Saturday, January 05, 2008

Are Resolutions "Bad Spirituality?"

Offer right sacrifices and trust inthe Lord. (Psalm 4:5)

I’ve been pondering that line from Eugene Peterson about resolutions being bad spirituality. For one thing, I feel that a clarification is in order. I’m not sure you’ll find that statement in any of Peterson’s published works. I heard him say this years ago as I listened to a recording of one of his class sessions at Regent College. I know in my own teaching I’ll make some throw-away statements that I’d have to carefully unpack if someone questioned me or asked me to explain myself. And honestly, some of those statements I might simply retract. That might be true for Peterson in this case. I don’t know.

I get some help in understanding him, or at least articulating my own understanding of what he meant, from Psalm 4:5. “Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord.” I find in this short verse a pattern for living the New Year. Better than that, a pattern for what it means to get out of bed every day and do whatever the day might demand of you, or whatever it might bring your way or dump in your lap – however you choose to look at it.

Offer right sacrifices: the essence of bringing sacrifice was bringing something of worth, usually the best of the crop or the best animal. Without extensive exegetical work in the Hebrew, I read this to mean “bring the best that you are to all that you do.” Teaching, writing, parenting, litigating, changing light bulbs, navigating congested roads into work, emailing colleagues, answering the phone – whatever. Do your best work. I often say those four words to my kids as they hop out of the car every morning in the carpool line and rush into school. Do your best work. Bring right sacrifices.

But having done our best, we trust. Ultimately, we don’t determine outcomes. We do our best work, bring our best self to the task, and then we step back to see how God might use what we do for his purposes. This is at the heart of Peterson’s statement I believe. Our lives are more about what God is doing through us and around us than they are about what we intend to do by our best efforts and good intentions.

It’s the trust part that I find difficult. And truthfully, the bringing of right sacrifices isn’t always that easy either. I don’t always bring my best to my teaching or writing; I don’t always give my family the best energies of my day. My hard-hearted self doesn’t simply want to teach the Bible on Wednesday nights. I want people to like what I say and how I say it and come back in greater numbers – and yes, hopefully be helped in their life of faith. It’s hard to bring the sacrifice, and then simply leave it on the altar, offer it up for God’s glory and leave it at that. After all, what does he do with it? That's entirely up to God. We're simply invited to trust.

“Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord.” It’s a short verse that takes a long time to get into the living of our days. Getting it right is good spirituality; worthy of our resolve.

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