A New Year's Resolution for Us All
This New Year season has been an interesting one for me. I usually like to take a lot of time to reflect on the past year and to take a good look at our priorities and goals for the coming year in order to have a better idea of what areas need specific focus during this season of our lives.
This year, however, we’ve spent Christmas and New Year’s in the United States while most of our daily activities and tasks are on hold miles away in Ecuador. This has brought an interesting perspective to my typical New Year’s musings, as I really do have the opportunity to evaluate my life from a distance and look at the big picture rather than specific areas.
As I have reflected on our life in Ecuador, the Lord has brought to my mind the word obedience. It is easy to rest in prior obedience and say, “Look, God, I obeyed you in this area already. I’m good now, right?” But what God is teaching me about is faithful obedience. Continual obedience. Not resting in the fact that we are “missionaries” and have made sacrifices to serve the Lord overseas. That’s all well and good, but if I continue to live a selfish, me-focused life that just happens to be in another country, that’s still not faithful obedience. I may have obeyed God’s call to go, but am I obeying his call every day to deny myself and follow him? To really sacrifice my wants and desires to serve others? What does faithful obedience look like for me?
I think many times, we confuse obedience with knowledge and intention. I know what I should be doing, and I really do have good intentions to put that into practice, but it seems that I never actually get around to doing it. “I know I should love my neighbor as myself, and I really do want to, so that counts. Right?”
I was further convicted about this while listening to a sermon given here at Crosstown on Global Focus Sunday about being “disciples who do what Jesus says.” He talked about how many times what we desire is more knowledge but what Jesus desires of us is more obedience.
I think that is so true, especially with the abundance of resources available to us today. We read more books, study more topics, have more small-group discussions, and we tell ourselves that all of that equals obedience. But does it? Are we actually obeying the things the Lord is teaching us or do we, as the pastor in the church I grew up in would say, “Sit, soak, and sour”? Do we continue to search for more knowledge without obeying? Can we give all the right answers and know all the right facts but lack something much more fundamental?
Of course, Bible study is not the enemy here. In fact, it is completely necessary! I was talking recently with a friend about the sad state of many well-meaning Christians who simply don’t read their Bibles. We must be reading our Bibles in order to know what we should be obeying! Too often we look to the world, cultural norms, or even our “community” to tell us how we should be obeying Christ. Unfortunately, none of those things are a substitute for the very word of God.
So, if we need to be reading our Bibles and growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” how do we avoid this pitfall of ever-accumulating knowledge with no corresponding action?
I think the answer is in James 1:22, which reads, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
I don’t really like the term “New Year’s resolution” because it has come to be associated so heavily with good intentions without any real teeth to those intentions. However, I’d like to propose that we cumulatively, as a body of believers, make a resolution for this year: to commit ourselves to obedience. Maybe start with one thing that you read in your Bible today or that God has taught you recently. Maybe start with a principle from the Sermon on the Mount or a verse from Proverbs. Wherever you choose to start, focus in on just one specific thing that you can obey today.
Maybe it’s a command to be joyful and you can obey by working on changing your facial countenance throughout your day. Maybe it’s a command to be slow to anger and you can be intentionally working on your behavior in that area with your kids. Maybe it’s a command to go and make disciples and your obedience needs to be a massive change of direction in your life. Whatever it is, let’s be a people who study the Book and then do what it says.
As Jonathan Edwards famously resolved, “Resolution one: I will live for God. Resolution two: If no one else does, I still will.”