1.1.23: Faithfulness: The Right Goal for Every New Year
Is hope an emotion?
-“I’m feeling hopeful…I’m feeling hopeless”
-It is, but not only that.
Is hope an illusion.?
“I feel pretty hopeful about making it to the gas station”
-Hope doesn’t power engines, gas does.
Is hope simply an expression of wishful thinking?
“I hope I don’t get sick”
-I felt that way a couple of weeks ago in the middle of the night, my hope didn’t keep me well.
Feeling hopeful or feeling hopeless can impact certain aspects of our lives…
It can change how we approach relationships; it can impact stress in our body and therefore impact our health, it can change our approach to problem solving.
But the impact of hope as only feelings is very limited…and ultimately…can only take us so far.
Biblical Hope is an objective reality, more like a chair…than a feeling
It is independent of our feelings or moods or desires…it is grounded on the promises of God…promises that cannot be thwarted by any outside force.
Again, don’t hear me saying that feelings are unimportant, they are key factors in our lives…but they are not the same things as other objective realities.
And we are wise to learn to steer our feelings in the direction of the objective realities of God.
If you feel hopeful about a weak bridge…you will still get wet.
If you feel hopeless about a strong bridge…you can stay dry.
Ultimately, the strength of the bridge, not how you feel about the bridge matters the most.
When hope is overly individualized…based on my moods or desires or current perspective…it is unable to sustain the weight of our lives.
It is fascinating that hope is a necessity for human thriving…and often even for surviving.
Some people would say that we are the products of a blind, impersonal evolutionary process that has been fine tuning us over millions of years.
Why would evolution have developed such a terrible programming error whereby humans need hope to thrive?
Because if what these people say is true…ultimate hope or meaning, that transcends our lives…is illusion, it’s not real.
You only think your life matters, in the end…it doesn’t.
-We need air, water, food…those things exist, they are not feelings
-We need hope…but if it is not real…why is it required to thrive?
We need hope because we are not the products of blind, impersonal chance…we are made in the image of God and as such we are designed to live on hope even as we are designed to live by breathing air.
That hope is tied to relationship with the one who has made us.
You could say, “We are meant to find our own hope…we have evolved to come up with our own meaning.”
Sounds good, except it doesn’t ultimately work…hope that doesn’t transcend our own minds, hearts…is hope that can and will be taken when the foundation for that hope is gone.
We can’t fool ourselves forever…if hope is only man-made, then we will eventually run out of hope.
What hopes do you hold out for this New Year?
“Well, after that beginning…I’m not going to say…maybe I’ll get it wrong!”
No, that’s not my point.
Let’s think about hope on two levels.
Let’s call them: Foundation hope and Furniture hope.
The foundation for your house needs to be permanent, immovable.
The furniture in your house doesn’t…it can be changed, and moved around.
Furniture is important…beds, chairs, tables…you could survive without them, but they are really good and helpful…you probably won’t thrive without some kind of furniture.
But we can’t live for long in a building without a foundation…in time, fail.
The foundational hope for your life is the gospel:
Hebrews 6:19 We have this hope (gospel) as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
Furniture hopes can be good, helpful…but they will be change over time, they will come to an end in time.
Every year we may have different hopes for the next twelve months…these hopes change as we grow, age, as we become wiser
They change as our lives change…our health changes, our circumstances change, people die or move out of our lives.
Every year as we contemplate new furniture hopes…we must not lose sight of our foundational hope.
The hope that sustains us in life and death…the hope that all lesser hopes must be built on…the hope that does not change.
The gospel is the hope on which on all lesser hopes must be built.
So…what do you hope for this year?
A change in job, a relationship, better health, run a 1/2 marathon, graduate, different habits?
Good things to hope for…but remember…these things are more like furniture in your life than foundation for your life.
In 2020…as our society collectively went through a large scale upheaval…we focused on the four pillars of resiliency here at River
Rodney wrote a song for kids (and adults) that speaks to the four pillars…physical, mental, social, and spiritual.
The idea behind the “breaky/bouncy” song is that when an egg hits the ground it breaks, when a ball hits the ground it bounces.
Everyone hits the ground…resilience is not about ground avoidance…it is about becoming more bouncy….and this is something that we can actually do…we can increase our “bounceability”
But, truth be told…we will always remain more like eggs than rubber balls.
You can work hard at physical resilience…but you cannot by your efforts simple decide to not become ill, injured or die…you can increase your odds of health…but you cannot control all outcomes.
Same is true with social resilience…you can and you should put forth effort to have good relational habits but you are limited in what you can and cannot control in these areas…because other people are involved.
Okay, then I should just focus on the spiritual…it is all that matters then right?
Well, since we are made by God to be whole beings…how do you propose to separate the spiritual dimension of your life from the mental, physical, or social?
Who you are in relationship to God impacts who you are in relationship to others and who you are in relationship to others impacts who you are in relationship to God.
Next week we will see in James…that no one is able to tame the tongue.
The tongue, the mouth…is a part of our physical body that forms words, words that flow from our minds and can do great harm to relationships…all this is ultimately a spiritual problem.
Biblically, all four domains of our lives are not distinct categories…social, spiritual, mental, physical…it’s helpful to talk about them as such for practical application…but they are more like ingredients in a cake.
Eggs, milk, flour, sugar…in a recipe are separate things…but when mixed in a cake, you just have a cake.
We are more like a cake than a recipe.
So…let’s summarize what we have so far:
1. All aspects of who we are interact with and impact one another.
2. And as we know from Scripture and our own experience…we have limited control over the outcomes of our lives.
How does the fact of limited control contribute to hope?
It seems like it would diminish hope.
The most important outcome that God has granted us control over is the ability to be found faithful.
I decide if I will be faithful this year.
And faithfulness is the right goal for every year in every aspect of our lives.
I can and should seek physical fitness at some level…but ultimately physical fitness is measured by scales, mirrors, timers.
If we measure merely by fitness goals…we will measure wrong.
I must seek physical faithfulness this year…it is tied to my foundational hope.
Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
1 Cor. 4:2
I should seek relational fitness…it is a good goal to have growing, healthy relationships with the people God has placed in my life.
But what if others, through their choices, block my goals of relationship with them?
Do I give up? Become bitter? Isolated?
Well, you must seek relational faithfulness…it is unblockable by others.
Bitterness, passivity, isolationism is not faithfulness.
Same with mental resilience…we are to pursue thinking patterns that are healthy and helpful…we all have factors that make this more or less difficult.
Ultimately, we are to measure by faithfulness not fitness.
Spiritual faithfulness is the same.
So, to kick off this New Year…let’s look at the four pillars of resilience with a faithfulness AND a fitness perspective.
It doesn’t have to be either/or…but we must remember that spiritual/social/physical/mental fitness goals are like furniture, faithfulness is the foundation.
1. Physical Faithfulness
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Cor. 6:19,20
Your physical body is the center of your spiritual, social, mental life…this is important to contemplate…
A prevailing Christian heresy has been to make the body into something evil or less important than the spiritual.
This is wrong on many fronts: we are not component parts, we are a whole.
And the body is not evil…though it is where the sin in our hearts shows up out here in the world…the body is not evil, sin is evil.
God made us embodied beings and he said that it was very good.
Christ took on human form at the incarnation…he was without sin.
Our future existence is not disembodied spirit’s haunting heaven…but new bodies in a new physical cosmos.
As we live in space and time in our bodies…we are to use these portable power plants to produce good for others and glory for God.
So we fall off the wall one direction when we dimmish the importance of our bodies.
We fall off the wall the other direction when we worship the body…which is most common today.
What does physical faithfulness look like you for?
Beware pride…beware shame…both are due to an over focus on the body.
We must focus on faithfulness.
Physical faithfulness is not just exercise and diet…but sleep, sabbath rest, habits good and bad.
But Physical faithfulness is not just taking care of my body…it is also using my body to bless others…with my words, actions, engagement with them.
We will talk about this more next week when we look at the use of the tongue for the glory of God and the good of others.
What does physical faithfulness look like for you?
This is the unblockable goal…age, illness, outside factors…cannot block physical faithfulness.
I know it seems subjective…how do I know exactly what faithfulness looks like?
It is a hard question…but it is the right question to ask.
I encourage you to ask it in conversation with a good friend or two…and to ask it in your time with God.
Keep, presenting your bodies to God as a living sacrifice. Rom 12.
*Maybe you could take a few minutes this week to give your body over to God for his purposes…it does not belong to you.
If you give it to him…and keep giving it to him…you can more easily use it to bless others and allow him to do with your health as he chooses.
2. Mental Faithfulness
You can’t keep crows from flying over your head, you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.
2 Cor. 10:5 “We take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.”
We are sometimes under the illusion that:
1. If we have the thought (and it seems right to us) then it is right.
-That’s not always true
-We must not automatically believe our thoughts (emotions)
-How many times have you thought or felt something…and it turned out to be not true?
2. We cannot help what we think.
-We can over time, perhaps not in the moment, change our thinking patterns.
The fact is:
-We must “id” our ideas and subject them to the truth.
-We must reject ideas that are not true and not allow them to nest or take root.
This is a spiritual, mental, social, physical process.
It’s complex…but doable.
Mental faithfulness will look something like this:
-I want to Know more truth (in order to recognize good and bad thinking)
-I want to Live with open and honest relationships (to be correctable when I’m thinking wrong)
-Continually humble myself before the Lord…this is crucial to wise thinking about life
-I want to do the hard work…Mental habits are built like other habits…repetition over time.
3. Relational faithfulness
The great verse regarding this pillar is:
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18
This doesn’t mean do anything you can do, it means do anything you should do in order to have peace (good relationships) with others.
You could compromise your own convictions for peace…but you should not.
You could let others have their way…even if it is not good for them…but you should not.
Relational faithfulness is summed up like this…
This means put the interests of others ahead of your own, serve and don’t seek to be served…die to pettiness and selfishness…be like Christ…who modeled what greatness is.
He would forgive and die for those who abused him…he would not, however, compromise to please them at the cost of his Father’s pleasure.
As you consider relational faithfulness this coming year…pay attention to what wind blows in your life…lean into it.
Is it the wind of peace at all costs even if it means putting pleasing people over pleasing Christ? Surely this is not faithfulness
Is it the wind of selfishness, seeking to please self in relationships? Then this is surely not faithfulness to Christ.
4. Spiritual Faithfulness
Again, we are cakes not recipes…all that we have talked about to this point is in line with spiritual faithfulness.
But specifically, I want to talk about spiritual training for godliness.
What does faithfulness in the area of spiritual disciplines look like for you this year?
1. The best plan is the one you will actually do.
-perfectionism is the enemy of directionism.
Have a simple and sustainable plan…then work the plan.
One degree in the right direction is always more in line with faithfulness than no movement at all.
Pray…read…worship…fellowship…keep showing up.
2. Live decided not deciding.
*Just decide…I’m going to read, pray, worship, fellowship.
*Then, just do it.
“But I don’t want to turn my relationship with Christ into duty and box checking.
Then don’t…but do the good things that are necessary to grow spiritually.
Guard your heart against checking boxes…but in the meantime…don’t stop doing good and helpful things.
What do you hope for this year?
This all may sound complex, tiring…but life will be more complex and more tiring and less joyful…if you try to live without intentionality in these areas.
Again…beware pride, beware shame…be faithful…be hopeful.
Have furniture hopes…but put them on the one foundational hope.
Some people have had their hopes dashed so often they have come to fear hope, to distrust hope itself.
When things that are important to us are taken it can be terrible…of course we are sad, maybe mad…we can feel devastation…but we need not be devastated.
When our foundational hope is the gospel, and our primary goal is faithfulness…we have prevailing hope that cannot be blocked.
And then, even when we are unfaithful…God remains faithful to us.
This is our great hope.
Don’t distrust hope…hope in God.
Jesus says to us “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”
Okay…let’s worship…kids, ready for the bouncy song!