“When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies;”
Psalm 119:59 ESV
It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way.
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.
A New Year!
God built calendars into the creation. Genesis speaks of signs and seasons and days and years. They are ruled by the rotation of the earth and the orbit of the planets. Calendars are about cycles, from the day to the week, from the month to the year.
Repetition of the cycle gives us fresh starts, a day at a time. Think about it. After a terrible day, we can sleep our way into the next day. When it dawns, we have an opportunity to “try again.” This is also true with a new year.
Hopes and Resolutions?
Some see the new year as an opportunity to look forward to a better year. After 2020, we all anticipate and hope that 2021 will be better. And we should. No one wants to see another year of global suffering, political deceit on all sides, media propaganda, and polarized citizenry. But wishing for a better year may also rest on the assumption that circumstances are the most important thing about my life and contentment. What is 2020 just keeps on into 2021?
Others see the turning of the calendar to the first month as an opportunity for resolutions: lose 10 pounds, exercise 3 times a week, begin a new project, finish my GED. This is also a good way to grab the beginning of a new year, to start afresh. But it has its limits. Most of the limits are that we try but quit after a few weeks. Just ask my wife, who is a personal trainer, about the rush of January and the return to normal in February.
My approach is more of a view from 30,000 feet. I want to see where I am headed, and to tweak my course calculations. That means I project what I am currently doing and think what that will look like if I continue that way for the next ten years. I want to think about what kind of a person I am becoming.
Along that line, here are just a few of my questions
- What I am feeding my mind?
- How am I using my time?
- What is the attitude of my heart?
- Am I growing in relationships or diminishing?
- How am I preserving my health?
This sort of approach connects the details to the larger picture.
Why do I do it this way?
First of all, I do this because I can. Scripture is correct – I am made with dignity. God gave me agency. God shaped me for more than living in my appetites. Everything in my awareness of myself confirms this. I am to evaluate my patterns and consider the outcome.
Second, God treats me as an adult. He lets me live with my choices even in this life. I am responsible to set course.
In the words of a great philosopher, life is a “long obedience in the same direction.” That quote is rich with wisdom. Notice, it is obedience to God and his ways. Not every path is good. It is also long, sustained obedience. Spasms of good activity and twitches of self-control accomplish very little. Habits matter.
Sowing and reaping
Look at that 70 year old who is warm, still learning, gentle with other’s mistakes, and is glad to meet new people. How did she get there? It came as the fruit of the habits of years.
By contrast, consider the person who is bitter, lives in regret, and is more easily angered than provoked to kindness. How did that happen? They have been sowing into those qualities for decades.
In my 30’s I worked on a professional doctorate (not to be mistaken for the rigors of a PhD). One of my seminars was led by a highly respected man in his mid 70’s. What became apparent to all of the young blokes in his class was that we could not keep up with him. More than that, we wanted to be like him.
Over afternoon coffee we asked him what he thought were the key ingredients for long term maturity in a Christian. Without a moment’s hesitation, he commented, “Show up, week after week, month after month, year after year. Do the normal and routine, and keep being faithful in small things.” That was not what we expected, but he was correct. Personal health, fruitful marriages, maturing children, stable work are most often the fruit of faithfully showing up.
The Top 5%
I met a man a few years later who was one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the tech world. Because of his fame, he was invited to give lectures on “how to be successful.” He invited me to attend one of them.
That day was memorable for me. His lecture began with a question: How many of you want to be in the top 5% of the employees of your company?” All raised their hands. Continuing he stated, I am going to tell you the secret right now. Get out your paper and write these down . . . . (long pause) . . . To be in the top 5%, you need to show up on time, take only the time given for lunch, and leave your work at the end of the day and not before.” Everyone wrote down this obvious advice and waited for more. Again, after a long pause, he said. That’s all you need to do.
Not a Formula
I am not advocating formulas. What I am talking about is how God has made us and the world we live in.
There are plenty of hucksters selling success formulas. However, formulas do not always work. Hard work does not always lead to prosperity. Sometimes prosperity is not even available. Or there are forces in the society that block the possibility of success.
But wisdom is about normal outcomes under normal circumstances. And more than anything, maturity and excellence in character are accessible to everyone all the time. You have the ability to chose between a life of angry victim-hood or a life of humility and forgiveness.
I do not want to make it sound like this is easy.
A Christian understanding of our created human nature tells me it is possible, that we are not merely a bundle of instincts and congenital desires (I was born that way, it must be okay). I can and must make choices.
That same understanding informs me of the disorder of my desires due to the power of sin. Basically, I would rather do what I want when I want than restrain and order my life to a higher good. A wise pattern of life does not develop or thrive without the work of evaluation and change.
Only the power of redemption can bring about deep change to dominating desires. But God has so made us that even in a state of disordered desires, people can and do make choices that bear good fruit in this life.
2020 Formed Habits
2020 was, to understate the case, a difficult year for most of the people in the world. Not since the beginning of WW2 in 1939 has there been such a global crisis.
As I looked back, what I noticed most of all was that 2020 upended all my usual habits. Very little was left untouched. Everything changed: work, recreation, hygiene, diet, exercise, media use, travel, vacation, family life, relationships, communication, and ministry.
In a stretch of nine months, I developed new habits. Old routines are long forgotten. New ones have taken over. Not all of them are wise or good.
Remember Apollo 13
At one point in Apollo 13’s problem filled mission to the moon (so well told in the movie), they have to calculate their reentry angle into the earth’s atmosphere. Too steep, and they would burn alive. Too shallow and they would bounce into space.
Course corrections are life-saving. They may even be soul saving. Jesus asked about those whose life is aimed at gaining wealth and power and influence: What does it profit someone to gain the world and lose their soul? That is an invitation to a course correction.
But all of us need to adjust our headings in some way. God says: What we sow, we will reap. This is an invitation to be aware, to evaluate, and to change.
Evaluating the habits of 2020
As I ended 2020, I took some time to evaluate my course headings. I looked at many of my new conventions for life and considered what I will be like in ten years if I continue to pursue them.
The next series of posts will address course correction and new directions.