One Thing for 2023: “Follow Me”

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

Certainty vs. Doubt

I was recently reading a book when the writer pulled out a quote from Anne Lamott. He cited, “[she] reminds us that ‘the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.'”

I love Lamott’s writing but always keep in mind that her faith is syncretistic and not firmly orthodox and so needs to be considered in that light. Syncretists love to play up doubt and pooh-pooh certainty.

The writer of the book I was reading was using Lamott’s quote to support his argument that immature people (spiritually speaking) insist on “correct beliefs.” Meaning, having everything buttoned down, or up. All their theological and other ducks in a neat row, so to speak.

On the other hand, argued the writer, adults (aka mature Christians) “need to examine diverse voices to develop critical thinking, empathy, and love.”

Certainty in one’s Christian faith too frequently gets knocked. Doubt is held up as the only true beacon to correct faith. In other words, believe but hold your beliefs loosely — just in case. I say humbug. Mostly.

I’m a big fan of certainty and my faith is well-anchored in several. Here are a few key ones:

  • I am certain that God created this world and holds everything together by his Word.
  • I am certain that Jesus Christ is God and through the action of the Holy Spirit came to earth in the form of a baby.
  • I am certain that the angels shared the news of this arrival with a select group of shepherds in a field outside Bethlehem.
  • I am certain that Mary and Joseph were in awe over all that happened.
  • I am certain that Christ’s death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection opened the door to my redemption.
  • I am certain that my life is secure in Jesus and that when I die I will be with Christ in heaven.
  • I am certain this [2022] Christmas weekend is one of the coldest in decades!

Of these truths and others I have no doubt. Tethered to these certainties, I am safe to “examine diverse voices” as well as “noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort.” I can do this because even when it’s darkest there is always Light present.

Frankly, I get annoyed when Christian writers tout doubt over certainty. When they belittle the steady, sure grounding of others. The old hymn offers deep wisdom when it declares, “On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” That’s a hymn to assured certainty.

The Psalmist declares with confidence and gratitude, “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (Psalm 40:2, ESV).

Paul echoes this declaration writing to Timothy, “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Timothy 1:12, ESV). Paul also declares, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 1:6, ESV). These are sure-footed encouragements that deflate doubt.

Too often I’ve encountered Christian writers and others almost mocking those who eschew doubt and stand in certainty as relates to their faith. This is not a good thing. In fact, in a sentence preceding the mentioned Lamott quote she states that she “has no real certainty about anything.”

It’s okay to have doubts from time to time. It’s okay to explore various ideas and even change one’s mind about things. I’ll admit, some things about the Christian walk are just downright befuddling at times. But not everything. And not all the time. James warns, “for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6, ESV).

Doubt is not where faith lives and thrives. Paul confidently assures that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, ESV).

Faith stands firmly on the truth of God’s Word, on His promises, on the finished work of Christ, and on our confession of faith in Him.

Of this I am very certain.

© Stephen R. Clark