Ten years ago, my friend Gary Barkalow asked me if I had any New Year’s resolutions. While I wanted to share sixty years of life-changing resolves (diet and exercise would have been high on my list), I was force to admit to a lifetime of failures. Not one of my resolutions ever survived to April Fool’s Day. And the biggest fool was me. My waistline agreed.
Fortunately for me, Gary’s past record was equally abysmal, and for twenty minutes we laughed at (and mourned over) our past disappointments with exercise, schedules, regular prayer times, random acts of kindness (which were actually planned), and other botched attempts at self-discipline.
Gary eventually asked me if there was any joy I’d like to pursue. Not so much a discipline as a God-given delight, something I would enjoy running after simply because the pursuit itself proved pleasing.
He suggested we take the rest of the week to each choose a Transcendent Pursuit for next year.
My choice was easy. It wooed me like a McDonald French fry: I wanted to Reflect and Express. I think God has given me a kind of curiosity about the world around me. I love noticing ideas and circumstances, and then ruminating about them: What is God up to? Why did the cashier laugh that way? Why do I obsess about this? What is the spiritual truth beneath it all?
Einstein allegedly said, “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” After reflecting on some spiritual truth, I find it incomplete until I can also express it in a way that brings clarity and inspiration. Even if I’m only explaining it to myself.
My articles on this site are just stories and observations that are birthed from that Transcendent Pursuit to Reflect and Express. And I invite you to join me in discovering a Transcendent Pursuit for all of us this year.
The Wonder of Discovery
While the process of pursuing something transcendent is fascinating—it really is!—the process of discovering one to pursue is equally delightful. My first year’s pursuit just jumped out at me, but for most years, the discovery involved multiple weeks of prayer and reflection: What is God up to in my life? And how can I cooperate with Him?
Unlike New Year’s Resolutions, a Transcendent Pursuit looks not at restricting something bad (though my waistline needs more than a tighter belt), it looks at multiplying something good. It’s not so much ridding ourselves of weaknesses (though my biceps could use a curl or two) as much as advancing divine giftings.
A good parent doesn’t spend all their time teaching kids to make their beds and do chores. A good parent wants to develop the sublime talents that lay hidden beneath all that adolescent immaturity. They don’t merely enforce musical scales; they encourage the love of music.
Dorothy Sayers, a friend of C.S. Lewis’s, said it like this (slightly edited):
When a job is undertaken from necessity, the worker is self-consciously aware of the toils and pains he undergoes. But when the job is a labor of love, the sacrifices will present themselves to the worker—strange as it may seem—in the guise of enjoyment.
I do not mean that there is no nobility in doing unpleasant things from a sense of duty, but only that there is more nobility in doing them gladly out of sheer love of the job.
If God is a far better parent than we can dream of, let’s cooperate by investing in His gifting over our self-toils.
It’s Not So Measurable as Much as Meaningful
The year before my first Transcendent Pursuit, my New Year’s resolution had been to write a blog a week, but I only wrote a total of twenty-four “weekly” articles. The following year, when I focused on “reflect and express,” I wrote forty-five. Not because I disciplined myself to write, but simply out of sheer love of the process.
Not all pursuits result in quantifiable results, in fact most of mine haven’t, but they have given rise to intimacy with God, a sense of wonder, and a deepening spiritual life. And that mystical wonder has always (well, almost always) birthed a changed life that is better than any of my resolutions. (This year I actually lost thirty pounds, and it wasn’t even on my list!)
The best way to discover and follow a Transcendent Pursuit is with friends. Gary and I have been practicing this for ten years, and we’d like to invite you to join us. You can do so by becoming a member of The Noble Heart Community (a free and private group) and participate there, or else grab a few friends, join and simply go through the exercises together.
We Christians tend to lean mostly into discipline—Grit your teeth and stop doing that!—when Jesus invites us to invest in joy. My New Year’s resolutions were trivial pursuits, all the while God invites me to pursue something good He has created.
Join me. By this coming April 1st, I hope we have grown in God-inspired gifts, and not foolishly failed in yet one more self-disciplinary debacle.
Let’s learn to love the music.
To join The Noble Heat Community: Click Here. (Then navigate on the left-side column to “Courses” and join “Discovering Your Transcendent Pursuit.”
To learn more about Transcendent Pursuits, you can listen to Gary and me talk about them in our podcast, Do You Have A Transcendent Pursuit? or click the image below.
Hello Sam……. Blessings and Peace today,
I attended your workshop @Calvary in Valparaiso and read your book, enjoyed the experience, and in I am putting suggestions you have put forward into practice.
I usually research whoever the author quotes and in reading your book I have discovered Dallas Willard.
I have listened to quite a few of his lectures on youtube at the Renovare’ Institute
and I am reading Rennovation of the Heart right now.
The knowledge I am acquiring is profoundly affecting my walk with Jesus and I am grateful.
Thanks for all you do Sam and God Bless you…….
In Christ alone brother,
Yeah, Dallas Willard is a gold-mine for a wide variety of spiritual life tools. (My only problem is he is sometimes hard to read.)
Thanks for your friendship,
I was taken by your article on “Transcendent Pursuits”, as opposed to “New Years Resolutions”. I have not made a “New Years Resolution”, since I was in High School.
I am attracted by the governing principle you propose,”What is God up to in my life? And how can I cooperate with Him?”
A much better and productive principle than, “I need to follow a diet to lose 30 pounds”.
Indeed, as you mention, when we set an enjoyable pursuit of thought and study for ourselves, a physical result, such as weight loss will “naturally follow.” Physical manifestation will always follow regularly practicing focused thoughts. This manifestation can be positive or negative , depending upon our intentions.
Thanks for giving folks the opportunity to join with you in a “Transcendent Pursuit” that will increase the depth of our dependence on living a life cooperative with the Holy Spirit, rather than a trying to accomplish a temporary “physical discipline”, that produces guilt and shame rather than pleasure in the pursuit. I am now a part of your program???.