January 11, 2013

Keeping resolutions

It is nearly the middle of the month and I haven’t even made any New Year’s resolutions. The breaking of them is so common that even the jokes are tiresome. However, my lack of resolutions is not a reflection of a “why bother” attitude but of my theology. I firmly believe that apart from Christ, I can do nothing.

I also believe that in Christ, I can do all things, which makes the keeping of resolutions possible — only if what I resolve to do is the will of God. This means being careful about what I plan and what I ask for. God takes His will seriously, but any resolutions I make outside of that are doomed — in spite of my best efforts and repeated prayers for His help.

Finding the will of God might seem perplexing, but it is not difficult; read the Bible. The difficulty with it is obedience to what I find in that Book. For instance, one ‘resolution’ could be: have a more grateful attitude…
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
After pondering this particular ‘will of God’ for the past few days, and after reading a book on gratitude, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is easy when all things go well, but impossible if they don’t. While God is not asking me to be thankful for all circumstances, His will is that I am thankful during trials, pain and adversities. How can I develop a response of obedience to this?

Today’s devotional reading begins with a question: How may the habit of thankfulness be formed and maintained? He says to just begin, even with the good stuff, then keep on searching for material for gratitude and continuing to be thankful hour by hour, day by day, thus forming the habit. 

He adds that this requires self-control and reminds readers that a musician or an athlete will practice constantly. Why can’t Christians? “They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:25). Why then would I shrink from effort to build a habit that is the will of God for me? I do it because my sinful nature would rather gripe and complain.

It seems something else needs to be said about gratitude and other resolutions to obey God’s will. Doing any of it requires being filled with the Holy Spirit. Apart from Christ, we are in the flesh and eventually the flesh will do what the flesh does — resist the will of God.

Actually, the faculty of self-control (needed to obey and build habits) is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Even though gratitude is not listed as spiritual fruit, the power needed to make it happen is on this list…
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23)
As I make effort to be more thankful, I notice that being filled with the Spirit goes along with it. As the old question about the chicken or the egg, I don’t know what comes first, but suspect it is being Spirit-filled. My reasoning is that giving thanks is sometimes easy, sometimes not so easy, but when I am filled with the Spirit, it is simply automatic. This means I should concentrate on being filled with the Spirit rather than struggling to do anything else God wants me to do.

How to be filled with the Spirit could take pages, but the quick version is this: confess known sin and ask God to do fill me. Focus on obedience to His Word. When obedience fails, repeat steps one and two. As this cycle is repeated, from the heart gratitude begins to flow.

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