Freedom from Self-Perfection

At this time of year, it seems totally normal to reflect on the year gone by and make plans for the one to come. Invariably, those plans include at least a few efforts at self-improvement. Whether it’s losing weight, shaving points off your golf average or mending a deeply-fractured relationship, the run-up to New Year’s Eve commonly carries with it a mental checklist of 1) what we got right, 2) where we went wrong, and 3) how we plan to somehow motivate ourselves into “being all that we can be.”

New Year's ResolutionsAnd, of course, there’s nothing wrong with introspection; the Bible validates the process of examining our lives (Lamentations 3:40).

New Year’s resolutions can prove to be very beneficial. The underlying issue that most concerns me as I approach any sort of self-improvement can be summed up with a simple question: “Why am I seeking this change?”

For example, as I write this, I could certainly stand to lose 20 pounds. (Perhaps more!) My wife is an awesome cook, and one of the ways she shows her love for her family is by consistently preparing excellent meals. Her desire to serve – along with my desire to be served – bumps up against the slower rate of metabolism that comes with middle age. These factors have combined to bring me to a place where I need to make a decision: Either I will do something about this – and hence make a serious adjustment to daily life – or I won’t. Yes…or no?

In seeking to follow the instructions of Lamentations 3:40, though, I have actually come to something of a different conclusion.

The passage I’m thinking of tells us that we are to “examine our ways” and “return to the LORD,” suggesting that the various bad habits we would prefer to do without – eating too much, as just one example – are not our primary problem. The writer of Lamentations seems to be saying that the problem we see is an indicator of a much bigger problem – that we have drifted away from God, and we are lost. The reason that we care so very much about our waistline is because we have turned from our relationship with God, at least in some ways, and are constantly distracted by “lesser things.” These things aren’t necessarily bad to pursue, done rightly, but they ignore the fact that our greatest problem is that we are lost.

Four days ago, Rick Warren published a Christmas devotional that at first seemed a bit odd. After all, why would any well-regarded pastor publish a blog entitled What It Means to Be Lost on Christmas Day? Surely Pastor Rick lost sight of the fact that Thursday was Christmas, right?

I doubt it. In my experience, Rick Warren doesn’t miss a trick. Here’s an excerpt from Thursday’s post:

Our lostness has immense ramifications on our lives. To know why Jesus came to Earth, we must understand what it means to be lost. Without God, we’ve lost:

    • Our direction. We’re bound to have little understanding of where we should go and what we should do in this life.
    • His protection. We’re on our own when we’re not under the Lord’s protection. That’s a huge reason many people are stressed out. They’re trying to live under their own care and protection instead of God’s.
    • Our potential. We’ll never know half the gifts and talents we have if we’re not in a relationship with him.
    • Our happiness. We can have all the money and power in the world, but without God we will never have true joy.
    • Our home in Heaven. God allows us to rebel while we’re here on Earth, but there’s no rebellion in Heaven.

But no one who is lost has lost one ounce of value to God. Even if you don’t have a relationship with him, you have immense value to God. Lostness implies value. Whatever someone is willing to spend to recover something that’s lost shows how valuable that item is.

It seems as though Rick Warren is saying the same thing Lamentations is telling us – that our biggest problem is not an ever-expanding waistline, an inability to shave strokes off our golf game, or even the pain of a broken relationship. Our biggest problem is that we are trying to solve those problems apart from the Kingdom of Christ. Which leads me to believe that I’d be far better off walking with Jesus (in my all of my personal fatness) than swaggering around with an enviable physique…entirely apart from Him.

Jesus Saves!

Jesus saves us from the need to be perfect.

Please don’t misunderstand me on this point. I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t work toward a life that better honors the way that God has invested us with time, talent and treasure. Scripture tells us that our bodies are temples of the living God, and we should care for them as such (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We can enjoy seeking to improve at sports or any other God-given skill (1 Corinthians 10:31). We should spend more time seeking to mend the damaged relationships in our lives as best we can (Romans 12:18).

I am simply suggesting that self-improvement is something we should approach with fear and trembling, remembering that many of the things we pursue are “dangerously good things,” always at risk of dethroning our Lord. We are all prone to self-deception (Jeremiah 17:9). We should not forget that we are entirely lost and dead in our sins apart from the seeking-and-saving work of Jesus.

Whatever we desire to improve, we must absolutely submit it to the Lordship of Christ, or we are merely “polishing the brass railings on the Titanic.”

Lord, as Your people enter into a New Year, may it please You to preserve and protect us for another twelve months, to use that time to shape and mold our lives as best serves Your Kingdom and best displays Your power and might. I pray that You would shake from my heart all desires to improve my life in ways that are trivial or fueled by any form of pride. Before a request for change is even on my tongue, Lord, You know it completely. I simply ask that You sift me from all ungodly pursuits and set my feet on Your path for change, even if that course does not fit my desires or expectations. Amen.

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