A decade ago I wrote a book called Shrewd: Daring to Live the Startling Command of Jesus—the book explores, in depth, Jesus’ “Parable of the Shrewd Manager” in Luke 16, taking seriously His parting instructions to His disciples: “Be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Boiled down, “innocent shrewdness” requires us to understand how things work, then find ways to creatively apply leverage to a situation based on what we know. You could say that the Trinity’s redemption strategy is the shrewdest plan in history—to win our salvation God applies serious leverage (the sacrifice of Jesus) using His knowledge of the Law and of His enemy, Satan.
Once you understand the heart and mechanics of shrewdness, you see Jesus trying to teach it to His followers all the time. Take, for example, His “Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seeds” in Matthew 13. In the parable, a farmer scatters seeds in four types of soil, three of which don’t produce a crop. Only the fourth soil is “fertile,” and produces an astonishing yield.
The purpose of this teaching is to urge us to pay attention to the growth environment we’re cultivating in our life and ministry. We don’t create the seeds to plant, or cause them to grow, but we certainly have a hand in preparing fertile soil. If we’re going to be shrewd about our own growth, and the growth of others, it’s important for us to understand how fertile soil works. In that light, I’m offering a few New Year’s Resolutions that are tied to tending the soil of our growth environments—these ideas will enrich that soil so the seeds planted there actually take root and grow…
- We resolve to, over the next year, find at least one new way to get young people talking with their parents about faith issues in a normal, organic way. Why? We’ve known for a long time that the two most powerful predictors of a healthy, growing, intimate, lifelong relationship with Jesus are “talking about faith with your mother” and “talking about faith with your father.”
- We resolve to spend time every day praying for the people who chronically irritate, frustrate, or perturb us. This will be our “mustard seed” expression for living in the Spirit of Jesus, who “loved his enemies” and “prayed for those who persecuted him.” We will pray that these people who have disrupted our lives will see all that energy redirected to changing the world through the transforming influence of Jesus.
- We resolve to give the gift of our focused, redemptively-intrusive presence to people who feel fundamentally overlooked in their lives. The Kingdom of God Jesus came to model and plant is fundamentally about relationship, so we’ll will spend the time and energy it takes to really see and understand the hidden people—to help them find their “true name,” the way Jesus revealed Simon’s true name. We’ll find at least one big way to spot and persistently encourage a Christlike quality in each of them.
- We resolve to find a “beeline to Jesus” every time we crack open the Bible. That means that no matter what the topic, or the passage, we follow C.H. Spurgeon’s passionate life philosophy and embrace the truth that “all roads lead to Jesus” in Scripture. Whenever we read, we develop a habit of pausing to ask the Spirit: “Where is the beeline to Jesus here—how does this find its source in Him, or reveal His heart?”
- We resolve to make our “teaching time” more interactive than it is today—to find ways to make sure we’re talking less and the people we’re leading are talking more. When people are invited to be “co-discovers” with us instead of passive consumers, we see the profound impact of fertile soil on their growth. We’ll get people talking in pairs, trios, or all together at least half of the teaching time.
- We resolve, in light of the truth that our own soul is our most important asset, to schedule one uninterrupted afternoon a month to hide out in a comfortable location and wait on Jesus. We’ll practice silence, conversation, reading, prayer, or Bible study. No matter what we do during this time, we resolve to ask Jesus these questions: “What do I need to know about myself right now?” and “What do I need to know about You right now?”
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following Jesus. He’s editor of the Jesus-Centered Bibleand author of 40 books, including The Suicide Solution,The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.