Resolutions

From Abandoned Resolutions to Spirit-Empowered Goals

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We are nearly halfway through 2018. How are you doing with the goals you set in January? Unfortunately, many of the resolutions made during the New Year are abandoned within just a few months. The gyms that were bursting at the seams in January are now nearly vacant. Fast food chains saw a dip in sales in mid-Winter, only to be back with a vengeance in early Spring. Why does this happen? Why do people continue to make resolutions only to drop them completely months or even days later?

Perhaps part of the problem lies in our microwave mentality that expects change to happen overnight or our desire to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” and meet our goals through our own strength.

We often see the goals we have as mountains we must traverse through sheer will-power and determination, but what if we have it all wrong?

What if practically keeping our goals is not like scaling a mountain, which requires large steps and allows us to see immediate progress?

What if reaching our goals is a much slower, deliberate process, requiring many small actions over time, like the slow accumulation of the tiny grains of sand that comprise a large sand dune?

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SMALL

We can easily become intimidated and discouraged by trying to tackle a large goal all at once.

The truth we often miss is that in order to accomplish anything, we must take small daily steps towards our goals. These small daily habits, even if they only take up fifteen minutes of our day, build upon previous actions, until our goal is finally realized.

We see this principle throughout scripture, where we see how seemingly infinitesimal things can grow into something magnificently large.

Jesus often pointed the disciples' attention to the mustard seed and how modestly small it was. He spoke of how our faith, though as small as a mustard seed, could move mountains.

He explained the exponential growth of the kingdom of God by comparing it to the tiniest seed that grows into a colossal tree.

He spoke of yeast and how the smallest bit could spread throughout an entire piece of dough, leavening it completely.

So it is with anything we try to accomplish to the glory of God. The small steps we take each day, by the power and grace of God, can grow into something bigger than we could ever fathom.

RIGHT MOTIVATION IS KEY

Many times, we fail to accomplish our goals because the motivations behind those goals are wrong. If your motivations for reaching a goal are weak or superficial, then the entire thing will collapse or blow away in the wind.

For example, you may have a goal to work out more, but do you want to do this for vanity's sake or for the purpose of being healthy and strong? You may desire to serve in your church, but do you desire to do this so that you will be perceived a certain way or because you are seeking to bring glory to God?

Failure is imminent if we base our life goals on worldly ambitions, rather than what is important in light of eternity.

Jesus in Matthew 6:33 shows us where our priorities should lie, "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

We need to ask ourselves, “Are our goals self-centered or are they Christ-centered? At the end of the day are they glorifying to God? In reaching these goals, are we loving others better?”

If not, we must ask God to shape our goals and to give us right desires. Self-centered goals are short-lived goals. They are superficial and empty. The motivations behind our biggest goals must be Christ-centered, otherwise, they will ultimately fade away

PERSISTENCE IS ESSENTIAL

Sand dunes are formed in a harsh and ever-changing environment, with shifting sands and fearsome winds. Our lives can sometimes seem to mirror the chaos of a dune being formed in the desert. As soon as we lay down a base of sand, some of it blows away, and it can feel like every step we take forward takes us ten steps back.

Horrendous storms can come into our lives in the form of the loss of a job, the breakdown of a relationship, or a chronic illness. These storms can seem to blow away all we have worked for.

The truth is everyone faces setbacks. It is those who persist despite the discouragement who will see the fruit of their labor, even if it is years down the road.

We can often reason that if only we were in another season of life, reaching our goals would be easier. The truth is that every season of life is challenging in its own way and conditions will never be perfect for our goals to take shape.

When we make it a goal to make disciples, do we give up when the person we are meeting with flakes out on us, or do we persist? Do we pursue that person as Christ has pursued us?

When we want to make it a goal of being in the Word daily, do we give up when we take on a career that requires a lot of our time? Or do we carve out the time we need with our Savior, even if it means sacrificing sleep?

When loving our spouse well becomes difficult or inconvenient, do we persevere in love, or do we retreat to what is comfortable?

We must learn to persist even in the midst of discouragement and inconvenience if we want to see the fruit of our labor.

THE STRENGTH THAT GOD SUPPLIES

With all of the storms and difficulties of life, it can seem impossible to find the strength to persist. How do we do this?

Ultimately, the ability and strength to work towards our goals come from God.

Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:10-11, "as each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."

Our ultimate goal should be to glorify God. We are merely stewards of the gifts, talents, relationships, and resources God has given us and we must use them with the wisdom and strength he alone can supply.

We must depend on God's strength as ours will ultimately fail.

The prophet Isaiah echoes this truth, "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint," (Is. 40:28-31).

We can be sure that whatever we attempt for the glory of God, he will supply the strength we need. He is a never-ending well of power to those who realize their weakness to do anything in their own power (John 15:5).

Let us lean on the strength he gives as we steward the time and gifts he has given us. The world will tell us that we need more will-power, more self-control, more determination.

The truth is we need more Jesus.

He will be our strength in weakness. He will give us the right desires and dreams that we couldn't have dreamt ourselves. His ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9).

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you finish out the second half of 2018:

  • What are your goals?
  • Are your motivations behind your goals self-centered or Christ-centered?
  • Are there some goals you have given up on that you need to pick back up again?
  • Are you persisting in these goals in your own strength or by the strength that God liberally supplies?

No matter where you are in this journey, may you be encouraged to run this race well, to throw off anything that is hindering you, and to fix your eyes on Jesus, who is the author and finisher of your faith (Heb. 12:1-3).


Delilah Pugsley is a wife, friend, sister, daughter and a Christ-follower serving in a church plant in Mid-Missouri. She writes on her blog https://www.graceinreallife.com, and you can reach her at delilahpugsley@gmail.com.

The Surprising Antidote to Your Doubt

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Editor’s note: This month at GCD you will be seeing articles from our team of Staff Writers and other contributors on a handful of topics that Jonathan Edwards introduced in his own Resolutions. The aim of this series is to help you see how a gospel-formed resolution can help you flourish in your love for Christ and for others next year. Click here to see all articles in this series.


If you ever wonder how to get a bad rap with posterity, you need look no further than Jonathan Edwards, one of modernity’s favorite Puritan whipping boys. An 18th Century pastor, theologian, and missionary, Edwards has gained a negative reputation as the foremost of hellfire-and-brimstone preachers and the paragon of everything our culture finds faulty with religion. If it’s considered anathema today—like a repressive puritanical morality, an overemphasis on sin, guilt, and judgment, or a sadistic glorification of divine violence—it’s probably been pinned on Jonathan Edwards at some point.

SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF AN ANGRY GOD?

My first exposure to Edwards came in high school literature with the assigned reading of his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Tackling the sermon as a read-aloud, our teacher prodded the class to preach with zeal: “Read it with passion! With fury in your eyes and fire in your belly!” His appeal to dramatic flair was mostly lost on a languid group of hormonal juniors, none of whom were eager to stand out amongst their peers. But the bias against Edwards—and the old-fashioned, bigoted, puritanical religion he represented—was clear.

In recent years, a popular backlash against “angry God” Christianity has risen not only from secular quarters but also from within the walls of the church. Consider a recent title from Brian Zahnd entitled Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, one in a long line of attempts to correct what is believed to be a backward and destructive theology and replace it with a non-violent, singularly loving, atonement-free gospel.[1]

For many of us, the appeal of a gratuitously loving God in the face of Edwards’ seemingly angry and bloodthirsty deity is irresistible. The angry, severe, cold god we grew up with has left us harboring neuroses too various to number. The god many of us have pictured from childhood was more like a domineering or demanding father than a gentle and loving friend. He reigned with an iron fist, rode on a heavenly cloud, and longed for a chance to exact vengeance on sinners and saints alike. This is a god whose stratospheric expectations left us cowering in fear, hopeless victims of his capricious anger and violent wrath.

But this portrayal of God is a gross caricature of Edwards and his theology. In contrast to this popular depiction, we might consider one of his seventy “Resolutions”:

“25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it."

We get a glimpse here of a young man—about 19 years old at the time of writing—enraptured by and devoted to God’s love. This might surprise anyone whose truncated impressions of Edwards have been informed by critics rather than a fair hearing of one of America’s greatest (and most warm-hearted) thinkers.

At root, Edwards had a comprehension of God’s love far richer and deeper than our modern understanding. The kind of love we expect and demand from God is lacking in anything negative, unattractive, or displeasurable. We desire a God who requires nothing of us, corrects nothing in us, and gives us everything we want. However, when we begin with ourselves and measure God by our own desires, we have a tendency to force him into a mold of our own making. We want a god that fits in our pocket—one we can take out when we want him, and put back when we’re through.

GOD’S WRATH MAKES HIS LOVE MORE BEAUTIFUL

But the God of Edwards—and, I would argue, of the Bible—doesn’t fit in our pocket. He neither exists nor acts primarily for our self-esteem. He acts for his own glory. And sin is, ultimately, an affront to that glory. The God with whom we have to deal is nothing like us. He is completely holy and requires absolute obedience. This is the God Edwards found in the Scriptures—the God who caused him to tremble and who is not to be trifled with.

It is only against the backdrop of the fierce wrath of God that divine love poured out on God’s enemies makes sense. Indeed, the central paradox of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is that “God hath had it on his heart to show to angels and men, both how excellent his love is, and also how terrible his wrath is.”[2] This theme of God’s patient kindness and love—a kindness that leads to repentance (Rom 2:4)—motivates and animates the entire sermon with Gospel power.

C.S. Lewis elucidated the relationship between wrath and love along a similar vein:

“I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay.”

THE SURPRISING ANTIDOTE TO DOUBT

In my own life, I have often struggled to accept God’s love for me. I've questioned how he could possibly love me, given my unworthiness and constant failure. I assume God foregoes actual affection for me and settles for mere tolerance. I feel like I'll end up sitting at the kids’ table at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

All of this self-abnegation, of course, seems humble, but it's actually a false kind of humility undergirded by a pride that says: “God’s grace is not big enough for me. His love is not expansive enough to fully include me.” I think my sin—as heinous and wrath-deserving as it is—is more powerful than God’s justifying grace. But this kind of passive pride actually degrades the work of Christ and undermines a biblical understanding of grace.

And this is where Edwards’ twenty-fifth resolution helps me. When I doubt God’s love—a weakness the 19-year-old Edwards apparently shared with me—the place I am directed to look is to the wrath of God. Why? Because when I truly understand the wrath of God against his enemies, then I am able to truly understand my desperate place without God’s merciful intervention. It is only God’s unmerited favor and gracious pleasure—that is, his free and inscrutable love towards me—which is able to save.

And what does it save me from? According to the Scriptures, God’s love saves me from God’s wrath: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom 5:8-9).

HOW TO CONQUER DOUBT

Here is a profound and freeing truth: the love of God saves us from the wrath of God through the death of the Son of God. God’s love is excellent in itself, but it becomes exceptional and incomprehensible to human sinners in light of the wrath from which we are saved.

When you are prone to question God’s wrath or doubt his love, the antidote for both is to look to the cross, not as a place where God affirms your infinite worthiness, but as a place where he displays his infinite wrath against sin in concert with his infinite love for his fallen creation.

Whenever you doubt the love of God, look to the cross. For the cross is where God’s wrath is appeased, his love is displayed, and his enemies become his children.


[1] Derek Rishmawy offers a helpful (but long) review of Zahnd’s book here.

[2] Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” July 8, 1741.

 

 

Mike Phay serves as Lead Pastor at FBC Prineville (Oregon) and as an Affiliate Professor at Kilns College in Bend, OR. He has been married to Keri for 20 years and they have five amazing kids (Emma, Caleb, Halle, Maggie, and Daisy). He loves books and coffee, preferably at the same time.

What it Means to Invest in Eternity

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Editor’s note: This month at GCD you will be seeing articles from our team of Staff Writers and other contributors on a handful of topics that Jonathan Edwards introduced in his own Resolutions. The aim of this series is to help you see how a gospel-formed resolution can help you flourish in your love for Christ and for others next year. Click here to see all articles in this series.


Before my husband was a pastor, he worked through seminary as a financial advisor in the mutual funds industry. In the early days of our marriage, he took a phone call that left a deep impression on us both.

A World War II veteran called to discuss his retirement funds. The caller hadn’t experienced an extraordinary career and had never made much money. What he had done was put away $25 every single month from the time he was eighteen. He shared with my husband that no matter what—even when times were lean and he had trouble making ends meet—he put away $25, and not one penny more.

Over time, that monthly $25 deposit grew and the interest increased exponentially, accumulating to well over a million dollars. At the time, as a man in his seventies, he was enjoying retirement in the late 1990s. He had no worries because he had been faithfully investing in his future for decades.

This veteran had an understanding few other investors have: he knew he had one chance to save for the future. He understood that if he was going to enjoy his old age without financial worry, he had a limited window to prepare.

INVESTING IN ETERNITY

The same can be said of our time. We all have limited time to invest in our future, and, just as the veteran knew he had one chance invest in his future, Christians have a limited window to invest in eternity.

The writer of Hebrews says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). We have one life and one chance to prepare for life after death.

Paul tells us in Galatians that we are all heading toward a season of harvest: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

In other words, we are sowing now but we'll reap soon. How do we appropriately prepare? If retirement calls for careful planning, how much more diligent should we be with eternity?

RESOLVING TO INVEST IN THE DISTANT FUTURE

Jonathan Edwards is a remarkable example of someone who wanted to be ready for eternity. Edwards strove to live well that he might bring glory to God and stand ready to meet him. Of the 70 resolutions he penned before the age of twenty, Resolution 22 speaks to Edwards’ desire to be ready for the life after this one:

Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

“Happiness in the other world” was so important to Edwards that he resolved to pursue it with all his power and capability, and in any way that he could think of. But what is happiness in the other world? Rewards in heaven.

FULL VESSELS, VARYING CAPACITIES

Edwards, John Bunyan, and Charles Spurgeon all compared our happiness in the other world to full vessels. While every believer in Christ will be completely full of joy in heaven—like a vessel full to the brim—some vessels will be larger. Christians will have varying capacities for joy depending on how much our vessels were stretched in this life.

We know our good works in this life are not the grounds for our salvation. We could never obey our Lord enough to justify ourselves. Indeed, our bedrock is grace: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Eternity in heaven is a free gift, while our good works on earth are a confirmation of that gift. We desire to serve and please our Lord when we are inwardly changed. And the works we do in this lifetime will be rewarded accordingly in the next.

It is so easy to forget that each of our actions matter for eternity. But Jesus said, “I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works” (Rev. 2:23).

How quickly we drift from one distraction to another, serving ourselves, rather than the Lord or his people. Even in Edwards’ day, with arguably fewer distractions, he knew this.

Edwards recognized that Scripture is replete with the teaching that every person will “appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10, see also 1 Cor. 4:5, Rom. 14:10-12, and 1 Cor. 3:12-15).

He heeded the warnings that while this life is temporal, the next one is eternal. Wisely, Edwards resolved to invest his efforts more in the distant future than in gratifying his immediate desires.

STRETCHING OUR VESSELS

While Christ is our primary treasure, he instructs us to seek treasure in heaven as well. Our good works are done by his grace and for his glory (1 Cor. 15:10). Therefore, it is for his glory and our own good that we pursue rewards in the life to come. The Bible tells us how we can do that:

  • Deny ourselves (Matt. 16:24-27)
  • Have compassion for the poor, crippled, lame, and blind (Luke 14:13-14)
  • Love our enemies (Luke 6:35)
  • Practice faithful and productive stewardship (1 Cor. 4:1-5, Matt. 25:14-23)
  • Give sacrificially to the poor (Matt. 19:21)
  • Have compassion on those in prison and endure trials (Heb. 10:34-36)
  • Persevere under persecution for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:10-12)
  • Do good works (Rom. 2:6-10)
  • Work as to the Lord (Eph. 6:6-8)

THE FRUITS OF INVESTING IN ETERNITY

Knowing that “the other world” is forever and that there God will “repay man according to his work” (Proverbs 24:12), may we resolve with Edwards to endeavor to obtain for ourselves as much happiness there as we possibly can. May we exert all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence we are capable of, in any way that we can think of.

Let’s consider how God’s gifts in our lives may be used in service to him, for his glory and our good, both in this lifetime and in the one to come.

Just like that wise World War II veteran, we must be diligent in our pursuit of the future. We must invest now to enjoy the payoff later.

We are in a season of sowing and God urges us to consider how we might reap a bountiful harvest later. This lifetime is our only chance to reap happiness in the one to come. May we not waste it. May we resolve to carefully, consistently store away all that we can with all that we have.


Jen Oshman is a wife and mom to four daughters and has served as a missionary for 17 years on three continents. She currently resides in Colorado where she and her husband serve with Pioneers International, and she encourages her church-planting husband at Redemption Parker. Her passion is leading women into a deeper faith and fostering a biblical worldview. She writes at www.jenoshman.com.  

Start Planning Your Own Funeral

Editor’s note: This month at GCD you will be seeing articles from our team of Staff Writers and other contributors on a handful of topics that Jonathan Edwards introduced in his own Resolutions. The aim of this series is to help you see how a gospel-formed resolution can help you flourish in your love for Christ and for others next year. Click here to see all articles in this series.

Marilyn Johnson starts every morning the same way. She arranges her cup of tea, props up her slippers, shakes out the pages of The New York Times, and reads the obituaries.

Why the obituaries? “Obituaries, as anyone who reads or writes obituaries will tell you, are really not about death,” she says.

While obituaries explain the circumstances of a person’s death, they spend much more time explaining how they lived, making them a fantastic way to learn about life.

Another daily obit reader, artist Maira Kalman, muses, “[When I read obituaries,] I’m trying to figure out two very simple things: how to live, and how to die.”

These artists, as well as many others throughout history, have stumbled on one of the most ancient practices of obtaining wisdom for life—thinking about death.

TEACH US TO NUMBER OUR DAYS

Moses, the towering Old Testament figure, is perhaps most famous for the Exodus—the episode recording his faithful obedience to God, who commissioned Moses to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt.

Moses’ 120 years of life (see Deut. 34:7) included an unbelievable range of experiences: being raised in Pharaoh’s house, killing a man, running away from his people and living in hiding, coming back to lead God’s people out of slavery, seeing the Red Sea part before his eyes, almost making it to the Promised Land, being forced to wander around the desert for 40 years, then being prevented from entering that Promised Land.

People who have lived long lives are worth learning from, if for no other reason than they have simply experienced more than we have. In Moses’ case, his faithful example and leadership make him even more interesting to study, which is why we should take seriously his prayer for wisdom recorded in Psalm 90 (we should pay even closer attention when considering his words were inspired by the Spirit of God).

In verse 12, Moses voices a collective prayer for the people of God, saying, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

According to Moses, the key to a heart of wisdom is in learning to number our days. Put another way, the key to wisdom for life is thinking about death. As we consider how few our days are, we begin to develop a heart of wisdom.

GO TO THE HOUSE OF MOURNING

Moses is really saying the same thing as the rest of Scripture. In some of the oddest-sounding sections of the Bible, Solomon writes, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart" (Eccles. 7:2).

Yes, Solomon said it is better to go to a funeral than a wedding. Why? Because the house of mourning is the end of all mankind—it’s where each of us is headed—and those who recognize this fact will reflect on how they spend their days. Funerals aren’t better than weddings in general; Solomon is saying that funerals are better than weddings for obtaining wisdom.

He then clarifies, saying, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Eccles. 7:4). Solomon—the wisest man to ever live (see 1 Kings 3:12)—tells us that wisdom for life is found in pondering death.

We shouldn’t move on from death too quickly, going from the house of mourning to the house of mirth, either, because thinking about the brevity of life is the key to finding wisdom. Most of us are ready to go parties or receptions after someone’s funeral, but perhaps we would be better off to sit at the graveside a bit longer.

OUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED

How exactly does thinking about death make us better at living? Let’s turn to David, another psalmist worth learning from.

David struggled with how to live a life that honored God while being surrounded by those who denounced and demeaned him. How could he live for God when the wicked seemed to receive nothing but good fortune for their evil? How could he make sense of it all?

By thinking about the brevity of life.

Out of his turmoil, David wrote, “O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” (Ps. 39:4).

The way out of his thinking about the futility of life was in seeing his life in light of eternity. To live each day well, he had to reflect on how few of those days he had left.

David, Solomon, and Moses all realized that thinking about death helps us make better decisions for life. Similarly, Francis Chan writes:

“[We] make wiser decisions after our hearts spend time in the house of mourning. I tend to make good decisions at funerals and poor ones in restaurants. I have made wise financial decisions while surrounded by starving children, and poor decisions from the suburbs. We need to keep our hearts close to the house of mourning to avoid decisions we will regret. As difficult as it is, we need to be mindful of death. We must make decisions with our day of death in mind.”

START PLANNING YOUR FUNERAL

Jonathan Edwards is known for his famous resolutions—short promises he made to help keep himself on the path of righteousness. His ninth resolution reads, “Resolved, To think much, on all occasions, of my dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.”

He was resolved to think about his death and the normal circumstances it would bring. That means Edwards was resolved to plan his own funeral in his mind.

His example is one we can follow. Try this short exercise: for 10 minutes today, think through the reality that you will die. Reflect on all that thought brings, from death certificates to funeral plans and coffin choices.

Remind yourself that in Christ “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28); that your next breath comes only if he allows it. Imagine you will die tomorrow, next week, or next year.

Then, ask yourself questions like, “If I were about to die…”

  • “What would I do differently? What would I start doing? What would I stop doing?”

  • “Would I keep living the way I am—living where I live, doing the things I do, working the job I have?”

  • “What would I be ashamed of not attempting for God?”

  • “Who would I spend more time with?”

Surely, God will bring some things into focus, namely that we should live today like we’ll die tomorrow.

Resolve to think about your death more often. Resolve to plan your own funeral every now and then, at least in your mind.

WHY THINKING ABOUT DEATH SHOULDN’T SCARE YOU

Thinking about your own death sounds a bit morbid, at first (certainly, planning your own funeral does!). But what Edwards and others have seen is that in ruminating over our death we obtain wisdom for our life.

Are men and women who think about death more emotionally robust than the rest of us? Are they of some strange, macabre mold?

Perhaps, but I doubt it. Instead, they seem to understand what Paul put so memorably, that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). As believers, we have the opportunity to live for Christ today.

We get to love his church, love his people, and tell others the greatest news ever heard. Our eternal, heavenly life informs our ephemeral, worldly life. That heavenly life is an eternal one alongside Christ himself!

Death might frighten us because it’s unknown—but it doesn’t have to. If we think about death often, and realize that to live is Christ and to die truly is gain, then we can live lives full of wisdom and godliness. We get to live for Christ today, and we gain him even more if we die tomorrow.

Each of us will stand before God one day to give an account of our lives (2 Cor. 5:10). Don’t let that day be the first you’ve thought about death.

Grayson Pope is a husband and father of three, as well the Managing Web Editor at GCD. He serves as a writer and editor with Prison Fellowship and has earneda MACS at The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. For more of his writing check out his website, or follow him on Twitter.

The Outlandish Joy of Obeying Jesus

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Where does your resolve come from? For Jonathan Edwards, it came from God. He did not look first to himself—what he wanted to do or to become. He looked first to God, and that made all the difference. Edwards wasn’t always the pastor and theologian we know today; God grew him into that role. He started out like the rest of us, wrestling with who he was and who he wanted to be. But God gripped him and set him apart to himself. He granted Edwards a vision of life that dimmed the spotlight on the man and brightened it on God.

Edwards’ 62nd resolution is but one example:

"Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Eph. 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; “knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord."

Could God use a man who resolved such a thing? Could he use anyone who didn’t?

Doing our duty before the Lord is the greatest life we could ever live, but it’s the thing our flesh wants most not to do. Add in the resolution to do it willingly and cheerfully and one has the makings of a frustrating life. This resolution is not for the faint of heart. It is a promise to oneself to remove the “I” of life and replace it with the glorious God of the universe—a God who was the true master of his life, the only one who knew who he should be and do.

Edwards was not a perfect man; only Jesus was. But his resolve to follow Jesus for who he is calls us to consider the remarkable life of the Christian. Everything we do is under the sight of God, the guidance of God, and the love of God. Our lives are not meaningless, and the sooner we realize that the sooner we’ll begin to live as we should.

To realize our lives aren’t meaningless is, at the risk of sounding contradictory, to realize that we aren’t all that important. We are not nothing, to be sure, but we are not everything we tend to think, either.

So who are we? We’re unworthy servants willingly and cheerfully serving Jesus.

WE ARE UNWORTHY SERVANTS

In Luke 17, Jesus is talking to his apostles. After a hard teaching about temptation, they said to him, “Increase our faith!” Jesus tells them about a mustard seed of faith strong enough to move mountains. Then, for some reason, he shifts to duty.

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” – Luke 17:6-10

We all want increased faith, but for what purpose? If our request for increased faith is merely to see mountains move, we’re asking God to grant faith for an end that is not him. In our “God-dreams,” we must be careful not to use God’s name in vain. We must be sure our desires match his. Faith in Christ doesn’t make us miracle workers, it directs us to the Miracle Worker.

We are all tempted to spiritual pride. So Jesus sets us in our place, reminding us of who we are: unworthy servants. We’re free in Christ, but we’re slaves to him. And when a slave has done his duty to his master, he does not expect any gain in return. He has not given anything to his master he does not already have. He will not receive a reward for doing what he’s commanded.

Is this offensive to you? It is to me.

But it wasn’t to Edwards. He resolved never to do anything but duty. Like the Apostle Paul, he identified himself as a “bondservant” of Christ (Eph. 6:6). His idea of life began and ended with the Word of God; what he commanded was his duty to obey. Is that a dull life? Well, that depends on your master, doesn’t it?

NEVER TO DO ANYTHING BUT DUTY

What did Edwards mean by “never to do anything but duty?” He meant a life not of dull service but a life of intimate following. To follow a hard master is a wearisome task, but Jesus is no ordinary master. Instead of demanding harder work and higher yields, Jesus says,

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matt. 11:28-30

What is the work of Jesus Christ in the world? He came to save his people from their sins, redeem all things, restore all that’s lost, and mend all that’s broken. He came to destroy the power of sin. He came to give sight to the blind and to raise the dead. He came to set the captives free, to rescue the oppressed. He came to live the perfect life, die the guilty death, and rise again in glory. He came to bring man to God and God to man.

Jesus is the life-giving master. He’s the only master who, if we follow him, will give us tasks of glory and, when we fail him, will forgive us completely. He calls us into his work, things no less significant than the spread of the gospel for the salvation of the world. He asks us to do our duty, as unworthy servants, because that’s who we are. We have no righteousness of our own that compels him to us.

We cannot carry out his commands apart from his grace. We have no claim to make on our Maker and Savior. We are unworthy in every sense of the world—but it is for the unworthy that he came!

OUR DUTY IS OUR YES TO GOD

Doing our duty increases our faith. As we obey, we see God at work. What then is our duty? In one sense, it is nothing less than our immediate and constant yes to God. It is not a yes to the things we want to do but a yes to all the things he calls us to do, even if our yes’s are to seemingly small requests:

  • “Yes, Lord, I will pray right now for this suffering man.”
  • “Yes, Lord, I will turn my eyes from her so as not to lust.”
  • “Yes, Lord, I will obey your call to work hard today.”
  • “Yes, Lord, I will be gentle with my wayward child."
  • “Yes, Lord, I will love this person I just can’t get along with.”
  • “Yes, Lord, I will suffer quietly, enduring false accusations because you know my heart.”
  • “Yes, Lord, I will deny myself because in Christ I have all things.”

We don’t do our duty before Jesus under the shadow of the law, we do it under the Son of Righteousness. Paul explains in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

The joy Jesus had for his servants led him to the cross. How much more should his joy lead us into his work?

THE OUTLANDISH JOY OF OBEDIENCE TO JESUS

Christ gives his people his Spirit—all the internal will and cheer we will ever need—if we seek him and search for his voice. Jesus’ wish is our command. In the remarkable grace of God, our moment by moment yes brings heaven’s work to earth.

And our work is not apart from his watchful eye. What we do for him will yield rewards in the end. He will remember our service to the saints (Heb. 6:10). He will return all the good we did (Eph. 6:8). We are unworthy servants, yes. We’re bondservants of Christ, it’s true. But we’re doing the works of God (John 14:12)! We cannot claim our seat at his table, but one day our Master will seat us at his marriage supper of the Lamb.

Being a servant of Christ is a lowly thing until you see how high a thing it truly is.


David McLemore is the Director of Teaching Ministries at Refuge Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He also works for a large healthcare corporation where he manages an application development department. He is married to Sarah, and they have three sons.

What Do You Do When God Seems Dull?

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Editor’s note: This month at GCD you will be seeing articles from our team of Staff Writers and other contributors on a handful of topics that Jonathan Edwards introduced in his own Resolutions. The aim of this series is to help you see how a gospel-formed resolution can help you flourish in your love for Christ and for others next year. Click here to see all articles in this series.


With the start of a new year, we reflect on the previous year and determine what changes we’d like to make in our priorities. We then establish resolutions for how we want to improve ourselves with each New Year. Typical resolutions include eating fewer carbs, spending more time at the gym, and sticking to our proposed budgets.

As I consider my own resolutions, I’m looking to Jonathan Edwards as an example in forming worthy pursuits. This Puritan pastor of the 1700s created a list of seventy inspiring resolutions he committed himself to. From this list, Resolution No. 3 stands out for me:

“Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.”

FALLING AND GROWING DULL

“Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull.” If I may dare to improve upon Edwards’ thoughts, I would humbly change, “if ever” to “whenever.” Inevitably, our feet stumble as we walk with the Lord. Psalm 37:23-34 says, “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.”

On this side of glory, our hearts are imperfect in their affections. The cares of this world suffocate what should be a consuming devotion to our king. Despite the magnitude of the grace shown to us in Christ, our hearts grow dull at times. It is when our hearts lose their vibrancy of affection for Christ that we become easy prey for the tempter. When we take our eyes off Jesus, when we set our affections away from Christ, we fall into sin.

David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14), yet he fell hard into sin. In repentance he prayed, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit (Ps. 51:12).” David knew his rebellion against God’s law was a result of the dullness of his heart towards God. He prayed for God to restore his joy, to stir his affections.

As the words of the great hymn, “Come Thou Fount,” proclaim, we are all, “prone to wander.” As we wander away from God, we fall into sin. We must, like David, guard against growing dull towards our father who loves us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). When we grow dull towards God, we chase other loves to satisfy us, and in that pursuit, we sin.

REPENTING

“To repent of all I can remember.” When our dullness of heart progresses into sin, we must repent. Jesus says if we love him, we will obey him (John 14:15). Our obedience is a response to God’s grace; it’s a result of our affection. We love our Father, therefore we do what pleases him. When our hearts grow dull, our desire to obey also dulls.

1 John 1:9 comforts believers with this assurance: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Not only do we receive forgiveness, we receive cleansing. David prayed, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin (Ps. 51:2).” God removes the stain and stench of our sin far from us when we repent.

Repenting is about turning from sin and turning to God. When we wander away from our Father because of our dull affection for him, we must, by his grace, turn back towards him. We must lock eyes with the Father who runs to welcome us into his embrace (Luke 15:20).

COMING TO OURSELVES

“When I come to myself again.” This phrase seizes my attention. It sounds strange, as if Edwards is describing an out of body experience. But it’s the same wording used to describe the prodigal son in one of the parables in Luke 15.

This parable tells the story of a son who demanded his rich father give him his inheritance even though his father was still very much alive, so he could spend it on his pleasures. The son left home and squandered the money. A famine came, and the formerly wealthy young man became the poor man whose job it was to feed the pigs. In his hunger, he begged to eat the pig slop.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you’” (Luke 15: 17-18).

This prodigal was only able to repent and return to his father when he came to himself. Only then could he see the truth and remember the kindness and mercy of his father. When he came to himself he knew he could go to his father for help.

Likewise, Jonathan Edwards resolved to repent when he came to himself again. He knew that only then could he see the truth of his dullness towards his Father, his falling into sin, and his need for repentance.

RESOLVING OURSELVES

Do you identify with the prodigal son and with Edwards in wandering away from your good Father? Have your affections grown dull towards him?

Our sin manifests itself in our actions, but it originates in our hearts. When our hearts grow dull, we no longer live in response to God’s grace. This dullness begins when our attention wanders away from our king. Isaiah 26:3 promises, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

When our mind wanders from God, our affections dull, and we pursue our own pleasure independent of his presence. It’s only when we come to ourselves that we can see clearly. It’s then that we see the truth of Psalm 16:11, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

TURN FROM SIN AND TURN TO GOD

The prodigal son realized that his pursuit of pleasure away from his father led him down a path of destruction. He resolved, when he came to himself, to return to his good and merciful father.

David knew how easy it was to fall into sin when his affections were dull for the Lord. He asked God to make his heart joyful in his salvation to guard against sin.

Jonathan Edwards resolved, when he comes to himself again, to repent of falling into sin because of his dull heart towards God. Dulled affections lead to rebellion.

Dear reader, resolve to repent of your wanderings when you grow dull and fall. Pray for God to give you the grace to come to yourself. Come back to who you are and, in returning, realize whose you are.

You are his and he is running towards you with open arms. Come back to the place where you are safe in his arms, wrapped in his presence, and full of joy. Resolve to return.


Christy Britton is a wife, homeschool mom of four biological sons, and soon-to-be mom of an adopted Ugandan daughter. She is an orphan advocate for 127 Worldwide. Her family is covenant members at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C. She loves reading, discipleship, spending time in Africa, hospitality, and LSU football. She writes for various blogs including her own, www.beneedywell.com.