IT’S NOT JUST WHY OR WHAT. IT’S HOW.
I assume that everyone is looking forward to 2017 and hoping it will be a year in which you connect more deeply with God and with those around you, and live the most meaningful and fulfilled life possible. I suspect you would love for 2017 to be better than 2016. And if that’s the case, I want to suggest three questions that can help you get there. The first question is “why” – Why are you here? What, from God’s perspective, is your reason for being alive here and now, to think, speak, and act in this world?
The second question is “what” – What do you need to do to fulfil God’s “why” for your life? What kind of thoughts, words, and actions will help you to express your reason for being alive here and now?
And the final question is “how” – How should you think, speak, and act, in order to live the life that God has called you to – to fulfil God’s purpose in your life in 2017.
Over the last few decades, thanks to people like Oprah and Rick Warren, many of us have explored our “why.” Some of us may still be trying to work it out, but most of us have a sense that answering the “why” question is something we should be doing. And I’m pretty sure all of us have at least some idea of what we’re planning to do in the coming year. Our world is so focused on the “what” of our lives, that it’s usually fairly easy to fill our lives with lots of thoughts, words and actions.
But, the “how” question is one that is seldom addressed. It’s like we think that if we know why we’re here and what we have to do, we’ll automatically do it in the best way. But, that’s not the case.
Let me give you an example. Between 1999 and 2005 Lance Armstrong won a record seven Tour De France titles, and a bronze medal in the 2000 Olympics. But in 2012 a US Anti-Doping Agency Investigation found that he had been using performance-enhancing drugs through his whole career and he was stripped of his victories and banned from professional sports for life. They stated that he been the ringleader of “the most sophisticated and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” In a 2013 CNN interview he confessed that at least some of the allegations were true. So, his “why” was to be a professional athlete. His “what” was to ride his bike and win races. Did his “how” matter? Does it matter to you?
I really believe that it not just what we do or why we do it that counts. It’s HOW we do it. Because, as Richard Rohr says, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” And if we want to live a connected and fulfilling 2017, we will have to get the “how” right.
THE TRUE SON OF GOD REVEALED
That’s why the baptism story is so important. John has been speaking in loud and dramatic terms about the coming Messiah (See Matthew 3:7-12). Then Jesus shows up at the river, and John is confused, because he looks like everyone else. And he’s asking John to baptise him.
John already knew who Jesus was – he’d known since before he was born. But, like everyone else he viewed the Messiah through the lens of the great and victorious King David. In the Old Testament David was called God’s son, and the Messiah was supposed to be both a descendant of David and, like David, the son of God. But, that meant that probably John expected Jesus to make some kind of glorious entrance, maybe forcing the corrupt leaders to bow to him, and taking over the baptisms as a way to rally an army to overthrow the Romans – starting with John himself.
John knew why Jesus had come – to be the Messiah, the Saviour. He knew what Jesus was going to do – establish God’s Reign of justice and love on the earth. But, he hadn’t understood the HOW. That’s why, a little later, when John was in prison he sent messengers to Jesus asking if Jesus really was the one or if he should be waiting for someone else – the way Jesus did ministry was completely different from how John expected the Messiah, the Son of God to work in the world.
But, as he went down into the water Jesus revealed God’s how for God’s son. God’s will was for God’s Son to surrender, not dominate. Jesus surrendered to his Father’s will – going through baptism to stand with us, become one of us, and share our lives with all its mess and brokenness. He came not to judge but to forgive; not to make war, but to reconcile; not to change the world using systems of power and wealth, but by changing one life at a time with grace and love.
So great was Jesus’ surrender to God that he willingly surrendered to John, even though they both knew he was greater than John. And, in the end he even surrendered to his enemies and endured the cross – choosing to love rather than to fight or kill.
FOLLOWING THE SON OF GOD INTO TRUE SURRENDER
Remember what Richard Rohr said: “How you do anything is how you do everything”? If the first time Jesus showed himself to be God’s Son he did it in surrender, then Jesus is still the Son of God who gives himself for the sake of love and grace and service. And God is pleased – which means Jesus shows us what God is like, and what God’s will is.
And Jesus calls us to follow him. How Jesus did his life is how he calls us to do our life – in surrender to the Father’s will, and to others through grace, forgiveness, love, and service. And this, he claims, is the way to our most fulfilled, connected life in 2017.
So how do we follow Jesus into this life of surrender?
Firstly, release any ideas about Jesus that contradict what is revealed in his baptism. Not all Jesuses are equal. There are people who proclaim hatred and violence in Jesus’ name. There are people who are arrogant and abusive in Jesus’ name. There are people who use the name of Jesus to justify their excessive accumulation of wealth and power.
On Friday 6 January 2017, our South African President stated that the birthday of the ANC was like the birthday of Jesus. He also said, “These things are the same, you can never separate them. The coming of the son to wash away our sins and the birth of the ANC to free people.” Politicians may try to use Jesus’ name like this, but, this is not the Jesus I see being baptised in the Jordan
So, if you have any ideas about Jesus that do not pass the baptism test, let them go. If your Jesus is not about surrender to God’s way – the way of standing with broken and sinful humanity, and serving them to the death – then I would ask you to re-examine your ideas about Jesus.
Then, secondly, align your “how” with the “how” of Jesus. Remember, it’s not just what you do and why you do it that matters. It’s how you do it. And how you do anything is how you do everything. Jesus is bold to proclaim that his “how” is the only one that can lead us to connection with God and others, and to a life of abundance, meaning and fulfilment. And the “how” of Jesus is the “how” of surrender to God’s way, and in God’s name, surrendering to each other as described in Philippians 2:6-11. It’s not putting our own agendas, or desires, or security, or ambition first, but giving ourselves to serve the needs of others before our own.
Like the priest in the movie Amen, as described in Peter Rollins’ book How (Not) To Speak Of God) (p.67) who was confronted with death camps in World War 2, and struggled with his church trying to remain ignorant. At one point he wonders aloud to his Cardinal whether it would be possible for all the Christians in Germany to convert to Judaism, making it impossible for the Nazi’s to condemn such a huge number of powerful and socially integrated people. His idea is rejected, but the priest is unable to do nothing, and so he turns from his faith & his church and becomes a Jew, suffering with them, and finally, ending up on a train to Auschwitz. Imagine a world filled with people willing to surrender like that priest. Imagine a Church like that!
How you do anything is how you do everything. And if our desire is to follow the way of Jesus, our how has to be the way of surrender. This way can be hard, and sometimes even painful. But it also leads us deeper into life and connection than we have ever known. I dare you to try it in 2017!