As we begin a new year, many of us are putting together New Year’s resolutions for 2009. If that is you, you probably have felt the pressures of such commitments already — and maybe you’ve already slipped and fell. I am not against New Year’s resolutions, but I am distraught at the failure rates of such endeavors. I do want to address some areas where we all need to set up goals for our spiritual walks in light of how 2008 turned out.
For most Christians, happyness (also known as “happiness”) is difficult to come by when we go through trials of various kinds, as it is usually seen as a feeling of pleasure based on circumstances. Joy, however, should be a calm delight in the person and character of God in spite of and despite the circumstances we are in. That may sound wonderful, but our experiences in life tell us how difficult it is to find true joy. Believe you me, it was difficult to find happyness and joy in 2008. But let us heed God’s word from apostle James:
Count it all joy [χαρά], my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
It is obvious that it is very difficult to see the sufferings we go through as joy (or happiness for that matter). All people go through suffering in life continually; it’s as certain as death and taxes. However, James’ point is that we need to count it — the different kinds of trials that God brings into our lives — as joy. The whole experience and the entire circumstance, we must “consider it an opportunity for great joy” (NLT). For while unbelievers may look and see the situation as an opportunity for cursing God and running away from him, we must use the trials we face as a chance to glorify God and help others see joy through similar situations.
Similarly, it is obvious why we often don’t desire God. We find little joy in our walk with the Lord when we don’t see enough reasons to be glad, and thus sometimes we turn away from him and walk our own separate path. Lord have mercy if we ever find ourselves on this kind of path to destruction. The Scriptures continually remind us that while joy is the gift of God, it is also something that we must labor to attain as sons of our heavenly Father: “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim 6:12). Joy is something we must fight for, especially in times when we don’t desire God. And if we feel like we often don’t desire God as a person, then we need to fight more diligently to see our trials as an opportunity for great joy! Consider Hebrews 12:1-2 :
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy [χαρά] that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
The Spirit-inspired writer of Hebrews calls us to do 2 things — necessities for joy on the road marked with suffering: (1) strip off every sin that hinders and entangles us; (2) run with perseverance the race God has set before us. Oh how often do we flee towards sin and temptation when the going gets tough, instead of fleeing from those useless things which slows us down and trips us up! Oh how often are we lazy and give up so quickly when life throws us a lemon! We must persevere and endure, because there is a great reward in and at the end of this difficult path: our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the object of our joy!
How are we to do this? From this passage in Hebrews, I’d like to suggest one overarching thing, and subsequently 4 other things that are my personal goals for 2009.
Keeping our eyes on Jesus:
Hebrews 12:2 begins with a present active participle: (ἀφορῶντες εἰς τὸν Ἰησοῦν) fixing our eyes on Jesus (TNIV). We need to be continually keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ in 2009. For when we look away from him, it is then that we begin falling short of God’s glory and start slipping into spiritual depression. When God blesses us with good things, we must look to Jesus and thank him for the abundant grace he lavishes us with. When God (temporarily) withholds gifts from us, we must keep our eyes on Jesus, who is all we need and could ever want, counting every blessing we already have as undeserved gifts of grace.
1. Read more
For most Christians, we aspire to read through the Bible in the year to come. I have to admit that as much as I have read the entire New Testament, I have yet to read through the entire Old Testament in recent memory. Thankfully, I am being forced to read Job through Malachi for an OT classes this coming semester, but I am also making it a goal to read through the entire biblical canon this year. Christianity is a religion that is based upon a Word that God has spoken, and moreover, written. In today’s illiterate 21st century, this is very difficult for far too many of us –and yet, we know that reading the Bible is the fuel for all of life (2 Tim 3:16). That is why, despite all the entertaining mediums of modern communication, we must endeavor to read God’s word daily. Additionally, I am working on memorizing Scripture with the help of the ESV Daily Verse and weekly ESV Truth Bible Memory Verses.
Furthermore, every Christian needs to be reading Christian books on a regular basis. We must be continually learning from other brothers (and sisters) who have gained biblical insight and applying what we read to our lives. As a seminary student who has to read a lot already, the difficulty is to read leisurely for spiritual growth. While many people can balance reading for school and reading for leisure/personal growth, I am challenging myself to read at least one additional book per month on top of my reading for school. (See how I’m trying not to set myself up for a fall!)
This is easier than #1, but just as important. A relationship with anybody, especially one with God, is founded up on good communication, and we all know, communication is a two-way street. In addition to reading God’s Word daily, spiritual health is dependent on daily prayer. Just as Paul wrote, we must “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation,” but we cannot do so without being “constant in prayer” (Rom 12:12). For me, this entails praying through Scripture (especially the “Psalm of the day”) and journaling out my thoughts and prayers.
3. Be less entertained
In 2008, I was blessed by the Lord to be in a relationship with a godly woman for about 4 months. The one thing I am most thankful for in my ex and from my relationship with her is how she spurred me on to be less entertained and less enamored in television and movies. Her heart and mind was much less shaped by the culture and the media as I was, and I am a much better man today because of her constant reminders to be shaped by Jesus’ cross instead of Hollywood.
For while movies and television in and of themselves are not bad per se, but they can be — especially where they are futile for growing the soul and when take away from #1 and #2. As my Pastor recently wrote, we must be seriously concerned about the effects of entertainment on our lives. I am striving to be less and less entertained in 2009, and I commend you to do the same.
4. Be more invested
In 2009, I hope to be more invested in people. From looking back on the year that has past, I was so blessed in 2008 by the continual care and prayers of brothers and sisters, friends in Christ who supported me and encouraged me in the Lord. They shared with me their life experiences in order to give insight into my trials; they shared with me Scriptures that would help me fight the good fight of the faith; they prayed with me and for me, even crying alongside me in times of tribulation. I have benefited so much from genuine, biblical community, and I hope those around me can benefit from my friendship with them also. That is why I am striving in humility to value others’ needs above my own, looking not to my own interests but also to the interests of my brothers and sisters (Phil 2:3-4).
How can the world know that we are disciples of Jesus Christ? Jesus’ answer to this is a staggering statement about the effectiveness of our gospel witness: “if you have love for one another“ (John 13:35). (I can hear my dad chiming in and echoing these sentiments!) How glorious is that, eh!? When we love one another, just as Christ first loved us; and when we forgive each other, just as Christ first forgave us — the world sees that we are his disciples, the people around us will know that we follow a lord other than ourselves — the Lord Jesus Christ!
Let us, then, be doers of the word, and not hearers only. May the world look at us in 2009 and be convinced that we are disciples of Jesus Christ because of the love we have for God and for each other.