April 7, 2020

My New Year’s Non-Resolution

Yes, it’s that time of year again. The time when retailers parade merchandise in front of our eyes to guilt us into buying things we’ll never use, like juicers (“Just put in one large bag of oranges, and Viola! Out comes a small glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice!”), self-help educational materials (“Learn to speak Mandarin Chinese as you drive to the gas station!”), and stationary bikes. Ok, well, we really do use the bikes. But not for exercising. They do serve as a nice place to hang your clothes, though.

Manufacturers and retailers prod us to make resolutions so we will then drop coin with them to buy things to help us keep these resolutions. Motivational speakers and preachers (hard to tell them apart at times) also encourage us to set goals for the new year. I used to do this, but it was frustrating every year to see how quickly I broke my resolutions. So a few years ago I resolved not to set any more goals or resolutions—other than this. I resolve to stay dead.

Dead. For only what is dead can be resurrected. I love what Robert Capon says so often: “Jesus did not come to teach the teachable, correct the correctable, or fix the fixable. He came to do one thing: Raise the dead.” Capon likes to answer those who insist we play a role in our own sanctification with this illustration.

You want a role to play? Ok. Imagine yourself standing next to Jesus and Martha outside of a tomb. Jesus says, “Roll away the stone!” But Martha interjects, “Wait a minute, Lord. He’s been dead for four days, and by now he stinks!” There you have it. Your role. You’re dead, and you stink. If you can do that, you can be resurrected. (Paraphrased from Between Noon And Three.)

Oh, I stink all right. I stink with the breath of one who has been talking a good game. Who says all the good and acceptable Christian things. I smell with the sweat and body odor of one who’s been working hard to build a healthy Christian life twelve ways. I wreak with the stench of doing, doing, doing. Then of being, being, being. I stink like last week’s fish. I’m dead, but I keep flopping around, hoping to impress myself, others and—most ridiculously of all—God with all my activity.

So if I am going to have a resolution this year, it will a resolution to see myself as dead. An empty vessel so that I might be filled with Living Treasure. An inanimate lump of clay that the Potter can shape as he will. A dead man whom Jesus can call forth into resurrected life.

I know this goes against so much of modern Evangelical teaching. You aren’t going to build a huge ministry teaching people to celebrate their deadness. Book publishers don’t want to put out books by dead authors, or authors who talk about the dead. L’Chaim! is their cry—To Life! Death doesn’t sell (except in news headlines). Sermons, books, CD series, and TV shows are built around the life God wants you to LIVE. Even when “dying to self” is discussed, there are usually five steps for us to accomplish so we can be “dead.” Pick up the “dying to self” Bible, journal and t-shirt in the lobby on the way out.

A nineteenth century holiness preacher, G.D. Watson, wrote of his desire for holiness and personal sanctification—not just for himself, but for all those he led as pastor of various holiness churches. He admits to being harsh, even cruel, at times in his preaching of holiness. Later in life he discovered that holiness and sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, and our role is to be surrendered and submitted to God alone. He wrote,

And now, after suffering many defeats, learning many lessons in this Canaan of Perfect Love, I praise God for the trials of my faith and for His marvelous keeping power. I have learned that I must be an uncompromising, unwavering witness to the cleansing power of Christ; that I must not make an idol of holiness or holiness people; that I must not lean upon my emotions, but must walk by faith, and sometimes in seasons of darkness; that Satan tempts and tries me more directly and boldly than ever before, that I must often be dead to things and plans that are in themselves innocent, must sow and reap, or sow and let others reap. My heart breaks down under a delicious burden of humble and adoring praise to the wonderful Jesus. I have no will of my own. My will is the will of my Father. A sense of utter nothingness is growing upon me, together with an increasing sense of merit of Jesus.

Watson also wrote a sermon that gives words to my new year’s resolution. He called this, “Others May, You Cannot.”

If God has called you to be truly like Jesus in all your spirit, He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility. He will put on you such demands of obedience that you will not be allowed to follow other Christians. In many ways, He seems to let other good people do things which He will not let you do.

Others who seem to be very religious and useful may push themselves, pull wires, and scheme to carry out their plans, but you cannot. If you attempt it, you will meet with such failure and rebuke from the Lord as to make you sorely penitent.

Others can brag about themselves, their work, their successes, their writings, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do any such thing. If you begin to do so, He will lead you into some deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all your good works.

Others will be allowed to succeed in making great sums of money, or having a legacy left to them, or in having luxuries, but God may supply you only on a day-to-day basis, because He wants you to have something far better than gold, a helpless dependence on Him and His unseen treasury.

The Lord may let others be honored and put forward while keeping you hidden in obscurity because He wants to produce some choice, fragrant fruit for His coming glory, which can only be produced in the shade.

God may let others be great, but keep you small. He will let others do a work for Him and get the credit, but He will make you work and toil without knowing how much you are doing. Then, to make your work still more precious, He will let others get the credit for the work which you have done; this to teach you the message of the Cross, humility, and something of the value of being cloaked with His nature.

The Holy Spirit will put a strict watch on you, and with a jealous love rebuke you for careless words and feelings, or for wasting your time, which other Christians never seem distressed over.

So make up your mind that God is an infinite Sovereign and has a right to do as He pleases with His own, and that He may not explain to you a thousand things which may puzzle your reason in His dealings with you.

God will take you at your word. If you absolutely sell yourself to be His slave, He will wrap you up in a jealous love and let other people say and do many things that you cannot. Settle it forever; you are to deal directly with the Holy Spirit, He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue or chaining your hand or closing your eyes in ways which others are not dealt with. However, know this great secret of the Kingdom: When you are so completely possessed with the Living God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and management of the Holy Spirit over your life, you will have found the vestibule of heaven, the high calling of God.

This is my resolve. To be his slave. To be dead. To live in grace.

To be continued throughout 2012.

 

Comments

  1. Wow!

    And to think I have been praying over what it means to totally give God the reins,which scares me to death. Maybe a death I need.

  2. Those of us who ‘have been baptized’…ARE dead. (Romans 6)

    That smelly, stinky, self-obsessed, self-justifier, has been drowned in baptism. Put to death with Christ Jesus.

    And the new man/woman raised with Christ…to brand new life.

    _______________________________________________________________

    Return to your baptism daily, and know that the promises of God, in your baptism, are always good…always valid.

    Something actually does happen in baptism. And the best part of it is that the smelly dead guy/gal didn’t have anything to do with it.

    .

    • Nice post. This is more than just a “word picture”. Return to this daily (hourly). Good stuff.

  3. Nice job, Jeff!

  4. Y’know, I’ve been trying to articulate Watson’s “Others May, You Cannot” sermon to others to explain my circumstances. They simply can’t wrap their brains around the idea. I think they’ve allowed themselves to become captivated by the Joel Osteen definition of prosperity and success; they can’t conceive that my success will not necessarily be a material success.

    Good stuff. Watson’s getting added to my reading list.

  5. Wow indeed! Scary resolution but how can I resist making it? When you know what you have to do, nothing else will satisfy.
    36 years of being dead but alive in Christ and I am still barely scratching the surface of what that means. Thanks Jeff for the reminder of what it means to be a disciple.

  6. Dear Fellow IMonks ~ don’t worry, when God loves you HE will see to it that you die. But crucifixion is a long, slow, agonizing death. We fight it with all the survival tools we have. The trick is not to fight.

  7. I too chose not to make a resolutions, instead I accepted a spiritual vow: To allow myself, through my own unique giftedness to freely, humbly and generously be a vessel through which Divine Love is known in the world. And I stated this vow in the presence of my teacher and guru, Jesus. Resolutions can be changed, bargained, forgotten and set aside. Vows are enduring.

  8. Resolutions are self-centered and very pietististic: I choose what is wrong with me and what I am going to fix. Once I reform what I think is wrong with me, then I think I’m ok. It creates blind spots. I agree with you in general regarding resolutions, but if one wants to pursue a resolution, ask ones spouse, family, boss, etc. what he or she should improve. Then one should allow those individuals hold onself accountable. Change is a gift of grace.

    • Now that’s creative! Let’s all just make resolutions for the OTHER people in our lives. For the new year, I resolve that my wife will be more ______, and she resolves that I will be more ________.
      I wonder if, though doomed to failure, that approach might at least be marginally more effective, seeming as its community oriented instead of individualistic. The only resolution I can make with a shred of honesty is to give up completely on my own resolve. Spare myself the disappointment, and wait on the Lord for His gifts of grace.

      • Oops, type-o. I meant to ask others what I should be my resolutions. Making a resolution to lose weight is pretty minor compared to resolving to stop being such an SOB to my wife. But again, that is the nature of pietism: measuring oneself by oneself.

        Now, I understand that this can be as equally legalistic as any approach to resolutions, but I do believe that change is part of the new birth. As the Lutherans pray when installing new pastors or when parents at their childrens baptism commit to raising the children in the faith: “with God’s help” or “by the grace of God”.

  9. David Cornwell says

    “He admits to being harsh, even cruel, at times in his preaching of holiness. ”

    I was sort of dumped into a somewhat milder stream of the holiness movement when I went to college as a freshman in 1955. The college I attended was a place I dearly loved, and still do. However some of the holiness preaching I heard there was very harsh, cruel, and definitely not an example of “perfect love.” It took me some time to sort this out.

    Today my hope is not in attaining personal holiness, or wrestling it into others, but in Christ who raises me from the dead.

  10. thanks for this truth Jeff. I had to turn down a request to lead a short-term mission trip this coming June due to recent surgery and I had felt miserable for having to disappoint the organization asking. But soon I had a peace about my decision, because I knew in my heart that it wasn’t for me to do this time and God has other plans for me (or maybe nothing at all but to rest in His grace) and to let someone else do this.

    I have died, and it is He that lives in me. And I am fine with that!

    Finally.

  11. Rebekah Grace says

    I’ve had a computer print out of G.D. Watson’s Others May, You Cannot for over 2 years now. It was a phone conversation with my mother, my lamenting all that is going on around me (or lack thereof) that led her to tell me about it. I go to it often as an encouragement in this shady spot I’m in. If someone else has to be explained G.D. Watson’s Others May, You Cannot, they’ve never been there and they aren’t capable of wrapping their head around it. Heck, I’m smack dab in the middle of it and I can’t wrap my pea sized brain around it. Alas, I have plenty of time for seeking Papa and encouraging others…….so today, it’s all good.

  12. i had made a New Year’s resolution many years ago that others i am sure have made: i will not make anymore New Year’s resolutions!

    however, i did make one for this year 2012. i made it the 2nd week of November: i am going back to school full time in the fall to get my Master’s Degree in Agriculture with an emphasis on Viticulture/Enology…

    this decision, i believe, part of the blessings God provides in the grander sense of how circumstances unfold & the option becomes viable. will i remain ‘dead’ in a spiritual sense while pursuing this academic journey? i do think i am less of a self-preservation minded saint than i was, say, 3 years ago. the major disruptions of life definitely resulted in getting the proverbial stuffing kicked out of me. but i am ‘relaxing’ more into the new man God is restoring to the original blueprint design. the one He had in mind for me from the beginning & distorted by the effects of sin. thank you Jesus for your Life; life to the full. and freedom. freedom to live this life as You intended it be lived out… 🙂

    • I am about 40% through my Masters in Nursing….never thought I’d be in school AGAIN in my mid-fifties. This is where the Lord seems to have lead me.

      I hope I am hearing God correctly. My physical issues mean I will never be a “working nurse” again, but am sharing my knowledge with a new generation. I am going on blind faith, spending the money and time to do this. I know God could call me home tonight~but I also may have 20 more years to teach new nurses! I appreciate all the support I get here, and hugs to all the other old-fart students like me!

      • great pursuit Pattie! go for it with all the gusto you can muster!

        my choice is simply because my passion is in wine & its overall elements that i find particularly enjoyable…

        the wine industry seems to attract a certain type of demographic that also embraces its unique camaraderie. and yes, it is a career change for me, but i am not at a point in my life where i need to support a family or expect to climb up the corporate ladder to attain some sense of professional satisfaction…

        i will be rubbing elbows with the wine industry movers-and-shakers of the Central Coast & that will be the added benefit of my continued education. and while i am doing all the academic pursuits, i actually get to enjoy quite a bit of wine in the process…

        and that is about as close to heaven to me as i could ever hope for this side of the veil!

        ~in vino veritas

        Saude!

  13. What an unpleasant flashback.

    As a teenager and new Christian (Baptist),I came across Watson’s words in ’76, in a tract published by the American Tract Society. It made me so much want to be, not a regular Christian, but one truly “sold out” for God, truly like Jesus, in all my spirit, like it says.

    But I couldn’t do it…..just couldn’t quite make the grade. Too damn sinful. And I couldn’t will it to happen. So I concluded that God had not called me to be like Jesus….that what the tract really meant was that there are levels or ranks of Christians (those ‘truly’ called, and those not), and that I was definitely among the also-rans, the ‘not called,’ the failures.

    I left the church for about 20 years.

    • Think of this “Others may, you cannot” as something along the lines of St. Therese’s “Little Way”. She wanted to be a great saint, to do amazing works of heroism, huge deeds that would blaze like stars, and she discovered that no, this wasn’t her. She couldn’t be St Paul but she could be a saint in her way – the Little Way.

      It’s easy to make it sound sentimental and sugary, but it’s actually quite tough: you are as surrendered to God as a child being carried in its Father’s arms. You aren’t going to have huge heroic achievements to boast about; you do have to do the small things, like putting up with that grumpy neighbour or talking to a bore at a party when you’d much rather be over there with that group having the fun times. You are imperfect and are going to trip and fall on your way, but it doesn’t matter.

      “Thérèse entered the Carmel of Lisieux with the determination to become a saint. But, by the end of 1894, six full calendar years as a Carmelite made her realize how small and insignificant she was. She saw the limitations of all her efforts. She remained small and very far off from the unfailing love that she would wish to practice. She understood then that it was on this very littleness that she must lean to ask God’s help. Along with her camera, Céline had brought notebooks with her, passages from the Old Testament, which Thérèse did not have in Carmel. (The Louvain Bible, the translation authorized for French Catholics , did not include an Old Testament). In the notebooks Thérèse found a passage from Proverbs that struck her with particular force. If anyone is a very little one, let him come to me. (Proverbs,9,4) And , from the book of Isaiah (66:12-13), she was profoundly struck by another passage: As a mother caresses her child, so I shall console you, I shall carry you at my breast and I shall swing you on my knees. She concluded that Jesus would carry her to the summit of sanctity. The smallness of Thérèse, her limits, became in this way grounds for joy, more than discouragement. It is only in Manuscript C of her autobiography that she gave to this discovery the name of ‘little way’, petite voie. Echoes of this way however are heard throughout her work. From February 1895 she would regularly sign her letters by adding ‘very little’, toute petite, in front of her name. According to the writer Ida Gorres, however ,this language should always be measured against the ‘unfailing, iron self-conquest of her whole life.’ “We know how intensely her life was given to the performance of duty, to the pursuit of good works, to the cultivation of all the virtues…[yet] she rejected all ascetic efforts which were directed not towards God but toward one’s own perfection. It was on this view then, that she based her extraordinary refusal to consider her daily faults important.. because of her lack of illusions in her view of human beings, she assigned to these things, no more significance than they deserved.” ” I have long believed that the Lord is more tender than a mother. I know that a mother is always ready to forgive trivial, involuntary misbehaviour on the part of her child..Children are always giving trouble, falling down, getting themselves dirty, breaking things – but all this does not shake their parents love for them.

      It is precisely in the struggles, failings and day-to-day small deeds of your everyday life that you practice the Little Way of abandonment to the Merciful Love of Jesus.

      • Thanks, Martha.

        Plainly, I misread Watson. But I took his words to mean that God called some Christians to be truly like Jesus, while “others” he did not. So – I had to figure out how to be among those “called.” The task drove me mad. In my Baptist church, I walked up the aisle almost every week, repledging myself to Christ – to sell myself to be his slave, as Watson said. But nothing happened – same failures, same everything. Except my anxiety; that gradually increased to the point that, one Sunday morning in 1978, I simply could no longer bring myself to go to church anymore.

        I realize how pathetic this sounds now, 35 years later. But this pietistic little tract was utter poison to me.

        • Yeah, it’s very hard, and needs proper explaining. People who hand out tracts think they are self-explanatory, but they do – as your example shows – lead people to half-kill themselves trying to be perfect in a way that was never intended.

          Everyone gets it wrong in some way, shape or form, Tucson. You have the wisdom and experience now to know better.

    • I left for nearly 30 years. I couldn’t make the grade either. Still can’t. Not in church now. I hear ya Tuscon. That’s all I wanted to say.

  14. I just spoke with a neighbor who was all excited about an App that let’s you stand in front of someone’s house with your phone and file a complaint against them for some violation or other to the city. The gleeful search for fault with others is a fair indicator that our own internal work is in standby mode. A fair sign of dying to self is lack of judgementalism. Now of course here I am judging him so go figure. All I can say is it gave me a sad and distasteful feeling reminiscent of legalistic, ‘holy love.’ Getting the living hell beat out of you by life and your own failings creates a softness and some rounded edges that make it hard to jump on that high flying and raucous accusation bandwagon. Here’s to quietness of spirit and death to self.