2015 is looming right above our heads, and a lot of us feel nostalgic about the old year as we ring in the new. And because of this temporary “deep reflection” time, we start to make resolutions or goals for the upcoming year. Unfortunately, many of us make ridiculous and unattainable resolutions. For example, how many times have you said: I’m going to lose 100 pounds this year! only to lose like five pounds and then put it back on by July? Or, how many of us have vowed to get up earlier during the workweek, only to hit the snooze button continually by the third week of January?
We know it sounds dumb, but we still make these promises to ourselves. Let’s take it one step further, however. How many of us do the same thing with our faith? How many of us make bogus promises and/or resolutions to God? Here are a few that I’ve seen time and time again:
1. I'm not going to sin anymore:
First off, yes you are . . . Now breathe. It's OK. The expectation you aren't going to sin anymore is stupid, and a bar that was never set for us. Jesus is the example that we have to live a life honoring to our Heavenly Father, yes . . . But, more importantly, He came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. He lived the perfect life that we could not live, so through His grace and mercy, we were made right with God—because of what Jesus did, not because of what we do.
So, let's rephrase this resolution to: "I AM GOING TO SIN LESS BY SEEKING CHRIST FIRST." It is in seeking Christ that our morals, priorities and lives are changed. Not by trying really hard to completely avoid sinning, because all that produces is sinning differently. Augustine of Hippo once said, "Love God and do whatever you please." Because when you are truly loving God, His Son, and Being (led by His Spirit), He is your priority, and your life experiences joy that can only be found in Him.
2. I am going to share my faith more:
The problem with this resolution is we have made it about us and not about Him. Christian, the world is used to you accosting them with your Christianese and guilt-driven, hell insurance spiel that leaves most people wanting to tell you to take a hike or just agree with you to get you to shut the hell up (pun intended). How about we try this rephrased resolution: "I AM GOING TO ENGAGE WITH OTHERS MORE, NO MATTER WHAT THEY BELIEVE, HOW THEY VOTE, OR WHAT SEXUAL ORIENTATION THEY HAVE."
Engaging in and building relationships with others not only shows others that you love them, it actually means that you love them because you care about them, their needs, and their interests. Don’t worry about shoving your religion down their throats; let the cults do that. Instead, engage people like they are just that—people—created in God's image, who deserve to be talked to, talked with, and listened to.
3. I'm going to attend church regularly:
I am all for church; no one likes preaching to an empty room. But if you believe that your salvation, justification, and sanctification can be produced by attending a worship service, you have entirely missed the point. The writer of Hebrews tells us "not to forsake the gathering." But we gather not so we can be entertained, or because we gain brownie points with "the big guy" because of our attendance in a sanctuary. We attend the gathering to celebrate the fact that Jesus lived a life we couldn't live—no matter how hard we try—died a death that we all deserve to die, rose from the dead validating his death on the cross and payment for our sin, and one day is coming back. We gather to celebrate Jesus and what He means to us, and to proclaim His truth that no matter who you are, no matter what you have done, you are not out of the reach of Jesus’ grace.
So here’s a new resolution: I AM GOING TO STOP ATTENDING CHURCH SERVICES AS MY MEASURE OF CHRISTIANITY, AND I AM GOING TO BE THE CHURCH TO THE WORLD AROUND ME.
This world around us is suffering, and it's not because its morals are terrible or that people are too self-centered, entertained or "lost." This world is suffering because Jesus died for His church to be the light of the world, and yet we have chosen to hide that light under a blanket, like a three-year-old who is afraid of the dark. We have the greatest message of love and peace the world could ever know; please stop keeping that to yourself. Go love someone who isn't just like you, and see what comes of it. I dare you!
4. I'm going to read my Bible all the way through this upcoming year:
Every year in late December, a lot of "read the Bible in a year" apps and devotions are purchased by those of you who want to make your spiritual life “deeper.” And even though there is nothing at all wrong with reading your Bible, you must know that the Bible can become like white noise if all you do is attempt to get through it like a text book for Econ class.
How about this rephrased resolution: " I AM GOING TO READ A LITTLE OF THE BIBLE EVERY DAY, AND WHATEVER IT TEACHES ME, I AM GOING TO APPLY RIGHT AWAY." There has been no bigger lesson for me in 2014 than: if you hear a truth of God and ignore or disobey, your heart will harden. That lesson has opened up so many conversations and realizations for me and the many I have had the honor of teaching this year. So, please, stop trying to "get through" the Bible, and instead, start applying what you have learned. Information without application will not lead to transformation.
5. I'm going to pray . . . A lot . . . Errrr . . . A lot more than I have . . . Errrr . . . Everyday at least:
Prayer is something that no one has really mastered, so stop trying to master it when it is ultimately a tool to be intimate with God—by having a dialogue with the Creator of heaven and earth. The disciples walked with Jesus for years, and when they had an opportunity to ask Him how to do something, they asked Him how to pray, even though I am sure that they had witnessed Him pray numerous times.
Please stop trying to make prayer a litmus test of your spirituality. Prayer takes practice, prayer takes patience, prayer takes discipline, and ultimately, prayer is not so you will change God's mind by praying hard, or often or eloquently, but so you will be more inline with God by hearing from and talking with Him. Here’s the rephrased resolution: "I WANT TO PRAY MORE INTENTIONALLY WITH GOD, MORE OFTEN THAN I CURRENTLY DO." Don't set yourself up to fail and attempt to go from step one to step ten. Just pray more often than you do now, and for the love of God . . . Shut up, and listen more than you speak. God talks most loudly in silence, but most of us are too impatient to listen.
My hope is that we would rephrase our Christian resolutions this year to be less "Christian-y" and more realistic. God does not grade on a curve, because if He did, He'd grade you against Jesus—so good luck with that. Just continue to seek Him, and as you do, and as you look back on this year, you will see growth. And you know what is wonderful about growth? It is evidence of God. Blessings, my friends. May 2015 be a year full of His grace and presence.