THE GOAL IS JESUS, NOT METRICS
So much of the language this time of year is about productivity - can you do more than last year? Will you produce more, be more efficient, and optimize everything? Add this obsession to our already self-absorbed hearts and it is no wonder New Year’s Resolutions lead many people into pride or despair.
Christians often unthinkingly adopt and inordinately emphasize this productivity ethos. Let us start by reminding ourselves of two important things:
- God is more concerned with us having more of him (John 4:13-14; Ephesians 3:14-19; Revelation 21:3) than with what we accomplish.
- Our habits shape us. We should be especially thoughtful about what we do, consume, or participate in; as all of these are formative. (James K.A. Smith and Mike Cosper have written helpfully on this.)
Jesus remains our goal, not metrics, while we stay intentional and practical about how we reach him.
SIMPLE & HABITUAL VS. COMPLEX AND SPORADIC
When I have a long list of tasks before me I think, “How will I ever get all of this done?” Even though I can to grind down the list, the work is usually absent of joy. I doubt I’m alone in this.
A common mistake is to create a huge list of resolutions - like Leslie Knope with her massive project binders. Attempts to tackle a giant list can be daunting and lead to sporadic and inefficient work. This can also lead to joyless legalism, executing duties mechanically rather than a genuine response to God's grace.
My suggestion is shooting for intentional simplicity. Choose a couple areas that you want to grow in and stick with those. Or, better yet, choose a couple things that really build your affection for Jesus. When I’m loving something, I tend to want more of it. Aim for simple and habitual.
THE HARD ONE FIRST
You have something, or likely someone, in your life that is difficult. Maybe it's a marriage with recurring patterns of argument, growing distance, or decreasing affection. Or a relationship marked by constant accusation, fear, resentment, contempt, or hurt. Maybe a transition has made you lonely, scared, and tempted to medicate with food, alcohol, or sex. Or maybe it's a workplace where you are constantly competing, judging, and putting down those around you, undermining them, or disingenuously flattering your boss. You know the situation to which I’m referring.
There are two things we often forget about these situations when planning for the New Year.
- Circumstances and people are likely not the primary problem, you are; your problems aren’t primarily external but inside your own heart. (Luke 6:43-45)
- Circumstances and people tend to expose what is inside of us.
Those situations are probably the place where God wants to change you. In those situations your weakness and need should drive you outside of yourself to the God who is strong and gracious. This New Year pick one of those flash points, resolve to be mindful of it, and to run to God when you notice it.
- Instead of continuing the argument out of your need to win or justify yourself, acknowledge and confess your wrong and move toward the other person in love regardless of how they respond.
- Instead of checking out emotionally because you feel entitled to comfort; admit your offense, remember the grace in your life, and move toward the other person regardless of how they respond.
- Instead of lashing out at your kids because of a need to control or punish (instead of discipline), confess and move toward them in love.
- Instead of collapsing into despair, self-pity, and medicating in the face of difficulty, remind yourself of God’s grace in your life and ask for help.
- Instead of cutting down a coworker for your benefit; own up to that desire, and at your own expense relinquish the opportunity.
See the pattern? It's hard, really hard. Why? Because it starts with dying to yourself. It admits personal weakness and requires outside help, both from God and others. But the good news throughout scripture is that God hears his people and is faithful to respond. (Exodus 2:25; Matthew 11:28; Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; Hebrews 13:20-21; Jude 1:24-25)
What follows are practical tools that you should choose from based on your preferences and circumstances.
NEW CITY CATECHISM
Can you remember the lyrics of songs you haven’t heard in 10 years? It's embarrassing, but I definitely can. One reason is repetition. At some point in the past I sang Gin Blossoms lyrics every time I heard them on the radio, and they stuck.
Catechisms were originally written to help fathers teach their families the basics of the faith. We use the New City Catechism as a church because the way it conveys those basics is incredibly helpful, and memorable.
Our family reads the scripture, question, answer, and prayer together at breakfast. We have little kids so we use the ‘child’ setting. Now that the girls are getting a little older we’ll start attempting to memorize it by the end of the week. I’ve also gone back to explore the video commentary on my own and have found it to be awesome.
BIBLE READING PLANS
Let this year be the year you read through the Bible for the first time! But how? I know more than a few people who simply start at Genesis and go for it but tap out by the time they get to all of the genealogies in Numbers or Chronicles. I recommend the ESV Study Bible Plan. Each day you read from the major sections of scripture in a way that demonstrates the unity of the Bible.
The ESV Bible Reading plans are top notch in both content and delivery. Choose one and get it delivered to you every morning via email, text, or RSS (what is this, 2004?).
Also, the Faithlife Bible has a great group feature that enables you to collaborate with friends if that would be beneficial to you.
There are literally thousands of options for devotionals, but I’d recommend one that is saturated in the Gospel. The last thing you need is a devotional adding another task to your day or making your effort foundational. Here are a couple of my favorites.
- The Mockingbird Devotional by Mockingbird
- Morning & Evening by Charles Spurgeon
- The Valley of Vision by the Puritans
- For the Love of God by D.A. Carson
SERMONS, PODCASTS AND BOOKS
Redeem your time in the car, in transit, doing errands, chores, or working out. Kim and I also try to do a regular sermon night where we’ll watch a sermon on Apple TV. What gaps in your week do you fill with sports radio, talk radio, or news that you can redeem with something more beneficial for your soul?
I’ve been listening to sermons and podcasts for years but this year I’m considering a foray into audio books. My thought is, why listen to a contemporary interview when I could listen to an older book I’ve been wanting to get to? We’ll see how that goes.
Remember, Jesus remains our goal, not metrics, while we stay intentional and practical about how we reach him. This year may the Holy Spirit strengthen you and grow your understanding of how wide, how long, how high, and how deep God’s love for you is in Jesus.