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By Matt Bradner — 1 month ago
When it comes to New Year’s goals, I’m very aware that many despise the practice. The resistance is reasonable.
Some reject resolutions as a marketing scheme created to counter the post-Christmas purchasing lull. Others feel that new commitments are pointless because they’re so often abandoned by February. Still others resist the negativity of starting a new year focusing on who they’re not. As understandable as these objections are, though, I can’t fathom entering a new year and viewing it as just another day. You could say I’m haunted by the moment.
Every year, when I write “January 1,” it dawns on me again that I’ve been gifted with another year on this earth. I’ve made yet another trip around the sun. It may seem as though life goes round in a circle: another January, another year, another chance — but then the haunting moment comes: “January 1 . . . 2023.” That moment never fails to take my breath away. After we watch the ball drop and the clock pass midnight, we wake up where we have never been before — the land of a new year — and when this year is over, we will never be here again. All of history — past, present, and future — resides not on a circle, but on a line.
The line that began with the creation of the heavens and the earth is headed somewhere — to the culminating point in which the dwelling place of God is with man, and all those who have trusted in Jesus experience the joy of God making all things new (Revelation 21:1–5). Knowing where history is headed and that God is at work along the way, I can’t imagine beginning my one and only shot at 2023 without pursuing some big goals for the year ahead.
If these words inspire you to do the same, I’ve discovered a well-marked yet seldom-traveled pathway to setting wise goals.
Bigness of Small Decisions
Hikers know that sometimes the path to a destination seems to take you in the opposite direction. A journey to the mountaintop can start downhill. In these moments, it requires faith to trust the trail. Similarly, the journey to something big will be attained by consistently embracing that which is small. Small decisions lead to great destinations.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who are familiar with Jesus’s way of life and teaching. Not only does he consistently tell us to embrace paradox, but he also explicitly teaches that the way of the kingdom begins small. The kingdom is like a grain of mustard seed, “the smallest of all seeds,” that grows and becomes a tree (Matthew 13:31–32).
“Jesus explicitly teaches that the way of the kingdom begins small.”
And not only does the kingdom of God start small, but progress is often hidden from our sight, like “leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened” (Matthew 13:33). If the pathway to greatness starts small and progress often remains hidden, it’s no surprise that so few consistently embrace it.
Our flesh keeps us on the couch, waiting for opportunities that appear to promise instant and immense impact. Those who constantly dream of the big victory often overlook the small decisions required to get there. This type of home-run mentality seems to be exactly where Satan wants us to be. It’s no secret that he tempted Jesus with comfort and glory (fake as it may have been) that was instant and immense (Matthew 4:1–11). I’m convinced Satan is still running the same playbook, and we may be easy targets.
We can test how susceptible we’ve been to his scheme by what we do (and don’t) remember about David, the shepherd boy who eventually becomes king of Israel.
Fighting Giants or Making Lunch?
Regardless of your religious upbringing, most people can name David’s big victory. He defeated the Philistine giant, Goliath. Far fewer, however, can recall what brought David to the battlefield that day. David didn’t wake up in the morning, put on some hype music, and look into the mirror proclaiming, “The world will remember you after today.” No, it was actually a small, humble decision that led him to that great destination.
While all the “men of Israel” went to fight the Philistines, David was considered too young and remained at home tending the sheep. David’s father came with a request: “Will you take lunch to your brothers at the battlefield?” If there ever were a pathway to greatness that started small, it was this one. Specifically, David was asked to bring grain and bread to his brothers, and ten cheeses to King Saul (1 Samuel 17:17–18). David was a tomato away from being a pizza-delivery boy. Humor aside, you can imagine the potential tension in his heart.
On the one hand, he may have been crushed that his greatest contribution to the war was cheese, not combat. On the other hand, I suspect he still carried himself with honor, remembering the moment when God led the prophet Samuel to anoint him as the future king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:11–13). The promise was certain, but the pathway remained unclear.
“Small decisions lead to great destinations.”
Imagine if David had responded to his father, “Dad, really? Lunch? Cheeses? No thanks, I’m holding out for something big today.” By embracing this small, seemingly insignificant act of service, David was unknowingly set on a path to greatness. Small decisions lead to great destinations.
My Three Small Decisions
As you prepare for the new year, I would encourage you to consider the small decisions you might make and keep. Personally, I am committed to starting the year with three small decisions in mind.
The first is to start each day with devotion. The key moment will be when I first wake each morning. My goal is to turn my attention toward God in prayer and the word before turning to my phone. My second decision is to deliberately and consistently look for small acts of kindness that could serve those around me. Lastly, I am committed to taking it one day at a time. After proclaiming that we should praise the name of the Lord forevermore, David starts surprisingly small: “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised” (Psalm 113:2–3).
One devotion, one kindness, and one day at a time. I’m starting with those three small decisions this year. What will yours be?
Small Steps to Destruction
One reason I am so convinced of the power of small decisions is because the opposite is true as well: small decisions lead to great destruction. Just as we underestimate the impact of our small decisions toward Christ, we also tend to overlook the small, seemingly insignificant decisions that lead us away from him. We daydream of the big victories, and have nightmares about committing big evils, and ignore all the small wayward decisions that lead us there. Once again, our memory of King David (or better yet, our lack of it) doesn’t serve us well.
David’s big evil is just as iconic as his big victory. He slept with Bathsheba, a married woman, and then, to cover up what he’d done, had her husband given a sure-death assignment on the battlefield (2 Samuel 11:14–15). As with the Goliath victory, we would benefit from remembering how David ended up entwined in such great evil.
As you could probably guess, David didn’t set out to have an affair and commit murder. Like the pathway to greatness, the road to destruction also began with a small decision. For David, it began here: “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel” (2 Samuel 11:1). David had a job to do, yet chose to send someone else. However inconspicuous it may appear at first glance, it was the first step among many that set him on a path to destruction. Small decisions lead to great destruction.
New Year, Small Decisions
I imagine that the dark side of small decisions lands heavy, as it should. We ought to regularly pause and consider the unwanted consequences of our daily choices. In doing so, we are following the way of the wise, who “see danger ahead and hide themselves” (Proverbs 27:12). While this isn’t a pleasant process, there’s a silver lining around the cloud of our choices. If small decisions can take us to great destruction, then it is also through them that we can avoid many evils.
Perhaps this is why Joseph sends his brothers home from Egypt with the seemingly small request to “not quarrel along the way” (Genesis 45:24). Joseph could have rightly charged them not to plot to kill or sell each other into slavery, but he didn’t. It’s conceivable that Joseph knew that the flaming hatred they once had toward him grew from the kindling of quarrelling. Friends, small decisions can prevent great destruction.
Whether they lead us to great destinations or great destruction, small decisions will shape the direction of our lives. Tomorrow night, we will hear those familiar words, “Happy New Year!” It will feel like we’ve been here many times before, but we haven’t. History has now made its way to the year 2023, and we are part of the story. I invite you to join me in pursuing something great this year, one small decision at a time.
By Scott Hubbard — 1 year ago
A graduate student sits at a booth with friends, his second drink near empty. “Can I refill you?” the waiter asks.
A mother sees the chocolate as she reaches for her youngest’s sippy cup. She tries not to eat sugar in the afternoons, but she’s tired and stressed, and the children aren’t looking.
A father comes back to the kitchen after putting the kids down. Dinner is done, but the leftover pizza is still sitting out. The day has drained him, and another few pieces seem harmless.
Compared to the battles many fight — against addiction, against pornography, against anger, against pride — scenarios such as these may seem too trivial for discussion. Don’t we have bigger sins to worry about than the gluttony of secret snacks and third helpings?
And yet, food is a bigger battleground than many recognize. Do you remember Moses’s terse description of the world’s first sin?
She took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6)
Murder did not bar Adam and Eve from paradise — nor did adultery, theft, lying, or blasphemy. Eating did. Our first parents ate their way out of Eden. And in our own way, so do we.
Garden of Eating
Food problems, whether large (buffet binging) or small (hidden, uncontrolled snacking), go back to the beginning. Our own moments before the refrigerator or the cupboard can, in some small measure, reenact that moment by the tree. And apart from well-timed grace from God, we often respond in one of two ungodly ways.
“Our first parents ate their way out of Eden. And in our own way, so do we.”
Some, like Adam and Eve, choose to indulge. They sense, on some level, that to eat is to quiet the voice of conscience and weaken the walls of self-control (Proverbs 25:28). They would recognize, if they stopped to ponder and pray, that this “eating is not from faith” (Romans 14:23). But they neither stop, nor ponder, nor pray. Instead, they tip their glass for another drink, snatch and swallow the chocolate, grab a few more slices. Wisdom’s protest avails little against the suggestion of “just one more.”
“Since Eden,” Derek Kidner writes, “man has wanted the last ounce out of life, as though beyond God’s ‘enough’ lay ecstasy, not nausea” (Proverbs, 152). And so, the indulgent drink and grab and sip and snack, forgetting that their grasping leads them, not deeper into Eden’s heart, but farther outside Eden’s walls, where, nauseous and bloated, they bow to the god called “belly” (Philippians 3:19; see also Romans 16:18).
Meanwhile, others choose to deny. Their motto is not “Eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19), but “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (Colossians 2:21). They frantically count calories, buy scales, and build their lives on the first floor of the food pyramid. Though they may not impose their diets on others, at least for themselves they “require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:3) — as if one should see Eden’s lawful fruit and say, “I’m good with grass.”
If our God-given appetites are a stallion, some let the horse run unbridled, while others prefer to shut him up in a stable. Still others, of course, alternate (sometimes wildly) between the two. In Christ, however, God teaches us to ride.
Paul’s familiar command to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1) comes, surprisingly enough, in the context of food (see 1 Corinthians 8–10, especially 8:7–13 and 10:14–33). And the Gospels tell us why: in Jesus, we find appetite redeemed.
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking,” Jesus says of himself (Matthew 11:19) — and he wasn’t exaggerating. Have you ever noticed just how often the Gospels mention food? Jesus’s first miracle multiplied wine (John 2:1–11); two of his most famous multiplied bread (Matthew 14:13–21; 15:32–39). He regularly dined as a guest at others’ homes, whether with tax collectors or Pharisees (Mark 2:13–17; Luke 14:1). He told parables about seeds and leaven, feasts and fattened calves (Matthew 13:1–9, 33; Luke 14:7–11; 15:11–32). When he met his disciples after his resurrection, he asked, “Have you anything here to eat?” (Luke 24:41) — another time, he took the initiative and cooked them breakfast himself (John 21:12). No wonder he thought it good for us to remember him over a meal (Matthew 26:26–29).
And yet, for all of his freedom with food, he was no glutton or drunkard. Jesus could feast, but he could also fast — even for forty days and forty nights when necessary (Matthew 4:2). At meals, you never get the sense that he was preoccupied with his plate; rather, God and neighbor were his constant concern (Mark 2:13–17; Luke 7:36–50). And so, when the tempter found him in his weakness, and suggested he make bread to break his fast, our second Adam gave a resolute no (Matthew 4:3–4).
Here is a man who knows how to ride a stallion. While some indulged, and others denied, our Lord Jesus directed his appetite.
Meeting Eden’s Maker
If we are going to imitate Jesus in his eating, we will need more than the right food rules. Adam and Eve did not fall, you’ll remember, for lack of a diet.
No, we imitate Jesus’s eating only as we enjoy the kind of communion he had with the Father. This touches the root of the failure at the tree, doesn’t it? Before Eve reached for the fruit, she let the serpent cast a shadow over her Father’s face. She let him convince her that the God of paradise, as Sinclair Ferguson writes, “was possessed of a narrow and restrictive spirit bordering on the malign” (The Whole Christ, 80). The god of the serpent’s beguiling was a misanthrope deity, one who kept his best fruit on forbidden trees. And so, Eve reached.
But through Jesus Christ, we meet God again: the real Maker of Eden, and the only one who can break and tame our appetites. Here is the God who made all the earth’s food; who planted trees on a hundred hills and said, “Eat!” (Genesis 2:16); who feeds his people from “the abundance of [his] house,” and gives “them drink of the river of [his] delights” (Psalm 36:8); who does not withhold anything good from his own (Psalm 84:11); and who, in the fullness of time, withheld not even the greatest of all goods: his beloved Son (Romans 8:32).
“We eat, drink, and abstain to the glory of God only when we, like Jesus, taste God himself as our choicest food.”
Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus ate (and abstained) in the presence of this unfathomably good God. And so, when he ate, he gave thanks to the Giver (Matthew 14:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24). When he ran up against his Father’s “You shall not eat,” he did not silence conscience or discard self-control, but feasted on something better than bread alone (Matthew 4:4). “My food,” he told his disciples, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). He knew there was a time to eat and a time to abstain, and that both times were governed by the goodness of God.
We eat, drink, and abstain to the glory of God only when we, like Jesus, taste God himself as our choicest food (1 Corinthians 10:31; Psalm 34:8).
Direct Your Appetite
Admittedly, the line between just enough and too much is a blurry one, and even the most mature can fail to notice that border until they’ve eaten beyond it. Even still, between the overflowing plate of indulgence and the empty plate of denial is a third plate, one we increasingly discern and choose as the Spirit refines our heart’s palate. Here, we neither indulge nor deny our appetites, but like our Lord Jesus, we direct them.
So then, there you are, ready to grab another portion, take another drink, down another handful, though your best spiritual wisdom dictates otherwise. You are ready, in other words, to reach past God’s “enough” once again. What restores your sanity in that moment? Not repeating the rules with greater fervor, but following the rules back to the mouth of an infinitely good God. When you sense that you have reached God’s “enough” — perhaps through briefly stopping, pondering, praying — you have reached the wall keeping you from leaving the Eden of communion with Christ, that Food better than all food (John 4:34).
And so, you walk away, perhaps humming a hymn to the God who is good:
Thou art giving and forgiving,Ever blessing, ever blest,Wellspring of the joy of living,Ocean depth of happy rest!
This is the Maker of Eden, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And if the real God is this good, then we need not grasp for what he has not given.
By Kristen Wetherell — 7 months ago
A pyrophobic firefighter. A book-averse librarian. A doctor who is grossed out by germs. We shake our heads at the thought of these living, breathing oxymorons. If such workers exist (and they just well might), we would think them comical at best and hypocritical at worst.
Conceited mothers are no different.
By its very nature, motherhood is humbling work. From the moment of her child’s conception, a woman willingly opens her womb for the ministry of hospitality. She welcomes new life by giving her body as a sacrifice, laying down her comfort and pre-baby body on the maternal altar of love.
After intense pains bring forth her child, a mother’s labor has only just begun. Moment by moment, day by day, over many years, she assumes the role of a servant leader, laying herself down for the good of her kids.
Yes, motherhood is humbling work. And that makes conceited motherhood a sad contradiction.
War Against Conceit
We moms know this, and yet we still wage war against selfishness. Most mornings, I have to verbally remind myself before my two little kids come downstairs, “They are not here to help you. You are here to help them.” For those of us who love Christ and long to be more like him, our struggle with sin remains — but thank God there is a struggle! Our fight against it offers good evidence that we are truly alive in Christ. He has changed our hearts and given us the desire to be humble as he is humble:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3–8)
“To be a humble mom is to look increasingly like Jesus as we look increasingly to Jesus.”
Jesus Christ is the most humble human who has ever lived. So, to be a humble mom — a mom who fights against “selfish ambition or conceit,” and therefore a mom in the truest, God-given sense of the word — is to look increasingly like Jesus as we look increasingly to Jesus. Only as we realize that he lives to serve his people (us!) will we fight the temptation toward selfishness and long for a heart that looks like his.
Because knowing and loving him is more satisfying than anything we could gain by sin.
Three Temptations We Face
Let’s identify now three ways that selfish ambition and conceit tempt mothers like you and me, following Paul’s flow of thought in the passage above. Then we will counter each of these temptations with a lingering look at Jesus, the holy and humble Son of God, who alone can deliver us from self and clothe us in his humility.
Temptation 1: Count Yourself More Significant Than Your Kids
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)
You know the thought: This work — whether diaper changing, mess cleaning, snack making, or repeating myself a hundred times — is below me. I am too good for this. We may not say these words, but many of us think or feel them. Motherhood involves repetitive, simple, lowly work toward little ones, and so it’s easy to think we are too important for it.
Eve’s original temptation from the garden is ours: we want to be like God. And yet, in our pride, we don’t realize how low our God has stooped to serve sinners like us.
We may think we have good reasons for struggling to serve, but if anyone actually does, it would be the Son of God. And yet, nothing kept him from stooping to help us:
Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:6–7)
This is astounding. The Son of God left his high position in heaven and made his home in the dust of earth. He left his unseen form as God of the universe and confined himself to a human body and soul. He left the glory he had known for all eternity to walk among sinful and murderous people.
“In our motherly pride, we may want to be like God — but the truth is, our God has become like us.”
In our motherly pride, we may want to be like God — but the truth is, our God has become like us. He wrapped himself in human flesh to deliver us from our sinful flesh, from the selfishness and conceit that would keep us from being faithful mothers who willingly lower ourselves to serve our kids, counting it our joy and privilege to do so. Only as we gaze upon the incarnate humility of Jesus will our definition of significance be altered, for his stooping posture of service is the perfect picture of greatness (Matthew 23:11). With all our hearts, we confess our pride and ask him to empty us of our former selves, filling us instead with Spirit-given joy in taking the posture of a servant (John 13:14).
Temptation 2: Look Only to Your Own Interests
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)
Every mom knows how often plans change. And this is humbling. As we realize that we are not God, that our future is not in our control, and that only he knows what’s next, we are confronted with how tightly we hold to our own interests. We’re made aware of our vice grip on our circumstances. We think, This wasn’t my plan. We need to spend precious naptime minutes disciplining our child instead of resting; we must cancel our long-awaited vacation because everyone has the flu; our dream of motherhood is thwarted by a life-altering diagnosis in one of our children.
The question for us is, How will we respond to God when plans change? In pride, or in humility?
During his earthly ministry, Jesus’s posture was to joyfully humble himself to the will of his Father. Even as he sought rest, solitude, and prayer after a busy season of ministering, he found himself confronted by needy crowds (sound familiar?). And what was his response? He was not annoyed or angry, but “he had compassion on them,” for he knew that these people were sent to him straight from his Father (Matthew 14:13–21).
He looked not only to his own interests, but to the interests of others, and ultimately to the interests of his Father.
The ultimate display of his obedience to the Father was the cross: “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). The sinless one took on our sin, bearing the full weight of God’s wrath in our place. What matchless obedience! And this, so we also would joyfully humble ourselves before God and obey his will, looking to his interests and the interests of others above our own.
This is freedom, momma. To be released from the tyranny and fallenness of self into the perfect ways and infinitely wise agenda of God as we serve our kids — this is the truest life, and true, humble motherhood.
Temptation 3: Forget Who You Are in Christ
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5)
What mind does Paul call us to have? A humble one. A Christlike one. But lest we get discouraged by our remaining selfishness, by how far we still feel from Jesus’s humility, Paul reminds us of a vital reality: our union with Christ. “Which is yours in Christ Jesus.”
Mom, you no longer belong to yourself. If you have trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, then you have been united to him in saving faith. This means that you have an unshakable security in Christ that no bad day of motherhood can undo. It means you are not left to your own resources as you fight selfishness, but have his Spirit of humility dwelling within you. It means that sin is no longer your master; Jesus is.
So when you are tempted to forget who you are in Christ — when the pull toward lofty pride or your own interests feels too strong; when you would rather scoff at your kid’s mess than clean it up (again); when you “just want to be done,” but the needs keep rolling in — remember that the living Savior lives in you. The exalted one, seated at the Father’s right hand, has made his home within you by his Spirit. You are Christ’s, he is yours, and he joyfully gives himself, without restraint, to you.
You are united to the God of all creation, who emptied himself to serve you to the point of death, and all the way through it to resurrection life. And if this perfectly humble God is on your side, momma, what conceit or selfishness can stand against you?