Hemingway and Unfulfilled Longing

‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ – with Ernest Hemingway:

A Farewell to Arms
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Hemingway: To die. Alone. In the rain.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Hemingway: To die doing something heroic…even if it was completely meaningless and accomplished nothing.

The Sun Also Rises
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Hemingway: Because he was in love with someone who would never love him back; a fate worse than death.

I recently read each of these books as part of my decision to read more non-fiction literature. Tim Keller at one point suggested that pastors, who generally read a lot of non-fiction, ought to also read quality fiction in order to stimulate their creativity and imagination. Some of my favorites have been Tolkien, Dostoyevsky and Steinbeck.

And then there’s Hemingway…

The Charm of Hemingway

With Hemingway, you don’t get happy endings in which everything wraps up perfectly and people live happily ever after.

With Hemingway, you get a good story, but most of all, you get a lot of introspection and existential questions, which never get resolved.

Perhaps that’s the charm and appeal of Hemingway: he didn’t try to sugarcoat things. He presents life in all of its facets: joy and pain, longing and disappointment. He’s not afraid to leave a dilemma unresolved, or to have a character’s longing go unfulfilled.

Writing About Himself

As I read his stories, I can’t help but feel that Hemingway is writing about himself – and above all, about his inner struggle to find meaning in life apart from God.

He longs to be heroic and adventurous, and indeed he was – both in the stories and in real life. Yet in the end, even he himself questions what the meaning of life is – and he is never able to sufficiently answer the question, not even in a way that satisfies himself.

It’s no surprise that the main characters in Hemingway’s stories are all Americans living abroad – like Hemingway was. But more importantly, they are all atheists – like Hemingway himself. And not just atheists, but conflicted atheists, who realize the problems inherent to atheism…

In A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway’s character faces the tragic loss of his wife and child, and in a moment of desperation he forfeits his atheism and prays to God! I can’t help but believe that this is Ernest himself admitting that deep down inside, when faced with the reality of life, death and eternity, he knew there was a God – even if he didn’t like to admit it and didn’t want to acknowledge Him.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway’s character is fighting on the losing side of a war, in which the deaths of all those around him won’t change a single thing except to cause pain and loss. He tries to convince himself that all that matters is living heroically and all that matters is living for something bigger than yourself… except that too is completely meaningless. So life is a struggle, it is pain and strife – intermixed with some pleasure – followed by death.

In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway’s thesis is that the point of life is to have fun and enjoy yourself – #YOLO, before #YOLO was a thing. The only problem is: what if you fail to attain that which you want, and therefore you do not succeed at enjoying yourself in life? What then is the point of living?

It is as if Hemingway, in each of his books, is desperately trying to convince himself that there is meaning in life apart from God – and constantly failing to do so.

At least he was honest.

And yet his life ended in self-inflicted tragedy, as if it was one of his own stories.

What Hemingway Missed: The Reality to Which All the Longings Point

What Hemingway failed to realize – and tragically so, considering that he asked all the right questions and seemingly came so close – was that all of the disappointment of the unfulfilled longings of this life points to a reality which is outside of this world.

This is the hope of the Christian gospel: that the unfulfilled longings we have now will actually be fulfilled one day. That the reason we are unsatisfied with life in this world is because we were made for perfection, and deep down we instinctually know the way that things ought to be – even though it’s not how they are right now. We long for a world in which there is love without parting. We long for a world of adventure and nobility, where love is reciprocated, a world of righteousness where injustice is no more and where life does not end.

And the promise of the Bible is that such a world is what we were made for; it has been lost, but it will exist again – and by the grace of God we will get to be part of it because of what Jesus did for us.

The knowledge of that gives actual meaning to our present struggles and direction and purpose to our lives here and now – something truly bigger than ourselves, which will result in the fulfillment of our presently unfulfilled longings.

Expository Preaching: Structure and Progression

writing notes idea class

In my last post, I shared some thoughts from Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the topic of expository preaching, and why expository preaching is more than simply going through a passage verse-by-verse and giving a “running commentary” of disconnected thoughts, but that an expository sermon is to have a structure similar to how a piece of music or a building has structure.

(for more on Lloyd-Jones, check out: Preaching While the Bombs Fell)

Here are some further thoughts from him on how to do that:

Distilling the Message of the Text

The burden of your message arises from understanding the passage. If you have truly understood the verse or passage, you will arrive at a particular doctrine, which is a part of the whole message of the Bible. It is your business to search for this and to seek it diligently. You have to question your text, to put questions to it, and especially this question— What is this saying? What is the particular doctrine here, the special message? In the preparation of a sermon nothing is more important than that.

To do this, I often tell people to boil down their entire message into one sentence. I do the same for every sermon I write.

Showing People Why it Matters to Them

You then proceed to consider the relevance of this particular doctrine to the people who are listening to you. This question of relevance must never be forgotten.

This is an important point that is often missed by preachers and teachers. I once heard someone ask the question: “Have you ever heard a sermon that was doctrinally accurate, but it was so boring it made you want to cry?”

I have. You probably have too. Why was that? This person argued that the reason was because: although what the person said was true, you didn’t understand why it mattered to you.

This isn’t about trying to “tickle people’s ears,” or “trying to make the Bible more interesting.” The fact is: the Bible is interesting. It is compelling. But if we are not helping people see why it is so very interesting and compelling, then we are failing them in our role as Bible teachers.

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others… God making his appeal through us: we implore you on behalf of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:11, 20)

You are setting out to influence these people and the whole of their lives and outlook. Obviously, therefore, you have got to show the relevance of all this. You are not an antiquary lecturing on ancient history or on ancient civilisations, or something like that. The preacher is speaking to people who are alive today and confronted by the problems of life, and therefore you have to show that this is not some academic or theoretical matter… but that this message is vitally important for them, and that they must listen with the whole of their being, because this really is going to help them.

Structure: Progressively Building a Towards a Conclusion

You now come to the division of this matter into propositions or headings, or heads—whatever you may like to call them. The object of these headings or divisions is to make clear this central doctrine or proposition.

The arrangement of these propositions or heads is a very important matter. You have a doctrine, an argument, a case which you want to argue out, and to reason, and to develop with the people. So, obviously, you must arrange your headings and your divisions in such a way that point number one leads to point number two, and point number two leads to point number three, etc.

Each one should lead to the next, and work ultimately to a definite conclusion. Everything is to be so arranged as to bring out the main thrust of this particular doctrine. The point I am emphasising is that there must be progression in the thought, that each one of these points is not independent, and is not, in a sense, of equal value with all the others. Each is a part of the whole, and in each you must be advancing and taking the matter further on. You are not simply saying the same thing a number of times, you are aiming at an ultimate conclusion.

You must end on a climax, and everything should lead up to it in such a way that the great truth stands out dominating everything that has been said, and the listeners go away with this in their minds.

Making Application Along the Way and at the End

It is important that you should have been applying what you have been saying as you go along. There are many ways of doing this. You can do so by asking questions and answering them, or in various other ways; but you must apply the message as you go along.

This again shows that you are not just lecturing, that you are not dealing with an abstract or academic or theoretical matter; but that this is a living matter which is of real concern to the people in the whole of their life and being. So you must keep on applying what you are saying.

Then to make absolutely certain of this, when you have ended the reason and the argument, and have arrived at this climax, you apply it all again perhaps with an exhortation, a series of questions or a series of terse statements. But it is vital to the sermon that it should always end on this note of application or of exhortation.

(All quotations taken from Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching and Preachers, pp. 86-88)

David Foster Wallace on Atheism and Worship

In 2008, at the time of his untimely death, the Los Angeles Times declared that David Foster Wallace was “one of the most influential writers of the last twenty years.”[1] He was an award-winning, bestselling postmodern novelist, who loved to push boundaries in his storytelling.

Although Wallace was an agnostic, he made some profound statements about atheism and worship in his now famous commencement speech, which he gave to the graduating class of Kenyon College in 2005.

Here’s what he said:

webdavidfosterwallaceYou get to choose what to worship. Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.

And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god … to worship … is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.

Worship power, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they are evil or sinful; it is that they’re unconscious. They are default settings. They are the kind of worship you just gradually slip into day after day … without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. [2]

Wallace, although not a Christian, understood and communicated a very profound and very biblical truth: everyone worships, but anything you worship other than God will “eat you alive.”

Romans 6:16 tells us that there is no such thing as not worshiping, and that anything we worship other than God will enslave us.

Rebecca Manley Pippert puts it this way:

“Whatever controls us in our lord. The person who seeks power is controlled by power. The person who seeks acceptance is controlled by it. We do not control ourselves. We are controlled by the lord of our lives. (Pippert, Out of the Saltshaker, p. 53)

Whether we call ourselves religious or not, all of us have a lord, a master, and we are all worshipers.

The only way to be free, is by having a lord and a master who will not crush you, but who will liberate you – and in Jesus we have exactly that: one who came not to crush us, but to liberate us from all that enslaves us and to fulfill our deepest longings.

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10,13)

What a tragedy it would be to know this truth and not come to the fountain of living water and drink in order to be liberated and fulfilled!

Here is a recording of Wallace’s speech. The part about worship begins at 17:50.

Why Church Attendance Isn’t Like Rental Car Insurance

I came across this article in my Apple News feed this morning, posted by a major news source:

Americans still believe in God, so why do so many of us see it as just optional rental car insurance?

The article cites research which shows that despite the fact that 80% of Americans believe in God, church attendance is decreasing. Americans aren’t necessarily giving up on God, they’re just not going to church like they once did.

Contributing factors are our American culture, which is radically individualistic. It’s not a stretch to say that our modern Western culture is the most individualistic culture which has ever existed in the history of the world.

(Read: Toxic Loneliness and How to Break Out)

Furthermore, the Bible has been placed in the hands of the people. No one has to go to church any more in order to hear what the Bible says. Sermons are available via podcast and there are more Christian books on the market than one could probably ever read in a lifetime. Thus, people are increasingly considering church to be optional rather than vital.

The author of this article, a pastor, argues that the church as a community is irreplaceable and meets a deep spiritual need.

(Read: Why Go to Church If You Already Know It All? Here’s Why)

41aomdoo-sl-_sx325_bo1204203200_I am currently reading Martyn Lloyd Jones’ classic Preaching & Preachersbased on a series of lectures he gave back in 1969. Interestingly, he mentions the same issue as having existed at that time as well; the availability of journals, books, radio and television broadcasts of sermons or other Christian content had led many people to opt out of church because they felt they could feed their souls and connect with God on their own via these mediums, apart from the local church.

Here’s his response:

“This is a wrong approach because it is too individualistic. The man sits on his own reading his book. That is too purely intellectual in its approach, it is a matter of intellectual interest. The man himself is too much in control. What I mean is that if you do not agree with the book you put it down, if you do not like what you are hearing on the television you switch it off. You are an isolated individual and you are in control of the situation. Or, to put it more positively, that whole approach lacks the vital element of the Church.

Now the Church is a missionary body, and we must recapture this notion that the whole Church is a part of this witness to the Gospel and its truth and its message. It is therefore most important that people should come together and listen in companies in the realm of the Church. That has an impact in and of itself. I have often been told this. The preacher after all is not speaking for himself, he is speaking for the Church, he is explaining what the Church is and what these people are, and why they are what they are. 

Not only that, when a person comes into a church, to a body of people, he begins to get some idea of the fact that they are the people of God, and that they are the modern representatives of something that has been known in every age and generation throughout the centuries. This makes an impact. The person is not simply considering a new theory or a new teaching or a new idea. They are visiting or entering into something that has long history and tradition.

The person who thinks that all this can be done by reading, or by just looking at a television set, is missing the mysterious element in the life of the Church. What is this? It is what our Lord was suggesting when He said, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst.’ It is not a mere gathering of people; Christ is present. This is the great mystery of the Church. There is something in the very atmosphere of Christian people meeting together to worship God and to listen to the preaching of the Gospel.”

He then goes on to tell the story of a woman who had been involved in occult practices, who one time entered one of his church services when he pastored a small fellowship in Wales. She continued coming and eventually converted. When asked what kept her coming when she first started attending, she said that she sensed a “clean power” in their midst.

“All I am contending for is that when you enter a church, a society, a company of God’s people, there is a factor which immediately comes into operation, which is reinforced still more by the preacher expounding the Word in the pulpit; and that is why preaching can never be replaced by either reading or by watching television or any one of these other activities.”
(Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, pp. 52-55.)

Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but let us encourage one another all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25)

The Last Supper? Actually, No.

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This week is Holy Week, the week during which we remember the final week of Jesus’ life on Earth leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection.

Maundy Thursday is the day in the church calendar when we remember what we call “the Last Supper”, the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before he was crucified. For more on the “lesser known” days of Holy Week, read: “The Less Famous Days of Holy Week

However, there are several aspects to these traditions that might be misleading.

First of all, Jesus’ Passover Dinner with his disciples would have been on Wednesday evening. According to Jewish thinking, this would have been Thursday, since in Jewish thinking the new day begins at sundown. Thus, what we consider to be Wednesday night would actually be considered Thursday by the Hebrews.

For more on the timing of Holy Week, read: “Was Jesus in the Grave Three Days and Three Nights? Here’s How It Adds Up

But most importantly, what is misleading is the name “the last supper”. Consider what James K.A. Smith has to say on this topic:

when Jesus celebrates the Last Supper, he actually intimates that it’s not really the last supper, but the penultimate (second to last) supper.1

Smith is right. Think about what Jesus said during that supper:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29 ESV)

Paul the Apostle then says this about the practice of the Lord’s Supper by Christians:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26 ESV – emphasis mine)

In other words, the meal commonly referred to as “the last supper” was not ever meant to be thought of as the last supper that Jesus would have with his disciples, but as the preview of the great supper that they would one day share with Jesus in His Kingdom.

In other words, Communion, AKA the Lord’s Supper, AKA the Eucharist is an eschatological supper, through which we remind ourselves week in and week out of what is to come: the wedding feast of the lamb, in the New Jerusalem (Heaven).

Consider these words further thoughts from James K.A. Smith:

there’s a certain sense in which the celebration of the Lord’s Supper should be experienced as a kind of sanctified letdown. For every week that we celebrate the Eucharist is another week that the kingdom and its feast have not yet fully arrived.2

As you remember and reflect during Holy Week on Jesus’ penultimate supper, and every time you take communion, keep in mind that we do so both as an act of looking back and as an act of looking forward! Both are essential aspects of the hope that we have in Jesus!

 

James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdomp.199
2 Ibid., p.200

Will Studying Science Make You an Atheist? – Part 2

In my previous post, Will Studying Science Make You an Atheist – Part 1, I referred to studies which showed that, while there is a popular notion that studying science undermines faith in God, data would show that just the opposite is true.

One of the reasons for this is the recognition of the fact that science has its limits.

Mark Clark describes it this way in his book, The Problem of God:

Science has come to terms with the fact that nothing it deduces about reality can really disprove the existence of God. Why? Science studies the natural, physical world. But the existence of God is what is called a metaphysical question (the word meta is the Greek word meaning “after” or “beyond”). God is a being found beyond the physical world, thus the question of his existence is beyond what physics can evaluate.” (p. 38)

All of us employ faith. The great majority of people assume that when someone dies, they no longer suffer. But what proof do we have of that?

Clark relays a story told by a nurse:

One night the staff was discussing a patient who was on life support. In debating whether to take him off or not, one doctor said to another, “Well, at least we know if we do that he won’t be suffering anymore.” Everyone in the group nodded in agreement. But the nurse wondered to herself, How do you know this? That belief (the idea that the person would not be suffering anymore once he was dead) in and of itself is a metaphysical statement about what the afterlife is like. The group of doctors was speaking out of a faith position for which they had no proof. How did they know that this person wouldn’t be suffering more than he was now? They believed this wholeheartedly, but based on what evidence? It is a faith position. Everyone has one. (p. 31)

There are many things in this life that cannot be measured by the scientific method or tested in a laboratory, such as love or areas which pertain to what we call “providence,” i.e. the intangibles which dramatically affect our lives, but which we have no control over.

My daughter almost died as a baby. She was in a coma and we were given a grave prognosis; she was given little chance of survival, and if she were to survive, we were told she had a 90% chance of having cerebral palsy and lifelong disability. She then went on to have an incredible recovery (I’ve written more about that here: I Believe in Miracles; Here’s Why). The head doctor of the NICU later attended her first birthday party and told us that nothing had caused him to believe in God more than being a doctor, because although he can do things to help a person, there is nothing he can do to actually heal a person. As a doctor, he has realized that there are so many things which are outside of human control, and so many things in the physical world which are too complex and wonderful for one to reasonably believe that they came into existence randomly apart from the active work of an intelligent designer.

Faith, then, is not contrary to reason, and it is more and more recognized that contrary to the popular myth, science often results in building faith, rather than destroying it.

Click here to read Part 3!

How to Read the Bible When You’re Struggling or Depressed

In his book, Walking with God Through Pain and SufferingTimothy Keller quotes from John White’s book, The Masks of Melancholy, in which the author recalls a time in his life when he was seriously depressed, and he says that during that time,

“what saved my soul was a dry-as-dust grappling with Hosea’s prophecy. I spent weeks, morning by morning, making meticulous notes, checking historical allusions in the text, and slowly I began to sense the ground under my feet growing steadily firmer. I knew without any doubt that healing was springing from my struggle to grasp the meaning of the passage.

If sufferers have any ability to concentrate, they should do solid inductive Bible study rather than devotional reading, because in most depressed people devotional reading is stopped altogether or degenerated into something unhealthy and unhelpful.”

White knew that when you are despondent, an effort to read the Bible devotionally (looking for inspiration and uplift) is not the answer. Instead, he counsels that you should read the Bible for content. Get the truth out of the text. Remind yourself of who God is and who you are in Christ, and what He has done for you. 

Keller then suggests that the Psalms are particularly helpful, because, not only are they filled with teachings about God, but they are prayers which cover the entire range of human experience. They show us people processing their condition before God. They are praying about their situation instead of merely thinking about it. We see Psalmists praying their tears, their doubts, their fears, their griefs, as well as their hopelessness – as well as their joys and blessings.

One of the things we learn from the Psalms is the practice of “defying ourselves” instead of simply listening to and submitting to our own thoughts. Keller asks, “Have you realized that so much of the unhappiness in your life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”

In Psalms 42 and 43, the Psalmist shows us how he uses this important strategy when he is discouraged: he defies himself and reminds himself who God is, what God has done, and what God has pledged himself to do. You may say to yourself, “It’s hopeless.” Defy yourself and answer back, “Well, that depends on what you were hoping in. Was that the right thing to put so much hope in?”

The Psalmist is defying himself, defying the devil and defying the whole world, by sending himself to God and determining to “praise Him still because He is my God.”

Read the Bible for content rather than inspiration. Fill your mind with the truth about God, and defy yourself when necessary.

Why Go to Church If You Already Know It All? Here’s Why:

Hebrews 10:24-25 tells Christians to not neglect gathering together, but to seek all the more how we can stir each other up to love and good works.
I just taught that passage last Sunday (audio of that message here), and in my preparation I discovered that the phrase “stir up” essentially means to pester or annoy someone, to not leave them alone. I’m thankful for people who do that in my life.

A friend of mine had been politely pestering me to read James K.A. Smith’s “Desiring the Kingdom” for about a year before I finally picked up a copy and started reading it earlier this month. I’m glad I did.

Smith’s basic premise is that all of us are constantly being shaped by “liturgies,” including (and primarily) “cultural liturgies.”

Liturgies, as he uses the term, are not confined or restricted to the order of service in a church worship service. Liturgies are, according to Smith’s use of the word, “rituals of ultimate concern that are formative of our identity—they both reflect what matters to us and shape what matters to us.” Liturgies, wherever they may be found, serve to shape us by forming affections within us.

Smith points out that such liturgies can be found throughout our culture, in places like malls, stadiums and universities, to name a few.

As Christians, it is important that we intentionally submit ourselves to the kinds of liturgies which will shape us into the kind of people we believe we ought to become, and which shape our affections in the right direction.

He points out that our nature as humans is such that we are not so much shaped by our worldviews as our worldviews are shaped by our practices, experiences and affections. Therefore, knowing this, it is important that we submit ourselves continually to the right kinds of “liturgies”.

Liturgies, he explains, “inculcate particular visions of ‘the good life’ through affective, precognitive means, and do so in a way that trumps other ritual formations. In short, they are the rituals that grab hold of our hearts and want nothing less than our love.”

Malls, stadiums and universities are filled with “rhythms, rituals, and spaces which are loaded with meaning; and more specifically, they are loaded with a particular vision, a unique ‘understanding’ of what it means to be a happy, fulfilled, and flourishing person; in short, implicit in these liturgies is an understanding of what it means to be really human.”

It is important therefore, that we recognize the “religious” nature of cultural practices and institutions, and understand that they are not neutral and that participation in them shapes us in very real ways. We should be aware of this fact, and also decide what “liturgies” we want to participate in, in order to shape our affections in the right directions.

He states that this makes it all the more important that Christians focus on creating and practicing our own uniquely Christian liturgies – formative practices which shape us and develop our affections in a particular direction. Christian liturgies include church attendance and participation, reading the Bible and listening to sermons in weekly church services, praying and singing with others, taking communion, being part of a community group, etc. His goal in this is to help us “see the importance and centrality of Christian worship in ways that we perhaps haven’t heretofore.”

I think this is a very important realization: that the reason to participate in church is not only to learn things, but to take part in practices which shape our minds and hearts towards God and His ways. This is why you need church even if you already know “everything” 🙂

There are other reasons as well:

Statistics show that church attendance has a radical impact on families and on the success and health of marriages.

5 Things to Keep in Mind When Making New Years Resolutions

There is a German saying: “Alles hat ein ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.” (Everything has an end, only sausage has two [ends]).

As we approach the New Year, this changing of calendars gives us something to measure by. With the end of one year and the beginning of another, we have the opportunity to look back and assess the previous year, as well as to look forward and pray and plan for the year to come.

In his book, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, author Jon Acuff (who I first came to know about through his great blog: Stuff Christians Like) refers to a study at the University of Scranton(!) which determined that 92% of all resolutions go unfinished. Thus, in a world of bottomless possibilities and endless distractions, to be a person who finishes what you start is as rare, valuable and powerful thing.

92% of all resolutions go unfinished

I’ll admit to you right now, I’ve become a slight bit addicted to finishing things. If I start reading a book, I have to finish it, even if it’s bad (and I did read a few books like that this year). If I set a goal, I almost always finish it, even if it’s not always in a timely matter (like the 1.5 year landscaping project in my front yard).

I agree with what Ecclesiastes 7:8 says: “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning.” However, this in itself is one of the things which prevents people from completing their goals… Many people won’t even try to start doing something unless they are sure that they will be able to finish it. So they won’t even start exercising, because they are afraid they will give up.

Through Jon Acuff’s research, what he found is that the most common day that people give up on a goal is Day 2.

The most common day that people give up on a goal is Day 2.

In the past I was not a fan of New Years resolutions for the very reason that most of them don’t succeed, but perhaps I’ve become a bit less cynical (maybe I should have made that a resolution!), because I’ve really warmed up to the idea. So here are some things to consider when making resolutions and some tips on accomplishing them:

1. Don’t Neglect the Spiritual

The most common New Years resolutions are about 1) Health and Fitness and 2) Time Management. For Christians, we remember what Jesus said: that life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. (Luke 12:23) and that it is possible to “gain the whole world and yet lose your own soul.” (Mark 8:36).

2. Do Everything to the Glory of God

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)
I’ve spoken and written a lot on this topic recently in light of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. The idea of doing everything to the glory of God was a key teaching of the reformers, as they rebelled against the division of life into sacred and secular realms and showed that the Bible teaches that we should do everything we do for God’s glory, and if it is something which cannot be done for God’s glory, we should not do it.
For more on this topic see:

3. Set Goals That Are Not Easy, But Are Attainable

Jon Acuff mentions how many people will set a goal like running a marathon, but yet they underestimate the time and effort that goes into reaching a goal like that. He suggests instead setting a goal that is attainable, and exceed-able, such as running a 5k or 10k for someone who is not already a runner. Having reached that goal, you can set another. Whatever goal you set, it should stretch you, but it should still be attainable, if you want to increase the likelihood of success.

4. Write Them Down

God told the prophet Habakkuk to write down the revelation that God gave him and make it plain. (Habakkuk 2:2) As a result of Habakkuk and the other “writing prophets” writing down the visions that God gave them, we are now able to look back at them and have a record both of how God spoke to those people at that time, and how God fulfilled what He spoke to them.
Having a written record of a goal helps keep you accountable to yourself and motivated throughout the year. I like to keep a list in my desk and check it regularly.

5. Make it Fun

Jon Acuff points out that gaming your goals is one of the best ways to ensure that you make progress on them and don’t give up. So a Bible reading plan (I use the YouVersion Bible app and bible.com) that shows progress each time you complete a section can help you keep going.
I like to compete against myself, so things like this are very helpful for me. I recently installed a productivity app on my MacBook and smartphone called RescueTime. It monitors all the time you spend on your devices and gives you reports and graphs to see what you actually do and how much time you spend on certain websites or particular tests. I also gives you a productivity score of 1-100. I like to see that number grow, which encourages me to spend more time working on things that are truly important and in line with my goals – and less time on things which are a waste of time, which there is no lack of on the internet.

Maybe you’ve got some tips of your own. Leave a comment below and tell me what those are. And may this year be one for you in which you live for God’s glory fueled by gratitude for what He has done for you in Jesus!

What Science and the Bible Say About What Leads to Happiness

I recently stumbled upon the work of behavioral scientist Winfred Gallagher, author of Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, which made the New York Times Bestseller list a few years back. I found the basic premise of the book quite interesting in that through her research Gallagher has validated something which the New Testament has been teaching for almost 2000 years.

For Gallagher, it was an unexpected event in her personal life which set her on this journey: she was diagnosed with an aggressive and advanced form of cancer. Going into her treatment, she had expected it to be a miserable time, but instead found it to be a surprisingly pleasant period of her life. Although physically uncomfortable, she enjoyed many things during this time, including going on walks, and her personal favorite: an evening martini. This led her to later pursue investigating the role that attention plays in a person’s happiness.

After 5 years of studying this topic, she came away with what she called “a grand theory of the mind:”

Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioral economics to family counseling similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience, from mood to productivity to relationships.

If you could look backward at your years thus far, you’d see that your life has been fashioned from what you’ve paid attention to and what you haven’t. You’d observe that of the myriad sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings that you could have focused on, you selected a relative few, which became what you’ve confidently called “reality.” You’d also be struck by the fact that if you had paid attention to other things, your reality and your life would be very different.

The biggest factor which leads to happiness, in other words, is what you choose to focus your attention on.

Author Cal Newport, in reference to this says:

This concept upends the way that most people tend to think about their subjective experience of this life. We tend to focus on our circumstances: assuming that what happens to us, or fails to happen, determines how we feel. From this perspective, the small-scale details of how you spend your day aren’t that important, because what matters are the large-scale outcomes: whether you get a promotion or move to that nicer apartment. According to Gallagher, decades of research contradict this understanding.¹

In other words: our perception of the world and of ourselves is shaped less by our circumstances, and more by what we choose to focus on and pay attention to.

For readers of the Bible, this only serves to confirm what we already know and believe. This is the reason why the Bible says things like:

whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)

This is the reason why Paul the Apostle could write a letter from jail about being full of joy in Jesus; because he took his own advice to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2)

This is the reason why to those suffering pressure and persecution as a result of their Christian faith, Paul’s advice was to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)

As Winfred Gallagher rightly discerned: two people can be facing the same exact circumstances, but what they focus on will determine how they feel about it and deal with it. This has been a trademark of Christianity from its inception. However, as Christians, our focus is not on shallow pleasures and momentary distractions, but we draw from the deep well of hope that is found in Jesus Christ alone! For this reason:

we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Whatever you are going through today, may you fix your eyes on Jesus, and may the hope you find in Him define your reality, giving you joy in the face of anything life brings your way.