So begins a New Year, 2012. 2011 was a tough one for many in NZ, most notably Christchurch residents who experienced the pain of loss and destruction. None of us know what 2012 will hold. That is the thing about life, it is tenuous. As Isaiah says, “the grass withers and the flower fade.” We humans are always a heart-beat from life’s cessation. New Years are great times to pause and reflect. While New Years resolution’s are perhaps not the answer, because they are legalistic and often serve to bring guilt, restating one’s core commitments at the beginning of a new year is not a bad thing.
Perhaps the core question is whether we are living for God? Have other things crept in, things that deflect us from service of the King? The really dangerous things are the idols of the more subtle variety. Usually, they are connected to our strengths. For example, one is a great thinker—so often it is one’s own hubris and love of thought and one’s own ideas (or those of another venerated thinker) that can become snares. Paul knew this, stating that all frames of thought must be brought into subjection to Christ. Another danger is devotion itself, whereby one become so consumed with devotion to the divine, that one isolates oneself, and falls prey to the hubris of spiritual narcissism, an obsession with God alone. In actual fact, it is one’s subjugation to one’s own view of the divine, which is a snare—we tend to be cynical and rejecting of other’s perspectives. Of course there is the danger of spiritual fatigue and despair. It comes to those in ministry who give it all for a sustained period of time. They find that they are not as effective as they long to be. The church doesn’t grow. Their ministries are not as effective as they want. People simply don’t take up the challenges and opportunity given. Then they become self-critical and fall into despair and disillusionment with themselves, their people, the world and even God. Of course, they are really demonstrating spiritual narcissism in another form. They are in fact arrogant, believing in their own self-importance as if they are the answer, or have the answer, if only others would listen. Things are always way more complex than this.
As I face the New Year, I don’t want to be a hyper-Calvinist who sees things as all God’s work, this would make God responsible for my failures—that is too easy an out, and the ultimate idolatry. But, I do want to defer to God more and more, to his sovereignty. I want him to empower me to be utterly devoted with all my being—in devotion, holiness, service, love, faith, fidelity and commitment. Yet, I want then to live in contentment, accepting the outcome, knowing I did what I can do, and God did what he is doing. I trust he is in control, and moving things towards his purposes. It may not look that sensational, I may achieve little, but I can rest in the certainty he is at work. I want to be more God-reliant. I want to be more God-confident. I want to be more God-aware. I want to be more God-assured. That is, I know that he is doing his thing. That means I can rest and recreate as I live out his life for me—it is not all up to me!
What I don’t want though, is to fall into fatalism, quietism, retreatism with a ‘let go, let God’ attitude. Rather, I want to hold on, and let God. It is easy when one tips the theological balance of sovereignty and freedom to fall prey to passivity. That I don’t want. On the other hand tipping the balance the other way, dethrones God, and enthrones self, in another example of spiritual narcissism. I don’t want that. I want to give it my all, but in God’s strength, that his glory will flow.
All else is skubala, excrement. It is the Paul of Philippians 3 I suppose that encapsulates this. He turns aside from prior glories, whether Jewish or otherwise, and focuses ever on the prize. He races on for the prize, a marathon runner, refusing to relent, struggling to the 42.2km mark. He knows it will bring suffering, something he embraces; even death to be ‘with Christ,’ something that he knows will be better than life “in Christ” in the present; but he runs on. That is the attitude. It is running even sometimes staggering, with a cross over the shoulder, with a towel in hand, gospel in mouth, love in heart, Spirit thrumming through one’s being, pursuing the one thing that really matters. And as one runs, it is ‘knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ with a righteousness not of one’s own through any law or ‘ought’ or ‘should’, but a righteousness from God through faith—faith of/in Christ, and my faith, which fuses me to the faithful one, the object of faith. That is enough resolutions; to be one of the joint-imitators of Paul and others who reflect the Christ-pattern. So, whether it is my last year on earth, or there are many to come, my resolution for 2012 is the ‘one thing’ of Paul, ‘to press on to win the prize,’ to be ‘found in him,’ to ‘somehow attain to the resurrection from the dead’ when my saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, comes from heaven, and my body of humiliation becomes a body of glory—that is the life of the heavenly citizen, may it be so.