Organizations develop mission statements: Should we have individual ones? If you've made a specific New Year's resolution such as, "I will stop smoking," good. But how about a personal mission statement along these lines: "To use the talents God gave me for His glory."
I'm still thinking of a reference to Joshua 3:15 by Richard Bransford, WORLD’s 2010 Daniel of the Year. Dr. Bransford for over four decades has saved and changed thousands of African lives by ministering to them physically and spiritually, under difficult and often dangerous circumstances. Here's his goal put into mission statement form: "To serve a God of miracles. To put my foot into the Jordan River before the waters separate."
We can't all be Bransfords: God gave him special gifts. But every Christian can and should be a person who sometimes astounds non-Christians by a willingness to depart from the ordinary. Each of us can put a foot into the Jordan before the waters separate—and especially as we get older, for some of us it's now or never.
I faced this question recently. I appreciate the sweet letters I receive from many of you and am glad that I've fooled some of you into thinking I have some wisdom. But when a literary agent who wanted me to write a full memoir asked me to relate the "arc" of my life, I wasn't sure how to respond. Lots of colorful incidents, sure. Birth, fall, and redemption, sure, but the major directional change in my life came when I professed Christ 34 years ago. What's the overall arc?
As I excavated more deeply my own life, one unflattering trait became apparent: For many years I hadn't radically trusted God. Sure, I departed from propriety by talking and writing about Christ in Washington salons and secular publications, but for most of that time I did so with a safety net, the State of Texas' provision of tenure. For two decades I accepted restrictions on my opportunity to flat-out talk about how glorious Christ is.
Is your life similar? Do we only wade in with a guarantee that waters will part? God doesn't seem to work that way. Note the sequence of events in Exodus 14, as Israelites complain and Moses tells them to fear not and quiet down: God then says to Moses, "Tell the people of Israel to go forward"—and only then does God provide a path through the Red Sea. We must commit in faith and come when called: Jesus spoke of a man who wanted to bury his father, "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead" (Matthew 8:21-22).
The urgency is even greater as we age: We may not have many years left in which to glorify Him before we are buried. So, here's my New Year's resolution, a paraphrase of Jonathan Edwards' statement in Religious Affections: To maintain a conviction so clear as to induce me to venture forth with boldness, counting any problems insignificant in comparison to the joy of proclaiming Christ's glory.
That helps me to define what I hope is the arc of my life: Learning (with rash starts and sinful stops) to trust God. The Bible is full of the demand to trust. Two thousand years ago Joseph and Mary, when she became pregnant, trusted God: Their arc included putting up with a lifetime of gossip about the circumstances of Jesus' birth. Two thousand years before that Abraham trusted God: His arc led him to become an ancestor of Christ. Before that Noah's arc led him to the Ark, whole-hearted trust in the Lord.
What's your individual mission statement? To paraphrase pastor Tim Keller, are you looking to Christ as an add-on, someone to spruce up the cottage, clean out the gutters, slap on some paint? (And all the time we don't realize that God plans to make the cottage a palace.) Have you reacted to Jesus in a tepid way? (Because if you understand what He's saying and you have intellectual integrity, it's cowardly not to go all out in following Him.)
What's the arc of your life? If it's pointing you to anything other than resolutely entering the Ark, your resolution needs reconsideration.
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