Maturing in our life of faith brings us to a sense of God’s grace. As we realize how vast the resources of energy of God are in our everyday lives, we find that we don’t have to carry the weight of the world’s sins on our shoulders, that our moral sweat isn’t going to make the critical difference in history, but that the difference has already been made by Christ’s blood.Eugene Peterson, The Hallelujah Banquet, p. 76
I propose a fourfold reading of scripture. We are to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength.
1. The heart: Lectio Divina, private meditation and prayer, and above all the readings in the eucharist.
2. The mind: historical study of the text and its original contextual meaning.
3. The soul: the ongoing life of the church, its tradition and teaching office.
4. The strength: the mission of the church, the work of God’s kingdom.N. T. Wright, “The Fourfold Amor Dei and the Word of God“
I came across this proposal in an essay by Michael Gorman, “New Testament Theology and Spiritual Formation,” in Spiritual Formation for the Global Church: A Multi-Denominational, Multi-Ethic Approach, edited by Ryan A. Brandt and John Frederick.
Most Christians approach the study of the Bible with a genuine desire that the Holy Spirit would impart knowledge of how to love God more fully and serve him more faithfully. Openness to God and a desire to gain knowledge of God’s will are a wonderful beginning. Lifting one’s heart to God is an essential first step for spiritual growth. But God calls us to love him with all of our being, heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Gorman argues that the purpose of the New Testament writings is spiritual formation. The gospel stories, Acts, the epistles, and Revelation present a “theology seeking faith,” or “theology seeking spiritual formation in its hearers and readers.”
Seeking God with the heart, deepening faith by applying the mind, asking God to sanctify the soul, and exercising God-given strength to act upon conviction work together to move the believer toward Christian maturity. If you begin with a heart set upon God, wonderful! Go further. Engage the mind, open the soul, and ask for the strength to live a life pleasing to God.
Jonathan Edwards is one of the greatest minds in American history. He is most well known as a Puritan minister, particularly for his role in the First Great Awakening, and is still read in literature and history courses for his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Though known as “America’s Greatest Theologian,” his theological work also has significance for philosophy, particularly metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory.
Edwards is someone I have read, but not as closely and carefully to this point as I one day aspire to. But one document I have read is his “Resolutions,” which begins, “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.” He sets a guideline for himself, “Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.”
Here are a few of my favorites:
- 1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.
- 5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
- 9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.
- 13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.
- 17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
- 24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.
- 25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.
- 28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.
- 34. Resolved, in narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.
- 37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year.
- 42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God,
which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this 12th day of January, 1722—23.
- 47. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so.
- 52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.
- 56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.
- 67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.
- 70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.
A close examination of the document shows that Edwards added to his list over time. His first list of resolutions was not his final list. He found room to grow, new resolutions, new matters of focus for his life with God.
Such a list clarifies convictions. It offers a helpful guide, a standard, and a rule for living.
These are not resolutions for a year, but for a lifetime.
Do you have such a list?