I had quite a year. I made a few resolutions at the beginning of 2009 and I’ve done well.
I worked out 5-6 times a week and became a vegetarian. My resolution was to become a vegan, but cheese kept finding its way into my mouth (it snuck in on veggie pizza and goldfish crackers). I also ate an egg. Then there was the mahi-mahi my wife and I ate while celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary…and the lunch meat I tasted when making my kids’ lunch. (Hey, it could have gone bad. I was throwing myself in front of the salmonella bus to save the children.) But that’s not the point.
The point is that I made some New Year’s resolutions and I’ve done well. With all the exercise and my vegetarianism, I lost 50 pounds. I also quit drinking and sneaking my boss’ pipe tobacco. I’m like a Nazarite without the hair. I’m going to get a life insurance policy with premiums in the basement before I lose it and go on some kind of crazy meat and beer binge, gain all the weight back, and grease up my blood. But that’s not the point.
The point is that as of right now, I’m living as cleanly as I ever have. And on top of that, I started seeing a counselor to work through my stuff, to name “my demons” and kiss them on the mouth, in an effort to live in greater degrees of freedom. And on top of that, I’m working on another master’s degree at Reformed Theological Seminary. The way I’m going, I might get translated straight into heaven like Enoch. I hope the life insurance policy pays out even if they don’t find a body.
2009 has been a year of personal reformation in just about every area of my life. Do you know what I’ve discovered in the process of getting my act together? I’ll tell you anyway. God isn’t happy with me because of my efforts. I thought he would be. I went to him and said, “Look, Father, I’m finally starting to behave like a “real” Christian. What do you think of me now?” And he just replied, “Good for you.” I could tell by the way he said it that he wasn’t impressed.
There is something twisted in me that wants to make God happy, but I’ve found that it’s useless. Trying to make God happy is like standing on the beach, collecting the waves in a child’s bucket and pouring the water back into the surf in an effort to get the ocean wet.
God is already happy and nothing I do can add to or subtract from that.
“This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Those words from our Father were the air Jesus breathed. He did only what he saw the Father doing, and God the Father was constantly and consistently happy with God the Son.
Because of the cross, those are the Father’s words to us too. Listen to that still small voice that’s almost drowned out by self-condemnation and the accusations of our enemy and you’ll hear the words like a cool breeze in the heat of the day, “You’re my beloved child and I’m happy with you.”
Not only is the Father happy with me because I’m part of the body of his beloved Son, the fact is…he’s just plain happy. It is part of the package that comes with being the eternally blessed source of all goodness.
You don’t have to read much of the Bible to see what I mean. In Genesis, he says a few words and everything that exists springs into a good and pleasant existence. He didn’t create because of any need or loneliness on his part. The Trinity was enough. Instead, he shared his image with dust simply to bless us with the overflow of his happiness. And then, within an instant of our shattering that image and running from his blessing, the biblical account shows him chasing us to cover our shame. He proclaims his name in Exodus 34:6, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Romans 11:35-36 reveals God’s overflowing wealth of blessedness this way, “Who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things.” He doesn’t need anything or owe anyone…he’s the very definition of satisfied.
The Old Testament is filled with commands to rest and celebrate in God’s goodness. We’re so uptight he had to order us to share in his happiness. All those feast days were not solemn occasions. Check out this seldom quoted command from Deuteronomy 14:22, 25-26 that reveals the spirit of the law, “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year…bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.” I bet you’ve never heard those verses used in a sermon on tithing.
In the New Testament we see God the Son frequenting so many parties he’s accused of being a drunk. The last book of the Bible reveals that the world ends with the biggest wedding celebration ever. Everyone’s invited and there’s an open bar: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17).
God has so much and is so much that he’s described as the fountain of living waters. We’re told that he delights in sharing his abundance with his children. Luke 12:32 reads, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
There is that word again, “pleasure.” God is pleased and it’s his pleasure to share the happiness of his abundance.
In the face of all that, it’s absolutely comical that I would want to make God happy, but I do. It’s ridiculous, but not unprecedented. In fact, it’s the same arrogance that motivated Adam and Eve to cover themselves with leaves instead of coming to God for clothes.
I am like the guys Paul talked about in Romans 10:2-4, “They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
That is what’s so dangerous about commitment in general and New Year’s resolutions in particular. Our efforts to be good can blind us to the only real righteousness there is.
Do you want to know what gave me the juice to get my act together this year? A life insurance policy with low premiums…and grace. It really is true that the only people who get any better are those who know that if they don’t get any better, God will still be happy with them anyway.
To be honest, when I first heard that message, I started smoking and drinking and rebuilding the CD collection I threw out when I first became a Christian. All because I really believed in the imputed righteousness of Christ. I was sure God was happy. But here’s the kicker…I wasn’t. I was absolutely miserable.
That is the upside of sin. If you’re really a child of God, it makes you sick. Keep it up and you’ll get more and more miserable, and consequently more and more determined to stop. You look around at the pigs you’re sharing dinner with and remember the celebrations at the Father’s house. You remember that he’s happy, that he has more than enough, and that if you go home, you’ll be happy too.
I didn’t get my act together this year to make God happy. I did it to make me happy and that’s why I did so well. When I pointed out my success to God and he said, “Good for you,” he meant it. God’s correction is his gift to us. But sometimes you don’t see that until you realize God’s already happy and he doesn’t need you to finish the job. And sometimes you don’t see he’s already happy until you get drunk and miserable and stumble home.
Hear these words from Nehemiah 8:9-10, “‘Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’”
Remember that if you find yourself feeling fat and undisciplined after all the holiday parties and food and overindulgence. As you haul that last garbage bag of torn up wrapping paper to the curb and start thinking about making some resolutions, don’t forget that God’s joy is your strength.
Don’t resolve to be good to make God happy. Instead, enjoy his happiness and you just might be surprised by your faithfulness. Even if you don’t get any better, it’s the best
chance you’ve got at having a Happy New Year.
Now…does anyone want to go get a beer?
This piece was originally published in the Key Life Magazine. Click here for a free subscription and get articles like Resolution Solution and a whole lot more!