NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS -
THE SEASON FOR SELF IMPROVEMENT
By Daniel Willis
January really is the time of the year where our society stops and puts a concerted focus on self improvement. Its all around us... in 2018 I want to get fitter; in 2018 I want to lose some weight; in 2018 I want to focus more on my studies; enrol in University; finish my degree; get a job; find a better house to rent; buy a house; sell a house; stick to a budget; get out of debt; take my relationship to the next level; invest more into my children; do better in my marriage; get my life right... with God. We see lots of new people at our local fitness club, gyms and pools are busy, church attendance is high.
While all these things are advantageous, I grapple with the tension created when Jesus turned up 2000 years ago and made the audacious claim that even more important than self improvement was our devotion to improving the lot of people that we encounter every day in life. Jesus placed such immense value on people - ordinary people, much to the contrary of the culture of the day.
When Jesus turned up, Israel was under Roman rule. Herod the Great was the king of Judea and was aligned with Rome, and the Jews were allowed to continue to work, eat and live as long as a portion of their effort was returned to Rome though taxes. And the Jews had structured their own society with the Pharisees and other religious affiliates at the top of the food chain together with some wealthy influential business men and land owners, whilst everyone else was of far lower value, with foreigners (non-Jewish people), sick people, tax collectors and prostitutes at the bottom. But Jesus seemed to mix with the commoners, with the people who were nothing like the elite, and had a heart for the tax collectors, sick, the fatherless, the widows, the prostitutes - people who were nothing like Jesus. They flocked to him in droves.
From observation, when we are left to our natural inclination, we make every decision around how it will benefit ourselves. We seem hard wired toward focusing on ourselves. But Jesus introduced a crazy notion that fulfilment can only be found when we are willing to give our lives away for the things that Christ values... others (see Matthew 10:39). So, while self improvement is a good thing to aim for, Jesus tells us that we are called to be so much more than self oriented, to be part of something bigger. It is an invitation to significance. Its an invitation to finding purpose beyond just becoming a better version of you. By focusing only on ourselves, we run the risk of our lives feeling empty, tired, burnt out, lacking purpose.... because you and I were called to so much more. And purpose is found just across the border of “its all about me”.
So what cause are you passionate about? What is it that causes emotion to well up within you when you see the plight of our society? It may be anger, it may be frustration, it may be empathy, sadness, excitement, a call to action. What is the thing that breaks your heart? Jesus tells us that if we focus on simply protecting our own lives, making it comfortable for ourselves and focusing simply on how I can make me a better version of me, at the end of our time on earth, we will only have ourselves to show for it. There may be nothing else achieved and all our passion, energy, initiative and potential will be finished. But innately, many of us realise that the purpose God has placed you and I on this planet for is so much greater than just you or I - its about helping others, leveraging your strengths, resources, time, emotion, knowledge, etc to help others. All of us want something to show at the end of our lives, how we made an impact, how we met a need, how we left the world, or at least someone's world a better.
So what is it God has called you to do in 2018? What moves you, infuriates you, reduces you to tears just thinking about it, or you just wish someone would fix it? When you decide to give your life away for something you are passionate for, you have a far greater chance at having something to show for your life at the end. As I once heard a very wise leader say "the best thing you can do for you really has nothing to do with you". Its about investing into the lives of others in the way God has uniquely designed and empowered you to do. So as I set my focus for 2018, I am asking myself the question - how can I focus my attention on making someone else's world a better place this year. And you have no idea what, or who, hangs in the balance of your decision to help others.