Saturday, January 2, 2021

Resolve to Inconvenience Yourself

Monday will be the day that many of us get serious about doing better things in 2021. You have goals and dreams -- and that's good. An aspect of Christian stewardship is improving and growing. You should desire to take the gifts God has given you and "excel still more," (1 Thessalonians 4).

This year, many people will be even more serious about making 2021 a better year than the previous one. Let's face it -- 2020 was difficult and presented a variety of unique challenges. But we should not shake our fists at the heavens, as I noted on Facebook earlier this week.

Let's be really careful about cursing the past year. Just like cursing the weather, to a degree you're actually cursing the Sovereign who ordains whatsoever comes to pass.

Posted by Jeremy Howard on Friday, January 1, 2021

So what can we do? We can resolve to make a difference. We can make decisions that actually matter. We can inconvenience ourselves. In so doing, we will find that we're actually living a better life, one that's more intentional about the stewardship God has given us. Beyond the items I list below, perhaps you can make it your theme in 2021 to inconvenience yourself for the glory of God.

Fight Consumerism

There was a significant stretch of time in my life (perhaps 4-5 years) when I only purchased clothing that was American-made or found in a thrift store. I didn't set out on that venture for any particular ethical reason; I was just seeking to buy better -- and I learned a few things along the way. I discovered that buying clothes this way resulted in higher-quality items that lasted much longer. I also learned that there are very few companies making clothes in America. I wound up supporting businesses that are relatively small and fight to exist outside the typical "Big Box" and Amazon markets. In turn, I was much happier with what I had and what I had done to achieve it.

Paying more for fewer things is a lifestyle that many (most?) people seek to avoid. However, it's much healthier. I watched a TED Talk by Barry Schwartz over ten years ago and I still think about it quite often. His presentation is absolutely brilliant (except for a few socialist quips). He makes the case that more is actually less and we cause ourselves to suffer when we immerse ourselves in countless choices. We suffer because we end up thinking about the things we didn't choose that could have been better and we only have ourselves to blame. It's a fascinating reality.

For the Western Christian, it's worth it to push back against the consumeristic way of life. Generally speaking, we're distracted, stressed, and anxious. We don't have to live this way. We have the Spirit of God, the word of God, and the people of God. We can live better.

For me, this means an intentional movement away from Amazon in the coming year. I've become quite dependent on this company and I want to make changes now, before it becomes even harder to get away. There are other things I'll pick up here and there, I'm sure, and you should consider making changes like this, too.

Support Good People and Causes

There are many generous people out there who do not need to be reminded of the importance of financially supporting others. However, many Christians easily forget just how essential it is to give their money away. Just the phrase, "give your money away," sounds so contrary to what we should be doing. It goes against our nature. It's inconvenient!

In the context of giving, Scripture says, "The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows generously will also reap generously. Each one must do just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace overflow to you, so that, always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed," (2 Corinthians 9:6-8). There is no shortage of ways we can intentionally give our money away.

Our first priority in giving has to be our local church and the individuals within our local church. This is our family -- our true, eternal family. The local fellowship needs funds to continue on and the people who make up said fellowship have many needs individually.

It's important to remember world missions, too. Though the local church should be supporting missionaries, you can and should support missionaries as well. Individually, you can make a real difference in the lives of hundreds of people by supporting just one missionary family.

Beyond that, there is a plethora of godly causes out there. From anti-abortion ministries to educational resources to podcasts and other media, God has His people all over the world doing all sorts of amazing things. Many of these people and organizations rely on donations from people just like you.

Send Your Children to Good Schools

It's fair to say that (very) generally speaking, the public school system is trending in a bad direction. In many cases, putting a child into a local public school is not the best situation for that child. You must seek wisdom in those situations and obey your God-given conscience. This does not mean that you should just do what you've always done or that you are free to ignore alternatives. We must all challenge ourselves on these things and consider what else we could be doing.

Homeschooling is difficult -- and it comes with stigmas. Christian schools and other private institutions are few and far between and typically cost a pretty penny. But are these inconveniences worth it? In many cases, the answer is a resounding, "Yes!" These little human lives in our homes deserve to be cared for in a way that may inconvenience us in extreme ways. 

This isn't just about K-12, though. Many good Christian colleges exist but it's becoming harder and harder for them to carry on. The average Western family has become dependent on public institutions for the entirety of a child's education and Christian colleges, in particular, are suffering from that. Perhaps the best thing for the Church and for your child would be to send him/her to another state, to a small undergraduate program, where you will all be extremely stretched financially. Perhaps the result will be that little Johnny will get a quality, biblical education, find a great spouse, and be ready to tackle life on his own.

Choose to Unplug

This one's hard.

At a different point in my life, I got rid of my smart phone to live for about nine months with only an old flip phone that had no data plan or camera. It wouldn't allow me to participate in group texting or use a digital map. For some of you, that sounds pretty nice. Honestly, it sounds nice to me, too. If I wasn't a pastor right now, I think I could go back to that.

I'm not here to reiterate what many others have already said about technology. Tony Reinke's 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You is a great resource, as is Andy Crouch's The Tech-Wise Family. I am here to challenge you to actually make some changes, though. I'm also here to challenge myself.

As with all changes, they will only take place if there is some system of accountability. If you're married, see if your spouse will join you in leaving your phone in the car when you go somewhere. See if you all can resolve to inconvenience yourselves by taking a road trip without the use of your phone -- using it only as an emergency device. If you're not married, consider getting an accountability app that you can share with someone from your Christian circles that monitors your phone activity. If that sounds scary to you, consider why that may be.

Melissa and I have practiced a "Tech Sabbath" for the past year, meaning we don't use engage in social media from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday. Admittedly, that's a low standard. But it was a place to start. In the future, we'll likely employ more difficult boundaries for ourselves that will inconvenience us, but will also cause us to be more focused and healthy. If you're interested in a fuller teaching on Sabbath and rest, you can listen to part one of my two-part sermon series on the subject.

So there are some basic thoughts for you to consider. A few years ago I wrote, "23 Realistic Goals for the New Year" and it's still applicable today; you may find it to be helpful. What thoughts or reactions do you have? Share with me in the comments!

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