So what are your dreams for 2017? What countries do you want to visit? What things do you want to do? What will be the events and travels of 2017 that you’ll wake up for in the morning, or go to sleep dreaming of?
What I suggest to answer some of these questions, is writing all the places that you’d love to visit this year down on a piece of paper. Here’s mine:
And then tearing it up and putting it in the recycling bin.
Because your bucket list should not be Lord over your 2017. And if you’re letting your calendar be primarily dictated by what your bucket list says (and other necessities), well then you’re letting it be Lord, and a rather cruel Lord at that. You’re worshipping another god by giving it control of the year ahead.
You see to enter 2017 asking where you can legitimately travel as a Christian, is much like asking the question when dating “how far can we go and still be Christian?” or the question on a night out with friends “how many drinks is too many?”. They just aren’t good questions to start with because they start at the wrong place.
The creator God, for whom all the nations are as a drop in a bucket, is calling us. The One who made the heights of the Himalayas and the depths of the sea beds. The One who sustains the waves crashing on the beach shores each hour and each day, by the laws He sets. The One who has created the intricate designs on the butterfly wing, as it flies through the depths of the Grand Canyon. If we ever grew weary of Instagramming even the small radius of our everyday lives, we have a whole universe to explore. And no doubt a device that could soon capture even smell, as well as sights and sounds.
If and when His voice shakes the nations, He has even the most powerful of rulers and businessmen quaking and incapable of acting, if He so chooses. For their nations are as a drop in the bucket. A drop in the bucket when vast oceans of buckets could never even reach the magnitude of God.
So remind me, you want to shape this year by exploring that drop at the bottom of a bucket?
The thing is, that He’s generous in His gifts and gentle enough with us, that He’s let many a person do this, in order for many of them to realise that our Bucket Lists are cruel Lords to have over our 2017. He has sadly given us the weak desires of our hearts. He has let us continue to exchange the glory of immortal God for things made in His image.
But having it as Lord leaves us under bondage to a cruel master. Our bucket list cares nothing for us. In fact, if some circumstance comes to pass that means we get little or nothing on our bucket list ticked off, we’ll think it’s a rotten year and it will eat us up inside when we see others trotting the globe. But if we do get everything done on our list, it is no better. We’ll still be eaten inside. As we try to re-live those fleeting memories of travel experience. As we find our heart growing for even bigger and better things in future. Because feeding our Bucket List Lord will often lead to us sacrificing more to feed it in future. And even if we can control our lusting hearts, at what cost will our Bucket List Lord be to those around us? For with every travel, comes other opportunities we did not take to serve others.
But what about those of us who have a bucket list to God’s glory?
Well to echo Luther’s way of putting it: it is so easy to become a “theologian of glory” and not a “theologian of the cross”. A theologian of the cross will sacrifice their bucket list on the altar of serving God and serving others, and will delight in doing so. A theologian of glory will cling to every last bit of list that they can manage (for it is their “right” after all – everyone else travels), and wave their “Jesus” flag and use religious language while they do it. Travelling to paint an orphanage. Travelling to do a short-term mission team in a already very Christian context. Travelling to “find themselves”. Travelling for Christian conferences. Travelling that takes them away from their primary community that they worship and serve in.
So instead the questions that I ask at the start of another year are more like:
- How can I serve God best, through the local expression of church family that He has placed me to serve under and in?
- How can I serve those whom God has connected me to, via earthly family and those who don’t have earthly family, for whom I am responsible?
- How can I sacrificially die to self this year, and to my wants and desires, and find myself falling in love with the One who sacrificed everything for me?
And when I start to ask those type of questions, I’ve found far more freeing joy in all I do, and purpose in life. And I’ve found that He still delights in letting us explore His world as we seek first His Kingdom. Because He’s not a stingy God. He just wants what’s best for His children.
And so I’m left wrestling and praying over the consequences of this for my 2017, with my spiritual community around me. When my sister gets married to a Vanuatuan man, who should go to the ceremony in Vanuatu if Christ is Lord, and not my bucket list? When my friend who came to faith when living with me at university, wants to catch up on holiday, where should we go and what should we do for true rest? And when I get free weekends from work, how can I best enjoy this world, whilst staying connected to His purposes and His family?
Questions that are hard ones. May we enjoy His leading and guiding in 2017, as the Spirit prompts each of our consciences, and those of Godly stature around us point us to Him for whom the nations are only a drop in the bucket.
One more year down. An eternity to come…