Resolutions

As I sit down to write this, we are almost two weeks into the New Year – far enough into 2022 for most New Year’s resolutions to now be obsolete, I suspect. Last week the parking lots (car parks for my British friends) of fitness centers were packed as people’s resolve to lose weight and/or get into shape were being enacted. I suspect by the end of the month, traffic into such establishments will be back to normal. Why might my suspicions be plausible? Probably due to 50 years of personal experience and observation of failed attempts to keep New Year’s resolutions.

That all began to change for me about 20 years ago. What happened? First, it was around the turn of the century that I resolved to never make any more New Year’s resolutions – the only resolution I have successfully kept! Secondly, I began to understand the concept of living with a focused and determined purpose, though I could have hardly articulated it at the time.

I have discussed previously the importance and value of Focus as we navigate life in this world as Christ-followers. Accompanying focus is resolve. I remember my friend and colleague, Ray Donnatucci, admonishing a group of high school and college-aged young people the value of resolve. He talked about the many young people he knew over the years that were no longer walking in the faith. Then his harsh challenge: Nor might you unless you determine (resolve) otherwise.

As I ponder this, I think of the discourse between God and Joshua as He was instructing Joshua to lead the people of Israel across the Jordon River to inherit the “promised land,” following a 40-year time of preparation. 

God to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.  Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:6-9, also Deuteronomy 31)

Three times God put strength and courage together in his statement to Joshua.  In Hebrew thought, anything stated three times demands attention. So, being a dabbler in Hebrew, I poked around a bit to see what I could discover.  Strong and courageous are linked together because they are kind of the same word.  The Hebrew word for courage is amats, which means: To be determined, to make oneself alert, to strengthen oneself.   

Interesting!  Courage in Hebrew thought seems to have nothing to do with acts of bravery, which is what usually comes to mind when we think of courage.  It seems to have more to do with internal resolve. I immediately think of the Apostle Paul’s statement of resolve in his letter to the Philippian Christians:

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness].  (Philippians 3:10, Amplified)

What impresses me about Paul’s resolve is that he made this statement about 30 years into his journey as a Christ-follower. I suspect this resolve wasn’t Paul’s “resolution” for the year 62 AD. I suspect that Paul’s determined purpose to know Christ better and better had been a long-standing resolve. And it appears that he intended to continue that resolve. Thinking back to the last post suggesting a prayer focus for the year 2022, I might have been a bit short-sighted.

Maybe we should be thinking in terms of what we would like to be true about our relationship with Jesus 10, 20, or even 30 years from now. Resolve, indeed!

Circa 1981…I Quit!

After eight years of serving as a volunteer Young Life leader, we were surprised when God lead us away from our comfortable life and vibrant ministry to…[wait for it]… Muskogee, OK, “a place where even squares can have a ball” (Merle Haagard). We were 750 miles from anything familiar – job, family, stores, church, ministry, etc. We were experiencing a mix of adventure and loss.

I took my faith seriously. I tried to practice the classical disciplines described in Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline (well, sort of – 3 of the 12 disciplines). I read and studied scripture and prayed regularly – almost daily. A few weeks after our move and the start of a new job, something strange happened regarding the practice of the disciplines – I QUIT!

One morning while biking to work, I was wondering about why I had quit, why I had zero motivation to read, study, and pray. From somewhere inside my head I heard, “Do you know how long I’ve waited for you to quit? Now let’s go.” I can’t say that I audibly hear God’s voice on a regular basis, but I am pretty (very) sure God was speaking to me that morning. And I had no doubt what he meant. Looking back, I realized that all my reading, studying, and praying had a “so that” attached. I think I attended to these disciplines so that the ministry I led would be successful. Understand – I certainly benefited from all my reading and studying, but apparently something was amiss.

At the time, I wasn’t sure what was amiss, but I was sure that God wanted me to go right back to reading, studying, and praying (I suspect it’s what “Now let’s go” was all about). I found a greasy spoon restaurant near my work (circa 1981 was pre-coffee shops) and determined to stop there every morning before work to read and spend time with God. The restaurant opened at 5:00a and I gave God permission (like he needed my permission) to wake me up whenever he wanted. 4:30a became quite common! As I am wont to do, I purchased a used Amplified New Testament, a translation unfamiliar to me, and dove in. The Amplified translation expands the English to better align with the richness of the original Greek. One morning, about 6:00a, I stumbled across this…

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power out-flowing from His resurrection… (Philippians 3:10, AMPC)

This resonated deep within my being. I parked on the passage for a some time, pondering its significance. When he wrote this, the Apostle Paul was in jail in Rome, awaiting trial, aware that the outcome might be his death. And yet, his determined purpose was to progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Jesus, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly! Paul, one of the most successful ministers ever, the writer of much of the New Testament, was focused not on his ministry, but on progressively knowing Jesus! I discovered what was amiss. I was so focused on the success of my ministry that I lost sight of simply knowing Jesus. So, with determination, I set out to progressively know Jesus more deeply and intimately.

We can be so busy working for God that we totally miss Him. A couple years ago I graded papers written by people after they read Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. There was a common theme in the papers: I am so busy working for God that I don’t have time to spend with him. Some even confessed a “so that” attachment to their devotion to God. I prayed for them – that they might quit some day. I’m sure glad I did!