A Christian Resolution
It is insane how quickly the time seems to pass; each year sweeping by us before we know it. It is generally at this point in the calendar year that we take time to reflect on things we did, memories we made, and ideas for things that we would like to do better in the following year(s). This tradition, as you well know, has become known as our "New Year's Resolution(s)." This is a great time to decide to intentionally make an effort to improve on one or several areas in your life that you feel need it most.
A quick "Google" search will provide you with a list of popular resolutions made going into 2018, and the things you will find seem to be those that generally last all of a month or two at most. What I found was that 37% of people decided that being healthier and exercising was the most important improvement. Another 31% said they'd like to spend less money in the following year. Finally, an astounding 37% of people said they have no distinct plan for improvements at all for the oncoming year. You can find this article at: https://patch.com/us/across-america/here-are-most-popular-new-years-resolutions-2018. My goal is to help you focus on a few ways that you can become a more intentionally focused disciple of Christ in 2019.
The thought of improving your relationship with God should, in my opinion, be the first resolution that you should consider moving forward. "In what ways can I learn more about who God is? How can I understand more about Jesus? What are some things that Jesus expects of me?" These are questions that should lead you to a better understanding of a tangible place to start building on your relationship with God. A relationship with God has so many aspects to consider, but I would like for us to focus on three of them. The following are areas that I believe can drastically increase your faith: intentional time for prayer, devoted time to individual study, and works of faith. Let's explore!!!
This aspect of our relationship with God should come as a "no-brainer." Yet, the more I consider the ways that I can spend more time growing in my relationship with Him, the more I realize that I am also guilty of neglecting this most important avenue of approach to the Father. It speaks volumes that the apostle Paul mentions prayer in his introductions to the letters he wrote. Consider the following: (CSB)
"I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength" (Ephesians 1:17-19).
"We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to the Father..." (Colossians 1:9-12).
"And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you may approve the things that are superior and may be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God" (Philippians 1:9-11).
Paul takes on an incredible journey of triumph and hardship throughout his life as a Christian. As he went, he planted churches in cities and would follow up with the congregations by using these kinds of letters. His hope is clearly mentioned in the introductions of his letters to his brothers and sisters. Prayer is, in fact, the first thing that we must do better at if we have any hope for improving our relationship with God. You'll notice that his prayers were for improvements in areas such as growth in knowledge, discernment, wisdom, spiritual understanding, and the hope of his calling. Not the lottery, or a win, or a new dog, or a new car, or any other material thing or social status.
If we hope to grow in any way spiritually, we have to be better, more intentional, and more direct in our approach with prayer. God deserves the time that is required to for us to develop a humble, honest, and sincere request. He deserves more than a 2-minute prayer before you fall asleep. He deserves much more than for you to ask the same repetitive things day in and day out without having meaning. Instead, pray over scripture. Keep a list of things or people you would like to pray about. Ask for the deeper things in life, such as the ones Paul has provided. Lastly, take time to stop talking while praying. Try to simply...LISTEN.
"Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you" (James 4:10).
I believe this one to be one that is generally looked at as a 365-day challenge. I have heard several people mention that they would like to read the entire bible in a year. This is a great goal! By no means do I hope that you will not succeed in it, but I would like to point out that this is another one of those that tends to fall by the wayside. One night you work too late and say you'll double up on reading tomorrow. That happens two or three times and the next thing you know, you're giving up on it.
I would like to offer an alternative to your already well-intentioned goal. Instead of reading a "1 Year Bible," try doing a precise study of things that interest you. For example, you could decide that each quarter, you will study something different. Maybe one month you read a New Testament book, and the next month you read an Old Testament book. Some of the options that I believe to be great are: studying the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament; studying the cultural climate of the New Testament (the people, the region, the religions, the laws, etc.) before, during and after you decide to read a certain book; and studying the ways you worship (once a week, on Saturday/Sunday, taking the communion, music, etc.) We see this same devotion to learning all throughout the New Testament. I think it would be wise for us to follow suit.
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer" (Acts 2:42)
"Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn't collapse, because its foundation was on the rock (Matthew 7:24-25).
"So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, whether by what we said or what we wrote" (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
The sanctification of our souls cannot happen if we go through this life on pure instinct and emotion. We have to spend much more time diligently seeking the Lord. The year will no doubt be full of triumph and failure, but if we stick to the truth of the Scripture, we will grow in our faith. Spend each day with time separated for Scripture. If it sounds boring, you haven't been reading the same bible that I have. It's living and has the ability to transform everything about you, through faith in God.
Works of Faith
I honestly believe that there is something to intentionally deciding to actively spread the Gospel and show acts of love to our neighbors. The actions we take undoubtedly reflect the inner faith we have and the strength of our relationship with God. I am not saying that your salvation is dependent upon any one, certain action plan. I am saying, or rather reiterating, what James wrote in his letter.
"In the same way faith, if it doesn't have works, is dead by itself" (James 2:17)
"You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was made complete" (James 2:22).
So, I think these words ring loudly in the ears of this generation. We are so apt to do the immediate thing that best suits our individual needs. Or, we are so overly complacent with our places in heaven that we neglect helping others. James is saying that you literally cannot say that you have faith if you do not provide some sort of work to accompany it. It's a difficult concept to understand, but it is not that your works earn your salvation. It is that, if you have genuine faith, you will be unable to withhold any actions that provide an opportunity to spread the faith in which you have.
This is why I believe works of faith should make everyone's list of "do-betters" this year. We have so much going on, and I'm not discrediting anyone for that. I just sincerely believe that we can and must do better than we are in regards to our Christian living. Go forth this year with the idea that you will be intentional with your approach in progressing your relationship with God. I have provided 3 areas that I hope can give you some sort of starting point. Focus on prayer, study, and works of faith next year. I have no doubt that if you do, you will experience immeasurable peace in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If there is anything that I could do to help you in your walk, please do not hesitate to let me know.
Until next time...