Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

‘Tis the make New Year’s resolutions.  There are many styles of New Year’s resolutions.  Some make a list that is abandoned and forgotten by Spring.  Others focus on one big resolution that too often devolves into discouragement and failure.  Still others don’t bother to make any resolutions for a new year, either on principle or, more often, because of a history of frustration.  A few make resolutions and apply enough determination and discipline to succeed, changing their lives, presumably for the better. While I would be loathe to discourage anyone from taking steps to witness to neighbors, reconcile broken relationships, or make healthy improvements in diet and exercise, I believe that the typical New Year’s resolution is fundamentally misguided: it usually defines success in terms of performance, and it emphasizes “doing” rather than “being.”  Just as bad is its individualistic rather than relational approach.
Let’s consider Jesus’s emphasis on heart issues.  In Mark 7:21, Jesus explains that our thoughts, words, and deeds are manifestations of what is in our hearts.   It is our hearts that define and reflect who we are, and who we are becoming.  In Paul’s famous teaching on love in I Corinthians 13, the apostle makes it clear that doing wonderful and powerful works for God are meaningless if they are done without an appropriate heart attitude.  Simply put, there is no shortcut to Godly living.  C.S. Lewis puts this truth very eloquently: “We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort.”  (Mere Christianity).  The Christian life is not so much about doing ministry as it is about becoming like our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.  Then, as we become more and more like Him, we will be able to minister according to His will rather than our own.
So how do we go about becoming like Christ?  I believe it begins with a resolution of sorts: we resolve to place ourselves before God and to invite the Holy Spirit in the deepest recesses of our hearts.  We define our identity and value wholly and completely as bond-servants of Christ.  We seek to know our Master and follow Him. 
A desire to become like Christ inevitably directs us back into the realm of doing.  In order to become like Christ, to experience the power of the Holy Spirit within us, and to know and follow our Master, we are going to need to engage in spiritual exercise: prayer, Bible study, Christian fellowship, and using our gifts to promote the kingdom of our Lord.  It is our attitude, though, that is crucial: are we “doing” prayer, Bible study, and ministry so that we can complete a performance checklist, or are we praying, studying God’s Word, participating in Christian fellowship and using our gifts in order to better see who God is so that we can follow Him more closely? 
While each of us is responsible for his/her own attitude and personal spiritual growth, Christ has called us to exercise that responsibility in the context of His body, the Church.  It is primarily in the context of relationship and in the midst of a corporate commitment to spiritual growth that the Holy Spirit can maximize His work in and through each of us.  A body comprised of individuals committed to becoming like Christ and becoming who God created them to be has unlimited spiritual potential.  As we encourage one another to become who God has created us to be, rather than to perform according to Christian expectations, we will, individually and corporately, be free from the burden and distraction of performance and be free to follow our Lord with our whole hearts.
Finally, I would like to share a favorite Christian chorus of mine from years back.  It is my prayer and  desire for myself, for my brothers and sisters in Christ, and for communities of believers.
            Give me one pure and holy passion.
            Give me one magnificent obsession.
            Jesus, give me one glorious ambition for my life,
                        To know and follow hard after You.
            To know and follow hard after You;
            To grow as your disciple in the truth.
            This world is empty, pale, and poor,
                        Compared to knowing you, my Lord;
            Lead me on, and I will run after you.