Thursday, December 31, 2009

What's on your plate for 2010? What's on God's?

It’s time . . . This time of year, that statement usually precedes well intentioned resolutions. It’s time to lose some weight – eat less, exercise more. It’s time to increase the bank account – spend less, save more. It’s time to grow closer to the family – less hours at the office, more at home. Inevitably, for those of us who are Christians, we also often focus on our faith. It’s time, we say, to finally read the Bible through. It’s time, to start spending more time in prayer. It’s time to do all those things we know we’re supposed to but tend to push to the edges of our schedules until they get squeezed out altogether.

Now, the desire to take inventory over one’s life, to make changes, to improve is not a bad desire. We’re just so bad at doing it. Part of the problem in self-improvement is the fact that it’s so consumed with the self. We hear advice all the time that we have to look into ourselves, we have to follow our hearts, we have to believe in oneself. All nice sentiments, I guess, but each bit of advice asks us to do something like pick up the chair you’re sitting in. Impossible. It comes as a surprise to many to realize that Jesus never said “Believe in yourself” – he said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:38). Jesus never commanded us to find ourselves – his instructions were, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Jesus never told us to follow our hearts – his invitation was, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of people” (Matthew 4:19).

Throughout the scripture, the paradoxical truth is that self-improvement comes through self-denial. The abundant life comes from abandoning one’s life to God. You can see then why so many of our efforts to get a little more of God each January fail – we want just a little bit of God – but God doesn’t come that way. Trying to squeeze a little bit of God into your day is like trying to capture a little bit of Niagara Falls in a teacup. The absurdity of our efforts to get just a little bit of God in our lives is made plane by author Wilbur Rees. Almost four decades ago, he wrote a tongue-in-cheek prayer that would be funny if it didn’t his so close to home. Many of you’ve probably heard it before, but it’s worth retelling.

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don't want enough of him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

C. S. Lewis addressed this tendency in us to want only enough of God to make us moral. He said that people are always asking him “Will [Christianity] help me? Will I be a better person if I become a Christian?” He admits that he hates the question because it misses the point. It reduces Christianity and worse yet, reduces God to a self-help technique that we can possess. But God cannot be possessed. He’s not a technique. He’s either the creator and master of the universe or he isn’t – if he is, far from being “wholly absorbed with our own blessed ‘moral development’” we ought to be devoting our entire energies towards serving our maker. He concludes, “Mere morality is not the end of life. You were made for something quite different from that…"

What were we made for? We were made for Christ - To know him and to be in relationship with him, to praise him and give him glory. Therefore, our goal shouldn’t be “Can I fit a little of God into my life this year?” but rather, “Can I get my life into God?” Notice Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” Jesus is the center of the universe, not me and not you. We create a little bit of the confusion when we only frame our discussions of salvation in terms of asking Jesus to come and live inside our heart. While that’s a fine way of talking about what happens in belief – The Bible often talks about Christ in us. But it’s certainly not the only way or even the main way the Scriptures talk about salvation. Salvation is not so much about getting a little of Jesus into me, but rather getting all of me into Jesus. The question, then, is not, “How can I squeeze God onto my plate in 2010, but what is on God’s plate for 2010 and how do I become a part of it?”

4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun (Psalm 37:4-6).

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