When I was in college, I started to really enjoy country music, in particular a few select artists. Garth Brooks was the headliner of the group, with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw a close second, any many other quality artists like Shania Twain, John Michael Montgomery & Alan Jackson getting airtime in my CD player. One song specifically spoke to me, but in an odd way.
In 1999, Tim McGraw came out with a song called “My Next 30 Years” in which he talked about his shortcomings of his first 30 years and his plans to make the next 30 years count. Since I was only 21 at the time, it was difficult to truly appreciate the words and sentiments of this song, but the story of redemption was not lost on my youthful ears. The idea that our past doesn’t have to define our future is one that resonates with all of us, but one in which few of us every do anything about. It’s one thing to say we want to be different – to be better – moving forward, but it’s a whole other animal to actually do it. Habits are difficult to change, and the social expectations of our past are strong influences on our future behavior and the choices we make.
In March, I turned 40. The words of Tim McGraw’s song and, most importantly, the sentiment of that song have never meant more than they do right now. Nineteen years after hearing it for the first time, I still long for redemption in my life. I long for the promise of letting go of my past disappointments and striving for what is better.
This weekend, I felt God speaking to me on what this “better” might look like, if I would be open to letting Him show me. Specifically, God spoke to me through two new platforms, a sermon by Timothy Montgomery, a young theologian and pastor, and a new song by one of my favorite Christian bands, Casting Crowns. Let me start Timothy’s sermon at Fellowship of Wildwood (MO), which can be heard online, and which I highly recommend. For now, let me give you the cliff notes that have not left my mind since he spoke them just a few short hours ago.
As we approach the New Year, it’s natural for people to come up with New Year’s Resolutions and make their plans for the year: school functions, family events, vacations, etc. And while planning is certainly an important part of 21st century life in the United States, Timothy aptly asked a question that penetrated deep to the core: Are we submitting our New Year’s plans – our 2019 calendar – to the mission God has for us? Are we considering what God would have for us, or are we trying to sprinkle God into our calendar once our plans are made?
This thought prompted me to consider a new way of ushering in the New Year. Instead of coming up with New Year’s Resolutions, which usually don’t sniff Valentine’s Day and are typically focused on ourselves, this year I want to make New Life Resolutions. And, as Rick Warren reminds all of us in the first line of The Purpose Driven Life, this life is “…not about you.” It’s not about me. It’s not about us. It’s about God.
What if we started 2019, not with what we want to do or be but, with what God would have us be and do for the glory of His name? What if we focused not on ourselves and our desires, but on God and His purposes? What might we do differently in 2019 and beyond if we started the conversation by asking God to lead us, to show us what He has for us. As Jesus told His followers in Matthew 16:24-26
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”
Timothy’s sermon came on the heels of a new song I heard yesterday on 99.1 JoyFM. As the words poured out of my car speakers, I couldn’t help but sing along with one of my favorite bands, Casting Crowns. I encourage you stop reading and listen to this song before continuing, paying close attention to the words.
Make it count, leave a mark, build a name for yourself
Dream your dreams, chase your heart, above all else
Make a name the world remembers
But all an empty world can sell is empty dreams
I got lost in the light when it was up to me
To make a name the world remembers
But Jesus is the only name to remember
And I, I don’t want to leave a legacy
I don’t care if they remember me
And I, I’ve only got one life to live
I’ll let every second point to Him
For forty years now I have spent my energy trying to make a name for myself; albeit, not very well. No one ever accused me of being a masterful marketing talent, that’s for sure. But in my heart, in my mind, I have tried to come up with ways to be popular, to be famous, to make lots of money. Business ideas, professional golf aspirations, becoming a best-selling author, anything that would give me fame and fortune. I have strived after things this world says are important at the expense of making known the name of Jesus.
My New Life Resolution is to start working out what it looks like to “lose” my life for the sake of Jesus and to make known the name of Jesus by leading my family to live on mission. One way we are going to do this as a family is by spending time together praying and discussing what God would have us do this year, especially as we consider our calendar and our plans. I encourage all of us to do something like this to intentionally be on mission fueled by God’s unimpeachable sovereignty. And not just for 2019, but for as long as God allows us to live on this earth. As the 90th Psalm reminds us: Lord Jesus, teach us to count our days so that we might make our days count.
Praying for everyone reading this that God would lead you and yours to what He has for you, and that we would all be obedient to His plans for our lives. Grace and peace to you.