Here it is. 2023. Another new year and already almost a month into it. It’s that special time when we are prodded to reflect, assess, ponder, plan, and prepare. Urged to make a list of to-dos, goals, strategies, dreams, challenges, and more.
We can’t dare go into this new year as if it were a blank slate! Without a multi-part, three-ring-bindered, color-coded strategy and plan! Or can we?
Years ago I soured a bit on all the goal and list making. Something about it seemed superficial. Pointless. Misdirected. Maybe because the future seldom went as anticipated.
I think we forget God has a sense of humor and likes to tweak us now and then to get our attention and dependence fully back on him. Our plans are not his plans. Our ways are not his ways. But too often our plans and ways can distract us from his.
As I’ve read the articles and posts listing books, methods, and podcasts for finding whatever variety of success you seek in 2023, what I hear in the back of my mind is the simple command of Jesus: “Follow me.”
Of course, those of us who heed these words know it’s not really “simple” per se. It’s a daily thing. A repetition of behavior. A holy rhythm of ritual. A joyful chore of choosing to follow him anew each morning.
For instance, Matthew 16:24 says following Jesus involves a denial of self. Something totally counterintuitive to what popular voices would say. Denial is anathema. Indulgence is the byword. But Jesus says not just to deny yourself, but take up your cross. The cross is another symbol of denial. Giving up all for others even to the point of death.
Jesus gave the rich young man a little more instruction. “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22, ESV). A mini-Master’s Course on self-denial! De-stuff your life and follow Jesus. This is where true joy is sparked.
But then what? Mark 1:17 says we follow to become fishers of men! By fishing he’s not saying to hook people in, but rather gather them. Seek them out and draw them into the kingdom with the message of the Gospel. Good news!
And all of this grows out of following Jesus. What Eugene Peterson called the long obedience in the same direction.
A friend recently wrote about her grandmother stating that, when it came to living out her faith, year in and year out, “She reported for duty every morning and let the Holy Spirit guide her.” Sounds like a good, solid plan! Easy to remember and follow.
Following Christ and walking in the Spirit means more than merely walking alongside of or just keeping up.
In John 10:27, Jesus explained, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Followers listen to the one they are following. They emulate the followed, put into practice what they see and hear, live as they are being shown.
Goals and to-do lists are fine. At least as long as they motivate us to follow Christ.
Søren Kierkegaard said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” What’s the one thing? How about Matthew 6:33, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” which is what following Jesus entails. And then, “all these things will be added to you.”
When it comes to your New Year’s resolutions, heed the words of Jesus — “Follow me!” — and everything else will likely fall into place.
© Stephen R. Clark