~ New Year Resolutions Are Not About Us ~
The temple Solomon built was indeed a magnificent marvel. Equally marvelous was the building process itself: "In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built" (1 Kings 6:7, NIV). And this took only seven years!
In modern parlance, it could be said the temple was prefabricated. But that term would tend to diminish the awesome work of craftsmen who cut and shaped to exact specifications huge chunks of rock at the quarry. Upon arrival at the temple site, the stone blocks slid together in perfect unity. No further reshaping or adjustments were needed.
But why? Why the absolute resolve to have each stone block in harmony with each other and the temple in its potential entirety before ever being brought to the site? As the temple sacrifices were a foreshadowing of the final, eternal Sacrifice of the Christ, the temple itself foreshadowed the eternal habitation of God's Holy Spirit, the Church-Bride of Christ the Bridegroom. "I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men [people], and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’" (Revelation 21:2-4, NIV).
An early church father, St. Augustine, described the building of the body of Christ this way: "What was done here, as these walls were rising, is reproduced when we bring together those who believe in Christ. For, by believing, they are hewn out, as it were, from mountains and forests, like stones and timber; but by catechizing, baptism and instruction they are, as it were, shaped, squared and planed by the hands of the workers and artisans. Nevertheless, they do not make a house for the Lord until they are fitted together through love" (Sermon 36).
God's children are His quarry here on earth. We are the stones of which God's Church is made, with Christ as "the Chief Cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:20). Another metaphor Jesus taught was that of the vineyard. Every branch is trimmed and pruned to yield the maximum growth of fruit (John 15:2). This shaping and pruning must take place during our time on earth, in preparation for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 3:21; 19:7,9).
Only this life bears the tools and conditions of adversity, challenge and brokenness necessary. These conditions are provided by the evil "prince of this world" (Ephesians 6), but we are peacefully in grace knowing Jesus' words, "My Father is the Husbandman" (John 15:1)! It is our infinitely loving and almighty God Who does the shaping and pruning, Who is Lord of the sacred quarry and vineyard. And our ever watchful "God never slumbers or sleeps" (Psalm 121:4). Our obedience is our yielding to His will and our love is our submission to His work in us. We can then join Job in declaring, "Tough He slay me, yet I will trust in Him" (Job 13:15).
Making it easy for God to shape and prune us is one wonderful way to love Him, offering ourselves as "a living sacrifice." From out of that suffering rises great joy as what interferes with the unity of the body of Christ is cut away and lightens the load of our self-centeredness.
Those who engage the tradition of making New Years resolutions may consider combining them into one resolve (the action-verb form of resolution): Love God with all our being and love our brothers and sisters as ourselves. This is a way of pursuing Jesus' mandate to "Seek first God's Kingdom, and all else will be provided." Our challenging lives on earth are where we learn this. Where else can we learn to love as God loves? In heaven it is easy to love our enemies since they won't be in our faces. In heaven we cannot learn sacrificial love because there will be no poor, oppressed, distressed, sick or suffering souls to whom we can attend. Christ needed to "empty Himself" in the heavenly realm in order to become human. Thus we need to empty ourselves while in the earthly realm in order to become godly, to be "conformed to His likeness."
We can resolve to offer everything we do and have as a sacrificial gift to our Lord, emptying ourselves. Tithing one's income in anticipation of a "ten-fold blessing" in return is about one's self. Even if one gives away that "blessing," he or she is still even in this financial game.
If one fasts, preaches, prays or renders services in the name of self-satisfaction instead of the name of Christ, Jesus says, that one has already received his reward, that the Kingdom of God hasn't grown any wealthier because of it. No treasures were invested in the heavens.
Some may counter this principle of "It's not about us" regarding resolutions (not the sacrifice of Christ which is all about us) by citing the many of St. Paul's encouragements to pursue the "crown of reward" and Paul does indeed name several different kinds of crowns to pursue through diligence and resolve. If we don't think with "the mind of Christ" given us by His Holy Spirit, we can easily construe these crowns as personal rewards to proudly wear in heaven to garner admiration and status. But there is no pride or self-admiration in the Kingdom. Again, these crowns are not about us, but about our love for God. When He owns all, what can we offer Him at the great Marriage Supper?
Speaking of the twenty four elders, John observes, "They lay their crowns before the throne and say, 'You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being’" (Revelation 4:10b-11, NIV). So these saints worked zealously for a crown, not for themselves, but as an offering of sacrificial love to the Lord. Wouldn't you love to have a crown to lay at the Lord's feet?
The love of God drives our work and our resolve to persist in faith and obedience, not self-promotion. The promise of blessings is a comfort, not a reward of personal gain. And remember to think with the mind of Christ when you pray for blessings, since they include being poor in spirit, mourning, meekness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, being merciful, pure in heart, peace making and persecution (Matthew 5:3-10).
The most grand blessing of all time and beyond is a profoundly loving intimacy with the triune God of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God calls us into this intimacy while humans living on this earth. For the sake of the body of our Redeemer Whom we love, let us resolve to empty ourselves and breathe deeply into our beings, body, soul and spirit, the love and Spirit of our Creator and His Word-made-flesh.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © December 29, 2001
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