for me).
What about my MCITP certication? I’m spending thousands of dollars on training, so this is a no-brainer, but I still have to ask (from my notes again): “Is it for me or for Him? Is that even the right question?” My industry requires certification to move forward. While certification alone won’t grease any pathways, not having them certainly closes doors. Besides, where I currently work, there are gaps in my knowledge and just studying for my certification is filling some of those gaps.
I also wrote today: “From what place am I deriving my picture of the ideal life? The ideal man? From what source do I envision this ideal life or sense of maleness comes from?” Deeper questions still. These answers will only come through dedicating some time to prayer and really waiting for an answer before I decide to plunge headlong and make drastic life course alterations with no sense of guidance. It’s important to understand what the picture is, but for a Christian, it is also important to know the picture’s source. The source of the picture is important because it tells you whether or not this is some cockeyed scheme you’ve created or whether you’re truly motivated by a desire to fulfill the mission of your life – which is to glorify God in all that you do and preach the gospel to every creature.
Jacob (my pastor) reminded me today that we have to get off the “I’ll do better” bandwagon. We have to realize that Jesus is the better story. Whatever we resolve to do, we must ensure that Jesus is the hero of that story. Whatever we resolve to do, we must, as Jeff Vandersteldt has said (quoted by Jacob this morning), we should be striving to make our lives a story that demands a gospel explanation. That there is no way outside of the gospel that can explain how we live.
Oh yes, repentance. Jacob said we need to make a “stop” list. What is it that we need to stop doing? What’s preventing you from doing what God is calling you to do? What things require repentance? I liked that – a “stop” list – quite often in our blind desire to do better, we fool ourselves into thinking that simply working harder is what we need. When, really, sometimes we’re working so hard, we’re not seeing the crap we have in our lives that are actually ensuring our resolutions fail. As Christians, we have a great benefit here – we can ask God to reveal our sin and He will do so. Sin revealed is sin He will heal… if we repent.
I’ll close with a great quote Jacob shared this morning from Joe Thorn: “But, a proper Christian resolution will always be connected to an ongoing spiritual revolution that is fueled by faith in Christ and repentance from sin. Any resolution that lacks repentance will prove to be a vain attempt at self-improvement. Any resolution without dependency on Jesus and an aim at his glory will prove to be little more than a whitewashing of a religious life. And yet, any Christian life without resolutions is sure to be both stale and static.”
So, I no longer resolve not to resolve. Instead, I’m taking up Jacob’s challenge this morning: Resolve to see Jesus more clearly and to ensure that the resolutions I make are ones that require God to show up… to make a resolution that is achievable with God in mind. Those require repentance. Those require faith. Those require Jesus. Thankfully, I know Him and, what’s better, He’s longing to help.
Hopefully, you see in these writings a man who is staying The Course and pursuing The Path amidst the pitfalls and selfish ways of being a son of Adam. I pray earnestly that my writing would encourage some of you by showing you that this journey - though arduous and sometimes tragic - is a journey of great satisfaction. A satisfaction greater than our greatest imaginings. The trials and refining fire of tribulation are to be recognized as a small shadow of the suffering of our Savior so that we can rejoice, as Peter and the disciples did, to be counted worthy to suffer for the sake of the Name.