Just One Thing

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

Christians should not be like everyone else. Our values and priorities should be different. We should be so changed by salvation, people might even think we’re weird.

In Craig Groeschel’s book Weird: Because Normal Isn’t Working, he wrote about his weird approach to making New Year’s resolutions. He makes only one New Year’s resolution and that resolution is chosen by someone else. He prays constantly as the new year approaches asking how God wants his life to change.

Instead of having good intentions centered on the self, Groeschel says we should have God intentions centered on what God wants.

How do we know what God wants? We can ask God to reveal his intentions for us and listen for his response. Groeschel suggested some questions to help discern God’s will.

1. What one thing do you desire from God?
2. What one thing do you lack?
3. What one thing do you need to let go?
4. What one promise do you need to claim?

I reflected on these questions for a week and they helped clarify God’s intentions for me for the New Year.

The first question is easy for me to answer. More than anything else, I want my husband to have a relationship with Jesus. Last year, I became upset with him when he refused to go to a church dinner with me. I realized I have to let go and let God.

The second question is harder. The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing. But is there one thing that keeps me from whole-heartedly following The Good Shepherd? Is there one issue that God keeps putting on my heart?

I felt the Spirit’s conviction when I read what Groeschel had to say about being a people pleaser:

When we place the approval of other people ahead of doing what we know will please our Father, we’re creating a false idol. Not only does it impair our ability to know God, but it also sends us on a wild-goose chase for a golden egg that doesn’t exist.

Craig Groeschel

At times my desire for social approval keeps me from being myself, from freely sharing my faith. I compare myself to people who seem more successful, talented, or adventurous. I envy them. When I let other people define my worth, I conform to the ways of this world. Even worse, I am not being grateful for the unique talents God has given me.

What one thing do I need to let go to live with God-centered intentions? Groeschel suggested that it might be something from the past, perhaps hurts or failures. I think that measuring myself against other people is a sign of lingering self-esteem issues from my childhood.

Finally, what promise do I need to claim? There are so many promises in God’s word, it’s hard to choose one. I claim this promise:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:11:13

Heavenly Father, forgive me for envying others. This year, I resolve to please You, my Creator, above all others and to reject the world’s standards of worthiness. I am grateful that you gave me unique talents and experiences. I embrace my weirdness. How wonderful it is that you love me and that You have a plan for me!

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Struggles of the Good Son

In part two of The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen focused on the struggles of the older son. We think of the younger son as the one who was lost. He was the one who left home and squandered his inheritance on wild living. The older son was faithful, hardworking and obedient. The truth is both sons were lost.

The younger son’s sins are easy to see. He was greedy and self-indulgent. He spent money recklessly. The older son’s sins are not as obvious. We know he was obedient. We can assume that he was respected and admired as a good man. When his self-indulgent brother was lavished with a huge welcome home celebration, he became angry, resentful, and jealous. He felt unappreciated.

What does more damage? Sins of the flesh or sins of the heart? Lust and greed or anger and resentment?

Nouwen pointed out that you can be lost while still at home. Even righteous people struggle with sins of the heart – anger and resentment, judgment and condemnation, bitterness and jealousy. This way of being lost is “closely wedded to the desire to be good and virtuous.” Sins of the heart are the dark underside of virtue.

The older son worked hard and did not get what he thought he deserved, certainly not compared to his younger brother. As a result, he became self-pitying and envious. He felt no joy at his brother’s return.

I can relate to the older brother’s response to his father. I’ve often complained and grumbled about unfairness, in my heart if not out loud. I can relate to his feelings. I’ve also felt unappreciated, rejected, and overlooked.

Nouwen noted that in this world, people are compared and ranked as more or less successful, more or less attractive, etc. How much of our sadness or happiness comes from comparing ourselves to others? I know that comparing myself to others often makes me feel like I’m not good enough.

We are so conditioned to measuring ourselves against other people, it can be hard for us to accept that someone loves us unconditionally. God loves each of us completely. He gave us our unique gifts and understands our shortcomings.

Nouwen told a story about a young man who was loved and admired by everyone who knew him. One critical remark from a friend sent him into a deep depression. His self-esteem was so fragile, he believed his friend had broken through the facade and had seen the despicable man he really was.

Even people who outwardly seem to have it all can feel insecure inside. Beneath the self-confidence and arrogance there can be an insecure heart that isn’t as sure of itself as the outward behavior leads one to believe.

Nouwen wrote that for those of us who struggle with sins of the heart, trust and gratitude are the keys to returning home to the father. “Trust is that deep inner conviction that the Father wants me home.” Trust that God loves us completely as we are. We are worth finding.

Gratitude is the opposite of resentment. When we choose to be grateful, we acknowledge that all that we are and all that we have are gifts from God. Gratitude for what we have helps us see that our brothers and sisters belong to God as much as we do.

Nouwen’s reflections on the challenges of the good son remind me to pay attention to my feelings. When I catch myself judging, condemning, or resenting someone else (as I surely will), I should stop and remind myself that God loves each of us unconditionally. He loves me completely even though I am flawed in so many ways. He has forgiven me. His amazing grace is available to all of us! We are not rivals.