The New Year is traditionally a time for new or renewed commitments. January is the busiest month of the year for gyms and health clubs . . . and February is often the quietest! New diets are typically added to personal fitness goals, and then perhaps there are personal productivity targets, or family scheduling ideals, etc.
In the church we can join in with another whole set of renewed commitments and resolutions – attendance goals, Bible reading goals, personal growth goals. I am sure most of us would be better off with improved Bible reading habits, prayer times, replacing internet “snack” reading with book reading, date nights with our spouses, regular together times with our children, better sleep hygiene, regular exercise, dietary self-control, etc.
But we need to be careful. There is a danger in resolutions. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not advocating a wholesale rejection of all good goals. I believe Christian leaders should be living lives characterized by heartfelt discipline and healthy physical, personal, relational and ministry habits. But we need to be careful. Why?
We need to beware because there is a goal that is so overwhelmingly significant, but we can become distracted from it and pay it mere lip service if we are not careful. Hear it in the words of the super-successful and disciplined converted rabbi and rising star of Judaism, the Apostle Paul:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him . . . (Philippians 3:7-9)
This doesn’t sound like a momentary commitment renewal for Paul. He was genuinely gripped by Christ. This is not a passage suggesting we add in more consistent quiet times to our busy lives and call ourselves committed followers of Christ. This is describing an absolute dismissal of all that had been grounds for Paul’s identity before, and its replacement by an utter passion for knowing Christ, gaining Christ, being in Christ.
How easily I fall into the trap of decorating my life with Jesus. I don’t wear Christian jewelry or Christian t-shirts so much, but perhaps I sometimes just decorate my busy life with Christian ornaments. Can that be true for someone who is “full-time” in ministry? I believe it can. When the ministries we do, along with the personal growth we pursue, is done with our gaze distracted from the one great goal, then perhaps we are falling back into building our identity on something other than Jesus.
How easy it is to have “a righteousness of my own that comes from” . . . what I do. I can make all sorts of effort to live a moral life, to learn and grow for the sake of ministry, to be a good steward of my life, my resources and my opportunities, but to do all of this with my eyes looking in the wrong direction. I can be looking at myself, building my resume, or looking at the needs around me, and yet not be truly looking at Christ himself, my one great goal.
Isn’t it frightening how easily we learn to say the right things to dress up our lives and ministries so that they look consistently Christian? Sadly our sanctified selfishness, or sanctified worldliness – building the kingdom of me – might allow us to fool ourselves, but none of it fools God.
So as we head into another year, by all means make the kind of lifestyle tweaks that will enable you to be a good steward of relationships, life and ministry. Aim to get to bed earlier. Be more active. Watch less, read more. Spend less, give more. Speak less, listen more. But may every one of our resolutions and habits be utterly eclipsed by one great, overwhelming goal: that in 2016 I want to know Christ better.
Let’s pray that God, by His Spirit, would convict us of every way in which our devotion to Christ is superficial, or distracted, or false. Let’s ask God to shine a light on all that should be considered loss compared to knowing Him better this year. And let’s ask God, by His Spirit, to incline our hearts more passionately toward knowing Christ, and loving Christ, and gaining Christ, and being in Christ – that we may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death . . . the kind of absolute radical discipleship that makes complete sense in light of who He is and what He has done!
As you launch into 2016, Foundations is a one-hour read that will make a difference to everything else you read and do in 2016. Click here to find out more.