I must confess that I never make a New Year’s resolution. This isn’t because of any deep internal conviction—it’s more because I am fairly lazy. I don’t want to go through the effort that most resolutions take. Let’s be honest: resolutions are stressful beasts which cause our lives to be filled with a tremendous amount of pressure. They play on big dreams or deep desires, and like everything in life, we believe the bigger the resolution the better. Just think about the most popular resolutions made year after year. Instead of a resolution to just shed a few pounds or become healthier, more likely the resolution is aimed at grabbing that beach body—and with it that bleach-blond beau or beauty. Keg-like stomachs must become six-packs; our bodies need rival the latest model-celebrity. Or, if our resolutions is more work-based, it rarely takes the form of happiness or satisfaction. Instead, we resolve to move up the corporate ladder, to make an influence, to get noticed, to make more money!
Frankly, the thought of focusing on such things stresses me out. I am so glad the church is immune to such unrealistic and shame-producing resolutions. Oh, wait…
Do we make the same type of resolutions in our spiritual lives? Do we enter the New Year with some grand vision of our spiritual progress, only to find ourselves crushed under the pressure we place on ourselves? We resolve to read the entire Bible this year—only to find this desire growing stale somewhere around Leviticus. Thus, when we do read the bible, it is out of a desire to ‘get it done’ more than anything else. Or we resolve to spend 30 minutes every day in prayer—only to find that this burden deadens our prayers and saps the joy from them. Or what about our life in church? Have you ever resolved, “this year I will be more active in volunteering, in committees, and in ministry,” only to find that the stress of trying to give more, worship more, be more seems to over-crowd your already jam-packed life?
These resolutions, well-intentioned and drawn from a heart that truly longs for deep connection with God, do nothing but create a dis-ease in our spiritual lives. Instead of spurring us on to love and good deeds, they shine a light on all the things that we do not do, the places we do not go, the time we do not spend. Eventually, resolutions become burdens and they do nothing more than keep us away from Jesus rather than ushering us closer to him.
If we look at the grand stories of scripture what we see time and time again is the story of grace, not merit. For example, consider the account of the Magi from the east. They did not create the star in the sky. They did not cause its arrival by the diligent effort of their body or mind. The star was a instance of grace. It was gifted by God to show them the way to Christ. And yes, this trek was probably long and epic by any of today’s standards, but that is not how the journey started. The Magi did nothing more than respond to the instance of grace by doing the most simplest of actions; they got on their camels and followed. It was something normal for them, something routine, something easy. They desired not a grand gesture or epic journey. Yet that simple action of responding to grace eventually lead them to Jesus.
What are the instances of grace in your life? Grace is not simply a doctrine to be held in our minds: it is the active presence of God around us, inviting us into fellowship and communion. Grace surrounds us every day. So instead of stressing yourself out under the burden of memorizing the entire Bible, perhaps grace is calling you to simply read one book, slowly, intentionally, and with the heart. Instead of putting on the timer and striving for those 30 minutes of silent prayer, perhaps grace calls you to 30 seconds of focused prayer. What would it look like to simply begin and end each day with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer? Again, could grace be calling you to methodically sit with each petition, beginning and ending each day with a desire for God’s will to be done in your life?
The camels of our spiritual lives are not complicated things. They are simple and they are routine. But more than anything they are blessed places where we are quietly, and slowly, led to Jesus. So respond to the grace which is held out to you, and get on your camels.