When I was nineteen years old, I joined the staff of a large evangelical church. A few of the pastors on the staff became wonderful friends and mentors, but as I encountered some of the pastors at that church and at churches in the area, I became deeply saddened by what I observed. As I got to know some of the pastors more intimately, I observed that their love for the ministry seemed to supersede their love for God. It appeared that over the years, the ministry had become a god. Their own kingdoms had displaced the kingdom of God. Their prayers had become focused on success in ministry rather than on faithfulness to God in ministry. Consequently, one-by-one, over the years, several of those pastors left the ministry on account of the fact they simply could no longer live under unreasonable, unforgiving, and self-imposed legalistic demands.
I recognized that by itself, without God at its foundation, ministry is utterly futile. Without remaining resolved in steadfast surrender to God, ministers living for the ministry will either leave the ministry, or, what’s worse, the ministry will leave them. Sure, a minister might continue to preach, pray, and program while he attempts to play the man, but in due time his feet will slip and his ministry to the ministry will begin to eat away at his soul from the inside out. Such ministry corrupts the man and metastasizes throughout the church body. It leads to cynicism, apathy, and burn out. It knows no grace and seeks only its own ends. Without God at the very heart of ministry, ministry is not only a fool’s errand but is impossible; thankfully, that’s just the way God designed it — to be impossible without Him.
At nineteen, as a ministerial student preparing for the pastorate, I grew concerned that someday I could get to the point in ministry that my passion for ministry would usurp my passion for God — that ministry would become my religion, that the idol of success in ministry would replace my heart’s desire to be faithful to God.
With all of this weighing heavily on my mind, early one morning, I slid from my bed onto my knees and cried out to God that He would equip me for ministry, sustain me in ministry, and give me passion for ministry — a passion that would flow out of my love and passion for God Himself. That morning I penned the following words in the front of my Bible: “I shall live for God, not for the ministry.” Every year since then, by God’s sustaining grace, I have surrendered myself to the Lord, imploring Him to help me live for Him and trusting Him alone to equip, sustain, and empower me for His ministry.
In order to remain steadfast in this pursuit of active surrender of living for the sake of God and not for the sake of ministry, I must not only regularly confess my sin of self-reliance I must also resolve to remain resolved every day of my life — living a life of repentance and faith, with every step and every breath, delighting in the Lord’s abundant love and assurance. For if I confide in my own strength, my striving would indeed be losing.
Resolving to be Resolved
It seems that every new year, we are caught up in a whirlwind of well-intentioned resolutions. With premeditated bursts of enthusiasm, those closest to us begin to take part in peculiar, and sometimes public activities that even cause neighborhood children to look puzzled. We find ourselves bearing witness to surprising edicts and seemingly self-conscious new year’s manifestos whereupon we are summoned to behold what sweeping changes may come — resolutions for impending dispositions, impossible diets, and impenetrable fortresses of discipline.
The skeptical observer may inquire: “Is all this fervor really necessary?” Moreover, the cynical reader may ask: “Is it even appropriate to make resolutions? After all, shouldn’t we at all times and all seasons seek to live wisely, obediently, and biblically?”
Some may even go so far as to argue that resolutions themselves are not biblical based on the fact that the Word of God itself provides us with a complete and authoritative compilation of God’s resolutions for His people. To manufacture our own list of resolutions, they would argue, is superfluous at best.
These are the sorts of questions I have always considered when it comes to this whole business of making resolutions, and I have a hunch that many of my fellow biblically-informed skeptics also ponder such questions. Nevertheless, the Word of God gives us not only permission to make resolutions, it gives us good reasons for doing so. Various biblical passages seem to provide us with reasons for resolutions and examples of men of God who resolved to live for Him in a particular manner for a particular reason (Dan. 1:8; Matt. 1:19; Acts 19:21; 1 Cor. 10:14–32; Col. 3:12–17; 2 Thess. 1:11). As such, in considering how to glorify God in all that we do in our particular circumstances and callings, we would be wise to resolve to make particular resolutions to assist us in our sanctification. This we do by the power of the Holy Spirit, resting assured that we have been declared righteous by the Father because of the completed righteousness of the Son.
The Resolve of Edwards
The nineteen-year-old Jonathan Edwards knew his weaknesses and was aware of the destructive nature of his sin, so he resolved to make and keep certain resolutions in his effort to live for God’s glory. He helped pave the way for us all as he prefaced his seventy resolutions with these words:
Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.
These simple, introductory words of Edwards not only provide us with a glimpse into the mind of one of history’s greatest minds, they provide us with a glorious insight into the heart of a young man whose heart had been humbled and mastered by the Lord God Almighty. We would therefore do well to consider Edwards’ prefatory remarks as we seek to glorify God and enjoy Him forever in our churches, our homes, and our hearts.
“Being sensible,” Edwards begins his preface — we must be sensible, reasonable, in making resolutions. If we set ourselves about the business of hastily making resolutions as the result of our grand illusions of sinless perfection, it is likely that we will not merely fail in our attempt to keep such resolutions, we will likely be less inclined to make any further resolutions for similar desired ends. We must go about making resolutions with genuine prayer and thorough study of God’s Word. Our resolutions must be in accord with the Word of God; therefore, any resolution we make must necessarily allow us to fulfill all our particular callings in life. We must consider all the implications of our resolutions and be careful to make resolutions with others in mind, even if it means implementing new resolutions incrementally over time.
“I am unable to do anything without God’s help,” Edwards admits. We must be sensible in grasping the simple truth that every resolution must be made in dependence on God. And while every Christian would respond by saying, “Well, of course we must depend on God for all things,” most Christians have been sold the world’s bill of goods. They think that once they become dependent on God, then they will have immediate strength. They mimic the world’s mantra: “Whatever doesn’t kill me will make me stronger.” While the principle is generally true, such thinking can foster an attitude of proud independence. We must understand that in being able to do all things through Christ who strengthens us means that we must depend on His strength continuously in order to do all things and to keep all our resolutions (Eph. 3:16; Col. 1:11). In truth, whatever doesn’t kill us, by God’s conforming grace, makes us weak so that in our weakness we will rely continuously on the strength of our Lord (2 Cor. 12:7–10).
“I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions.” In making resolutions for the glory of God and before the face of God, we must not come into His presence pounding our chests in triumphal arrogance as if God must now love and bless us more because we have made certain resolutions to follow Him more. In reality, the Lord in His providence may choose to allow even more trials to enter our lives; in His unchanging fatherly love for us, He may decide to discipline us even more in order that we might more so detest our sin and delight in Him. We should approach Him in humble reliance on His grace as we seek not merely the blessings but the one who blesses.
Resolving for Christ’s Sake
“So far as they are agreeable to his will for Christ’s sake.” We cannot resolve to do anything with a presumptuous attitude before God. The whole matter of making resolutions is not just goal setting so that we might have happier lives. We are called by God to live according to His will, not our own — for Christ’s sake, not our own — for it is not unto us but unto Him that all glory belongs (Ps. 115:1).