As we look back on 2015, I’ll bet that all of us can easily come up with a list of ways we fell short, fell on our faces, fell into the same old sins, and just plain blew it spiritually. Surely I am not the only one who could generate such a long list! So how do we respond to a year full of such setbacks and disappointments?
Before thinking about how to do better in 2016, remember that for those who are in Christ, there is no condemnation for anything you did in 2015! (Romans 8:1) This doesn’t mean we callously blow off our sin. Instead, it means that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Praise God that despite our faithlessness in 2015, God’s record of faithfulness towards us was 100% and that’s something worth celebrating!
Realize that though God’s grace towards His children in unending, it does not mean that we are to be content where we are. The apostle Paul said, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2 ) As believers, our purpose is to walk in such a way that will bring honor and glory to God by reflecting His character in how we live. And as a Father who loves His children, God knows that as we live in such a way, we will find our ultimate joy and satisfaction in our fellowship with Him. The only way 2016 will be better than 2015 for you is if you are closer to God this year than last. So how will that happen? Three ways.
#1. The Word of God
One of the primary ways you will draw nearer to God in 2016 is through the Word of God. Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4) As your physical body grows through being nourished by physical food, so your soul shall be nourished by regular intake of the Bible. Many Christians are spiritually malnourished and some will not gain much progress in 2016 because of their neglect of God’s word. Bible reading isn’t an option. It is the main means by which you will grow in your faith. As the Scripture says, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
What’s more, in 2016, you will have a host of important decisions to make. Saturating your mind and heart in the wisdom of God will lead you to make choices that are honoring to Him. As the Psalmist says,
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)
Not only will regular Bible intake increase your faith in God and help you to live in a way that pleases Him. It will also increase your joy in God. The delights and satisfactions you will find in the Bible infinitely exceed the temporary and weak pleasures found in shallow entertainment, TV, and hobbies. King David once said that God’s words are:
More to be desired… than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:10)
For some great advice and help on reading the Bible this year, I commend this great article to you. And if you’re like me, a systematic Bible reading plan will be of great help to you. Here’s a great list of plans to choose from. Also, Harbins Church is starting a new Bible memory campaign to help you hide God’s Word in your heart.
Another essential ingredient to your spiritual growth in 2016 will be prayer. If Bible reading is neglected by some Christians, prayer may even be more so by others. We rush through our daily lives and are totally prayerless. We seek to live in our own strength. We are arrogant enough to think that we can be better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, employees, friends, and Christians, without the power of God working in us.
In Paul’s classic teaching on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6, he lists the critical pieces of armor that we need in our battle against Satan’s schemes, such as the Shield of Faith, the Sword of the Spirit, and the Breastplate of righteousness. And yet it is telling that after Paul describes the powerful Armor of God he still says at the end of it all that Christians need to be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:18)
Many Christians haven’t grasped the truth that until regular vibrant prayer becomes a part of the fabric of their lives, they will only be spinning their wheels spiritually in the muck and mud of sin.
The prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon, once said,
As we breathe without ceasing, so must we pray without ceasing. As there is no attainment in life, of health, or of strength, or of muscular vigor which can place a man beyond the necessity of breathing, so no condition of spiritual growth or advance in grace will allow a man to dispense with prayer.
I fear that many Christians don’t pray because deep inside, though we give lip service to prayer, don’t really believe it will do anything. And yet James reminds us that you “have not because you ask not.” (James 4:2)
And, as with Bible intake, communion with God through prayer opens the door to increased joy and satisfaction in God. The Psalmist writes of his experience with prayer:
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. (Psalm 63:5-7)
Many Christians struggle with a stale and stagnant prayer life. All of us have room to grow here, and I am still learning myself. One thing that has been extremely helpful in my own prayer life is to “pray the Bible.” This has totally changed my prayer life for the better, and I think it can reinvigorate yours.
If you are intrigued, please read this great article for help in learning how to pray this way. Of course, you won’t be able to let the Bible inform you prayers if you’re not heeding my earlier point about actually reading the Bible in the first place!
#3 Christian Fellowship
Finally, make sure you are committed to regular fellowship with other believers in a local church. God hasn’t designed us to be in isolation from one another but in community. The whole tenor and tone of the New Testament makes it clear that one of the main ways God grows and strengthens believers is through participation in the local church with other brothers and sisters in Christ. The author of Hebrews says,
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
While the above verse is often used as a proof text to show why you should go to church every Sunday, this verse is saying more than that. On Sunday mornings typically the preacher is doing most of the “stirring.” But there were obviously times where everyone in the church “stirred” one another. We see this in the Bible as we get a snapshot of the early church meeting with one another on a regular basis, in one another’s homes, doing life together. They fellowship together, ate together, studied the Bible together, and prayed together. (Acts 2:44-47)
The book of Galatians says,
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)
Again, this cannot effectively happen if the only time we get together is one hour a week on Sunday mornings. Weekly worship is essential, but the Scriptures are calling us to more regular involvement with other believers to the point where we are being shaped, encouraged, influenced, helped, and held accountable by them.
For more thoughts, see Tim Challies’ helpful little article on 5 reasons you need to join a church.
I’ve heard all this before. So what?
If you’re thinking, “This information isn’t very revolutionary”, you’re right. None of this is new. But we don’t need something new. We need something that will put us on the path to greater godliness, drawing us closer to Him. 1 Timothy 4:7 says, “Discipline (or train) yourself for godliness.” The tried and true disciplines of Bible Reading, Prayer, and Christian Fellowship will be the essential ingredients to you growing in godliness in 2016. The question for us is will we trust the wisdom of God in this or will we chart our own path because we think we know better? If the latter, than come December 31st, 2016, you’ll be stuck in the exact same place spiritually as you were December 31st, 2015. Don’t you think it’s time for a course correction?
I don’t know everything the year holds for you. It could include many joys or much pain. It might contain lots of pleasure or a whole lot of suffering. I cannot even guarantee if any of us will even live to the end of the year. Our lives are but a vapor.
The only thing I can guarantee is that if you draw nearer to God in 2016, it will be a much better year than 2015. “Better” doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of affliction and it doesn’t mean getting everything you want. Instead, better means having and experiencing and enjoying more of the most valuable treasure in the universe. God is so good that He can sustain and strengthen and satisfy even in suffering, even if we lose everything else. There is no other treasure you have that can do that.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. (Psalm 4:7 )
We all need help growing into the experience of the above verses, but even if we can just take a step closer to that in 2016 through the reading of the Bible, through prayer, and through Christian fellowship, it will be good year indeed. So let’s get started…
Grace and Peace and Happy New Year,