Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Resolutions: Lots of Good Intentions

"Guilt drives us to the cross, but grace must lead us from there or we cannot serve God . . . There is no more powerful motivation for holiness than loving God in response to the revelation of his redeeming character and eternal promises." Bryan Chapell, Christ Centered Preaching

How are you at keeping resolutions? I am the world's worst. Mind you, I am full of good intentions. I will keep a cleaner and more organized house. I will lose weight. I will study harder at Greek. At the starting point of a new resolution, keeping it is a breeze. Why did I live like I did before turning over this new leaf? Life is so much better this way. I will never go back. Sometimes I even try to convert others to my cause. How could they not follow in my steps? This way is infinitely better.

But soon, as time wears on, I begin to consider falling off the wagon. This is too hard. I miss the convenience of doing things the old way. It wasn't so bad before. And soon I discover I have lapsed back into my old habit once again.It is often the same as we try to live for Christ. We read or hear something that convicts us to change our ways. So we resolve to act on that conviction. We will be more diligent about reading our Bible. Pray more. Get control of our tongue. But soon the enthusiasm wanes. The high priorities of yesterday diminish in light of the new urgencies of today. And the resolution dies a quiet death.

Where can we find a motivation that will last us longer than our own good intentions? Guilt is usually my chief motivation, a powerful force in my life. Yet in reality, actions motivated by guilt are actually only self-serving. I attempt to change something because I foolishly think that God will love me more if I can get a handle on this thing in my life. This, of course, is a very faulty assumption. He knew me before the foundations of the world, knowing every selfish act I would commit before I was even born. Knowing all that, He chose to love me anyway.

So trying to earn favor from God is a useless motivation. In the end anyway, guilt fails to produce a lasting change, because it is at its roots a serving of self. As soon as I have worked long enough at change to ease my guilty conscience, the motivation is at an end. And I fall off the wagon.

But what if instead I acted in response to the unconditional love and grace God has lavished on me? Donald Miller wrote a great paragraph on this in Blue Like Jazz. The gist of his wisdom was that if an ordinarily lazy man were to fall in love, he could swim the English Channel for the sake of his beloved. Love is a huge motivator.

Our greatest incentive for change comes as a response to the grace and love the Father has already poured out on us. "For the love of Christ compels us, having concluded this, that one died for all . . . so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf." (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) The greater our understanding of who God is and what He has done for us, the greater our motivation to love and serve Him in return.

So rather than focus on my behavior and what I need to accomplish, I will choose to focus on the God that I serve. I will focus on His great love for me and on His perfect character. And my behaviors and attitudes, the ones which so desperately need to change, will suddenly be revealed for the dark, dirty habits they are, existing in a life which has already been paid for by the precious blood of Christ. The stronger my love for Him, the stronger my motivation. Less of me, more of Him.

"We love because He first loved us . . . by this we know we are children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments." (1 John 4:19, 5:2)

This is an excerpt from my most recent edition of Dogwood Digest, a weekly free email newsletter. Please use the box in the right hand column in this page to subscribe-- I would love to add you to my list of readers!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Julie,
What a wonderful insight into most of us and our resolutions. You hit it right on the head. I needed that tonight and God supplies our needs according to His riches in heaven.
Have a Blessed 2009
Hugs, Ona

Soulspark said...

Great piece. The trouble is, 'love' for God can seem such an abstract concept. It seems a constant journey to find the reality of this love and what it means. To love someone, we have to know them. Sometimes I just seem to go blank. I find myself thinking "Oh I have to love him because of the cross, because of what he did for me." I can't remember a time when I didn't believe in God, so it's hard to feel love about something that seems like old news. Sounds terrible I know, but honest.

I'm a very visual person and find it hard to talk/listen to Jesus/God sometimes because I haven't got a face to visualise in my head. Should I imagine I'm talking to Spirit or imagine a human-like figure? After all, we don't know what Jesus looked like. I know it's all about getting to know who God really is, not what he looks like, but it would feel less like talking to an empty room if I had a face I was imagining! I guess it's more like our spirit joining with His Spirit. Him abiding in us and we in him.

Julie Coleman said...

Soulspark:
I know what you mean. What we know about God can become "old hat"-- if we rely on our previous knowledge. That is why continuing to study scripture is so vitally important. Even the very familiar passages can become new to me if I work through them again. Depending on my present circumstances, they can get a new angle and suddenly are no longer old hat anymore.

The best cure for losing our love for God is to study about Him in the scriptures. It will make Him come alive for us once more. Our hearts get hardened so quickly when we are left to our own defenses.

Thanks for commenting!!

Julie

Lynn Cowell said...

Julie,
Thanks so much for stopping by my blog today. When I wrote it, I was speaking to myself for sure! Trials come up so unexpectedly; all the more reason to be ready ahead of time!
Continue sharing HIS WORD everywhere you can!
Have a God-filled day,
Lynn