I believe we all want to change. We all want to be better. We all want to overcome addictions and start healthy habits. But few get there. So this year instead of challenging you to set big audacious goals, I want to challenge you to just do a few small things. Because small things can make a big difference.
And those small things start with just one thing. Throughout scripture this phrase is used: One thing, just one thing. Each time it’s used the one thing is different. To one person the one most important thing is this, to another it’s that. That’s the way it will be with us. You’re one thing will be different than my one thing. My challenge for you today is simple. Find your one thing. Find what is most important to you this year. Find the one small thing that you can do in 2018. To help you find that one thing I want to tell you about four different people in the Bible and explore what their one thing was.
The Man Who Craved Closeness
The first person is named David and we find his one thing in Psalm 27.
“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.”–Psalm 27:4-5
David is the guy that killed Goliath. He would also become the king of all Israel. There was not a richer or more famous person alive in his day. Yet this is his one thing. He wants to dwell in the house of the lord. So what does that mean exactly? Easy. He shows up for church services on time. Just kidding. There are actually a couple ways to read this. It could mean that he wants to be in church. As much as I’d like that to be true and want to use these verses to tell you to choose church over the early football playoff game, I don’t think that’s what David is saying. I think he’s referring to God’s presence.
I’m going to put God first. I’m going to seek to hang at his house. I’m going to choose to be near God when I’m at home and at work and on my commute. I want to be close to you. These verses say that David will seek God. To seek means to examine or scrutinize. He’s not going to settle for easy answers. He’s going to look deeper into his faith. He’s going to go 10 steps further. That was a quick shameless plug for our podcast (you can find the “10 Steps Further” podcast on itunes).
David’s one thing was “closeness.” You could also use the word intimacy or nearness. His one thing is to be close to God. To walk with him. To allow God to be a part of everything that he does. To invite God into every room of his house. Not just his study. His kitchen. His kids’ rooms. His bedroom. His TV room. If David lived today he’d invite God into his DVR and onto his Netflix account.
Intimacy in Every Room
These verses remind me of a story I read years ago. Robert Boyd Munger wrote a little booklet called My Heart, Christ’s Home. If you google it, you can easily find it. It tells the story of a man who invites Jesus to live with him. At the beginning he limits Jesus to the guest room, but over time he gives him each of the rooms of the home. After going through each room, the owner of the home has one more epiphany.
A thought came to me. I said to myself, “I have been trying to keep this heart of mine clear for Christ. I start on one room and no sooner have I cleaned that then another room is dirty. I am so tired and weary trying to maintain a clean heart and an obedient life. I am just not up to it!” So I ventured a question: “Lord, is there any chance that You would take over the responsibility of the whole house and operate it for me? Would You take the responsibility to keep my heart what it ought to be and my life where it ought to be?” I could see His face light up as He replied, “Certainly, that is what I came to do. You cannot be a victorious Christian in your own strength. That is impossible. Let me do it through you and for you. That is the way. But,” He added slowly, “I am not owner of this house. I am just a guest. I have no authority to proceed, since the property is not mine.” I saw it in a minute and dropping to my knees, I said, “Lord, You have been a guest and I have been the host. From now on I am going to be the servant. You are going to be the owner and Master and Lord.” Running as fast as I could to the strongbox, I took out the title deed to the house describing its assets and liabilities, location and situation and condition. I eagerly signed it over to belong to Him alone for time and eternity.
This is what David is doing. If you notice in these verses, David’s one thing wasn’t inviting God into his house. He wanted to live in God’s house. Let’s look back at our scripture; when you’re one thing is intimacy or closeness this is what you get:
“In the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.”—Psalm 27:5
In the day of trouble, you will be safe. You will have peace. Do you know what that is? Here’s what I think it is. It’s not that you won’t have bills to pay and broken bones and lost jobs, but your security won’t be based on those things. Your self image won’t be tied to your position and your bank account or even your relationships. It will be connected to God. He promises that his love will never fade. He believes in you no matter who hires or fires you. He loves you no matter who breaks up with you. When you dwell in his house under his rules you realize that he loves you no matter what. So when something breaks in your life like it always does, you won’t be ruined. You won’t be broken. You’ll still be loved.
Closeness is a pretty good word. Maybe closeness is your one thing in 2018.
Presence in the Present
Closeness might be your one thing, but let’s look at another thing:
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’ ”–Luke 10:38-42
Martha one thing is presence. Most people read this and take the one thing that is most important as sitting at the feet of Jesus and I’m pretty sure those people are right. Sitting at the feet of Jesus is important. Probably the most important. But I think Jesus would have said these same words to Martha if Mary was sitting at her brother Lazarus’ feet while Martha was buzzing around the house vacuuming and putting out coasters. I think what Jesus is challenging Martha to do is to be present. To be in the moment. To not be so focused on tasks and to-do lists that she misses what was important.
Martha’s one thing was presence. That’s a good word for me. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time sitting around. In this last year I have refinished my bedroom furniture, made a head board for our bed, designed a wooden fence to keep our dog in the TV room, and built a 6 1/2 foot American Girl dollhouse complete with wallpaper, a slide and an American Girl Doll toilet. For Christmas I made Christmas gifts with my bare hands. I love getting stuff done. Nothing wrong with that. Anybody like me who doesn’t like to sit around? Then you know this to be true. Diligence and busyness can be the enemy of presence.
A couple weeks ago my daughter gave me a reminder of the importance of presence when she came to me and said, “Dad can we go out to dinner together tonight?” I don’t know if she really wanted to be with me or she was just hungry, but I jumped at the chance to be with her. She’s leaving for college soon and I’m going to have fewer and fewer changes to just hang out. I took her to an amazing San Diego café called Café Urbane. Each sandwich is made on focaccia bread baked within the last hour and comes with a salad. Wow. After dinner my daughter said, “Dad, do you want to go to Nickel City? I’ll pay.” Turns out she didn’t have enough money to pay, but what the heck. We had an amazing night. I was present. I put down my tasks and was just there.
I need to continue to practice presence. For me it’s looking for opportunities to spend time with my kids. It means taking my wife out after she’s had a long day. It means reading to my youngest as she falls asleep. We are currently reading “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
Presence would be a good word for me in 2018. How about you? Maybe you need to make this commitment: I’m going to be in the moment. I’m going to be present with the people I’m with. I’m not going to be so focused on whether or not the floor is vacuumed or the counters are wiped down or my garage is clean. I’m going to be present with the people that are in the room.
Don’t Look Back
Maybe this year your one thing is presence. But in case its not, let me give you one more thing that Paul wrote about in a letter to the Philippians:
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”– Philippians 3:12-14
Paul’s one thing was forgetting. Paul wrote half of the new testament. So much of what we know about living the Christian life and understanding God we get from his writing. He was a great man. But let me tell you something; Paul had a past. When the first martyr was killed in the book of Acts, Paul was there. Most likely he was holding a rock as Stephen was killed. Acts 9 says that Paul was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” He had an ugly past. Something that rough can be hard to live down. It can be even harder to forgive yourself for.
This reminds me of a quote I read this last week:
“Like most drunks who’ve gotten sober, I got to the point where I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards.”—Anne Lammott
Maybe you’ve had a point like that in your life. Maybe this year your one thing needs to be forgetting.
- Forgetting your divorce.
- Forgetting the mistakes you made with your kids.
- Forgetting your past sexual history.
- Forgetting your addiction.
- Forgetting people you’ve hurt that won’t forgive you.
In the latter verses Paul says that he presses on toward what’s ahead, but you can’t push on toward what’s ahead and new goals and a new life unless you can forget your past. You have to learn to forgive yourself. To stop replaying your lowlight videos.
If that’s you, you need to say this in 2108: “I’m going to let go of my past. I am going to be forward focused. I’m going to find my purpose. I’m not going to worry about my past mistakes. I’m going to let God take my past mistakes and use them to make me more usable. I’m going to leave that failed marriage, that bad habit, those ugly words, that financial miscue in my past. “
Perhaps in 2018, your one thing is forgetting.
Let Go and Let God
Let’s look at one last, one thing:
“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!'”– Mark 10:17-23
Typically, we read these verses as strictly dealing with the greed of a rich person. Clearly, Jesus is talking about money in this passage. Jesus said to this man, “one thing you lack.” This guy wasn’t used to being described as lacking anything. He had more than enough. If something was important, he had it and a backup. And if we are honest, that can be the one area that is hardest for us to give up control in. There is an old saying in churches that the last thing to be saved on a lot of Christians is their wallet. If that is true of you, maybe your word in 2018 is generous.
More than simply money, I think in this passage Jesus is challenging all of us to give him control of that one thing that is hardest for us to give up. The one thing we have the tightest grip on. It most often is money but there are other things. For example, it could be your children:
God, you can have everything but my kids. I will not put anything above my kids. If I have to choose between competitive soccer and God, I’ve got to do what is important for my kid. Hello, soccer tournament; good-bye, church service.
Here’s the truth plain and simple. The reason you are holding on to your money or your kids is because you don’t feel you can trust anyone but yourself. You can’t trust your spouse or your co-workers or your friends with this area. The only person you can really trust is you. Here’s the problem with that way of thinking: Your tight grip could be the one thing that is keeping you from enjoying that part of your life.
- You have money, but can’t enjoy it. You have to keep working and driving and succeeding or someone will take it away.
- You love your kids so much and they are so important but it’s possible that if you hold on to them so tightly they may ultimately feel smothered and pull away from you.
Maybe your word is not generous; Maybe it’s trust. I think that may have been the rich man’s biggest issue. The rich man’s one thing was trust
What’s Your One Thing?
I don’t know what your one thing is. Maybe it’s closeness like David or presence like Martha or forgetting like Paul or trust like the rich man. Maybe it’s none of those things. If you still haven’t found your one thing for 2018, I have a list of some other things you can choose from.
- Happily married (Okay, that’s two words)
- Financial peace (that one too.)
Mine isn’t any of those things. My word for 2018 is “grateful.” I made it into a sign I’m going to put in my house or office. In 2018 I want to be grateful for what I’ve been given. Over and over I’m made this statement: Gratefulness is the antidote to stress. Gratefulness keeps us focused on what God has given us rather than what we lack.
The secret of life is just one thing. That’s what you’ve got to figure out. What’s your word for 2018 going to be?