There are serious theological reasons why we love hyphenated phrases that turn verbs and nouns into adjectives. God-centered. Christ-exalting. Spirit-dependent. Bible-saturated. Gospel-rooted. Truth-tethered. Soul-satisfying. Sin-killing. Justice-advancing. Satan-defeating. Self-sacrificing. Risk-taking. Mission-pursuing. And more. One of those reasons is that making a verb into an adjective shows that it modifies a hundred things you do rather than simply being one of those things. I’ll come back to this.
My aim here is to encourage you to make “Christ-exalting” the featured adjective in your prayers throughout 2015. Let me explain what I mean. Then I’ll give you three reasons why I think this would be a great New Year’s resolution.
When we pray, we might say, “Lord, grant that I would exalt Christ today.” Or we might say: “Father, help me make much of Jesus today. Help me to show how great he is.” Or: “Father, cause me to glorify your Son today. Give me a heart to magnify him.”
Those would be wonderful prayers. I have prayed them hundreds of times.
But what happens when we take this activity, “Grant that I would exalt Christ today,” and turn it into an adjective like “Christ-exalting”? Now we must provide something for this adjective to modify. Adjectives dangle without something to describe. So we say, “Lord, fill my mouth today with Christ-exalting wisdom, and Christ-exalting encouragement. And grant I that I would experience Christ-exalting joy, and that I would be willing to make Christ-exalting sacrifices, and serve my family with Christ-exalting helpfulness around the house.”
In other words, the aim of this New Year’s resolution — to make “Christ-exalting” the featured adjective of your prayer life — is to help you pursue and enjoy the highest purpose of our existence — exalting Christ in all we think and feel and do. This small grammatical change can awaken a new passion for making much of Christ in everything.
Our Great Aim in Life and Death
Why would “Christ-exalting” make a great New Year’s resolution for you? First, the Bible teaches us that the great aim of life and death is to exalt Christ.
The apostle Paul prays that we would “fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by God’s power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in [us]” (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12). In other words, exalting Christ should be the aim of everything we do. We “resolve” and we “work” so that Jesus “may be glorified.”
In Philippians 1:20 Paul confirms that this is the aim of all we do. Giving us an example for how to live (Philippians 3:17; 4:9) Paul describes his greatest aim in life: “My eager expectation and hope is that . . . Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.” In other words, his chief aim is to live a Christ-exalting life, and die a Christ-exalting death.
So the first reason for this New Year’s resolution is that God teaches us in his word that the great aim of life and death is to exalt Christ.
Christ in All Things, Not Just Alongside
Second, as I mentioned at the beginning, making a verb into an adjective shows that it modifies a hundred things you do rather than simply being just another thing.
Suppose you have a prayer list: “Lord help me be patient and kind and gentle and faithful and honest and pure and self-denying and loving and courageous and risk-taking and generous and joyful.” Suppose that you add to that list: “And help me to exalt Christ.” This would be good. Very good. But what remains unclear in this list is how exalting Christ relates to all those other things.
Something dramatic and profoundly biblical happens when you don’t list “exalt Christ” as a separate aim alongside the others, but as an adjective modifying the rest. Lord help me show Christ-exalting patience, and Christ-exalting kindness, and Christ-exalting gentleness, and Christ-exalting faithfulness, and so on.
This small grammatical change wakens us to the all-important fact that the glory of Christ matters in everything we do — not just alongside it, but in it. There is no part of life, no matter how seemingly insignificant (Christ-exalting teeth-brushing), in which making much of Christ is alien. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
So the second reason for this resolution is that treating “Christ-exalting” as an adjective weaves an all-encompassing truth into our words, and thus into our minds and hearts — namely, the truth that making much of Christ is not one action alongside others, but is the ever-present and highest aim of all our actions and thoughts and feelings.
Piper: “Making much of Christ is not one action alongside others. It is the aim of everything we do.”
Do Not Pray Like Unbelievers
Third, this simple grammatical adjustment will help to prevent us from praying the way unbelievers pray.
You might ask if unbelievers even pray at all. They do. Muslims pray. Hindus pray. Jewish people pray. Animists pray. Members of cults, even Satanists, pray. Secularists pray in their most desperate moments. And millions of nominal church-goers pray who are not born again and do not trust Christ.
They ask God for a hundred things that you and I ask for: Daily bread. Protection. Health. Joy. Marriage wholeness. Wise children. A good job. The breaking of bad habits. Forgiveness for bad deeds. Unbelievers want all these things. And they pray for them. You don’t need the transforming work of the Holy Spirit to want any of these things.
What then is the difference between your prayers for these things, and theirs? One of the key differences is that your deepest desire, that pervades all other desires, is that Christ be exalted. You love Christ. You treasure him supremely. You have tasted and seen the all-satisfying glory of Christ. Christ is not your butler. And prayers are not your bell-ringing for him to bring you what you want. He is what you want. And you want him exalted, honored, glorified in everything. Listen as people pray. You will find out what they treasure most of all.
So my third reason for making “Christ-exalting” an adjective, which modifies everything for which you pray, is that this will show where your treasure is. It will set your prayers apart from the prayers of unbelievers.
I will be praying for you. Please pray for me in the new year. Ask our Father to give us our best year yet — full of Christ-exalting joy, and Christ-exalting love, and Christ-exalting fruitfulness.
Piper: “Listen when people pray. You will find out what they treasure most of all.”