Dressed for Success

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When you change your life, you change your clothes. 

That’s not always literally true. But most of us have experienced life transitions that required us to adjust our wardrobe.

During more than 40 years of professional ministry, I went to the office wearing long-sleeved Oxford button-down shirts. My slacks were always clean, my shoes were always shined. Blue jeans were off-limits. I welcomed the occasional gift of a new necktie. For years on Sunday mornings I donned a black Geneva preaching robe, and wore different colorful stoles (purple, red, green, and white) that signified the changing seasons of the ecclesiastical calendar.

Four years ago I retired from active congregational leadership. 

Now I’m a gentleman farmer, living on a small horse farm just outside Indianapolis. Instead of driving once a day to an air-conditioned, nicely appointed office, I walk three times a day (morning, afternoon, and mid-evening) about 150 feet from the back of our house to our barn. There I greet our outdoor cats, throw hay to the horses, refill their buckets with water, and dive into the special task of shoveling and transporting their manure. Four horses generate about 48 piles a day, so Mary Sue and I haven’t yet said, “You know, let’s just take today off.” 

As you might guess, this new life calls for a change of costume.

I now put on blue jeans every morning. I’ve traded in my dress shoes for calf-high Muck boots, which help me navigate snow, ice, mud, and, well, 48 piles of horse poop. I’m holding on to a couple of my favorite neckties, but the rest are heading for Goodwill. I’ve worn my old black robe just once during the past two years – when I pretended to be a judge as part of a skit during a weekend retreat.

When you change your life, you change your clothes. What used to hang in your closet will never suit you when you take on a new vocation.

That’s what the apostle Paul says in Colossians chapter three. Here’s how Eugene Peterson renders verses 9-11 in his paraphrase called The Message:

“Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete.”

Here’s what comes next in verses 12-14:

“So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”

Deciding to follow Jesus is not a matter of a few minor adjustments here and then. It requires a fundamental transformation of mind and heart. 

We leave behind a life that is essentially self-centered, one in which our morning focus has been something like, “How can I get through this day, and what can I do to turn things to my advantage?” 

Now we greet the morning by asking, “What can I do today to please God, and where might God be sending me to make a difference in someone else’s life?”

For Paul, that’s going to require a whole new wardrobe. We abandon the “clothes” we used to wear – looking out for #1, telling lies, manipulating customers, plotting revenge, snickering at other people’s weaknesses. Perhaps such behaviors used to seem like “common sense.” But we can’t ever dress like that again.  

It’s time to shop at a completely different store. 

In his book After You Believe, pastor and theologian N.T. Wright points out that just because we surrender ourselves to Jesus doesn’t mean this happens automatically:

“Clothes don’t just fall out of the [closet] and put themselves on you. You have to think about what you’re going to wear, making conscious and repeated decisions to put on the clothes appropriate for the new life you’re going to follow.” 

Referring to the new garments of the new spiritual life that Paul mentions in Colossians 3, Wright continues, “You have to decide that you intend to put them on. You have to get them out of the closet. You have to learn to put them on the right way, like someone learning how to do up a bow tie.”   

Our never-ending call is to dress for success – the particular kind of “success” entailed by letting the life of Jesus increasingly shine through our daily lives.

God promises that he has given us everything we need to pull that off. 

And we can all be grateful that we’ll never have to wear Muck boots for Jesus.