Today is the first day of 2018, and like many people, I sat down with my Big Chief writing tablet and my #2 pencil and began to map out the next twelve months of my life. I have personal goals, spiritual goals, and goals for this website, some of which I’m super excited to introduce to you in the coming weeks/months.
Unfortunately, writing goals down on a piece of paper is about as far as many people get. According to one report, 80% of all resolutions will be abandoned by the second week of February, leaving a trail of woulda-shoulda-coulda’s and a whole heap of “wait till next year”s in their wake.
But that’s not you, is it? Surely not! You and I are going to be the exception to the rule, the 20% that soldiers on and makes it to December, gracefully crossing the finish line with both hands up in the air and screaming “I did it!”
I hope so, for both of our sakes.
The reason that most people fail in their pursuit of New Year’s Resolutions comes down to several factors, the most important of which are a lack of specificity, a failure to focus on our mind, and setting smaller goals to achieve along the way.
In other words, the reason most people fail at the most popular resolution of “losing weight,” is because that’s as far as their thinking goes. Nothing beyond that – no plan, no intermediate goals, just a random statement that soothes the conscience.
For Christians, it’s not much different. We look back at the year before us and honestly believe that we can do better (or, at least we should be thinking that). Like the stair-step of holiness that Peter describes in his second epistle (2 Peter 1:5-8), we build on the successes and failures of past years in order to create a better future for ourselves.
The person that I should’ve invited to services? That’s my goal this year.
The Bible reading plan that I abandoned January 3? That’s also my goal this year.
But let me break from tradition and tell you something blunt: both of those are awful New Year’s Resolutions to make as a Christian.
Not because they’re not admirable (they are).
Not because they aren’t worth pursuing (they are).
But because they fail to address the underlying motivation for the actions in the first place.
That’s why, instead of making a list of nebulous aspirations for myself, this year, 2018, I’m committing myself to making better and more profitable resolutions that I can’t wait to stick to.
Here’s a sampling:
- Instead of saying “I’m going to read my Bible more this year,” say “I’m going to study and meditate on God’s Word continuously”
Bible study plans are fantastic; I actually started one this morning on Facebook and would love for you to join me (go here to like the Coffee and a Bible page).
The problem with most is that they start on January 1st, so if you miss a day or week or month, it’s tempting to throw in the towel and utter the Cleveland Indian’s favorite line: “Wait till next year!”
In reality, it doesn’t matter what plan you use, how you consume it (print, audio, app, etc), when you start, or why you even started in the first place. The only thing that matters is that you start.
But Bible reading is worthless if it’s not meditated on afterward (and by meditation, I mean a constant state of reflection, not sitting in the corner and humming to yourself).
God won’t care if you check off every box on your list at the end of the year if you don’t remember any of it or haven’t applied it in your life in the meantime. If all you’re doing is reading for reading’s sake, then you’re not growing – it’s as simple as that.
Consider this: it’s far better to read one verse, study it, and think about it the rest of the day, than it is to read 100 verses that entered one ear and fell out the other.
When God told Joshua to take the Promised Land, He told him to “meditate” on the book of the law “day and night” (Joshua 1:8). The righteous man in Psalm 1 “meditates” on the law “day and night” (Psalm 1:2). Psalm 119, the quintessential psalm about God’s word, talks about meditating on God’s statutes (v. 48), precepts (v.23), precepts (v.15), and wonders (v.27).
David is not talking about simply reading, reading, and more reading all day long; he’s talking about dwelling on the wonders and statues of God continuously.
Instead of simply reading God’s Word, focus on it.
Dwell on it.
Live in it.
2. Instead of saying, “I will teach the Gospel to my friends,” say “I will share God’s Word with my friends because I love them.”
“Sharing” just sounds better than “teach,” doesn’t it?
Teaching has the idea of standing at a chalkboard in front of a group of students with a baton and taking your friends through their grammar lessons; sharing sounds more like gossip.
It should, because that’s almost exactly how the Scriptures describe it.
1 Timothy 5:13 describes idle women that go about sharing gossip “from house to house.” They have the latest information on sister Bertha Better-Than-You, and they can’t wait to share it with other people.
That same phrase (“house to house”) is used in Acts 5:42 and Acts 20:20 in terms of evangelism, how Christians moved from person to person “sharing” the good news of Jesus Christ.
It wasn’t dictatorial or demonstrative or forceful; it was sharing, and sometimes correcting, information concerning our Lord.
“But wait, Brady! Doesn’t everyone already know about Jesus?”
That’s (mostly) true: just about everyone that I know of is aware that there is a Person that existed 2,000 years ago named Jesus that was born in a manger and died on a cross somewhere.
But I would wager a guess that that’s all a lot of people know.
What would they say if you talked to them about the baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3:14), and what He then commands us to do in a similar manner (John 3:5; Matt. 28:19)?
Have you talked to them about His ascension?
Washing the feet of Judas?
Eating breakfast with Peter after His resurrection?
Yes, people may know about Jesus, but that’s a far cry from saying there’s nothing left to share. You may have been a Cowboys fan for 30 years, but that doesn’t mean when you sit down next to your brother, who is also a Cowboys fan, that you don’t have anything to talk about.
We teach others about God’s word because we love their souls and want them to be saved; if we didn’t, we would keep it to ourselves.
Sharing Scripture doesn’t have to be combative; in some cases, it can even be *GASP*…fun!
Love people’s souls, and you’ll care enough to tell them how it can be saved.
3. Instead of Saying, “I will be at church services more”, say “I can’t wait to worship God and see His people.”
Even though about 73% of Americans identify as a Christian, only about one in three actually attend worship services at least once a month. (https://www.barna.com/research/state-church-2016/)
I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty low bar and most of Americans are failing at even that.
Fortunately, most of those that make up that disparity would probably testify that practicing a religious faith is not only good for themselves, but for their families as well. Even if they don’t want to be there, it’s important that their kids go.
For that reason, attending more services (i.e. going multiple times a month, making Sunday morning and evening services, attending on Wednesday nights, etc), is a common resolution that many Christians make – and also break.
We break it because we look at attending worship as an obligation: God wants us to worship Him, so we show up, offer Him some lip service, and go on about our lives. I don’t need to tell you how un-flattering that is to God, since these people have already done it for me (Isaiah 1:10-15; Jeremiah 6:20; Psalm 50:8; Malachi 1:10; Micah 6:7; Amos 5:21).
While we may have good intentions at the beginning of the year, eventually that warm bed and hot cup of coffee are just too tempting to get up and at services on Sunday mornings. Our attendance drops to once every two weeks, once a month, once every couple months, and then we’re right back where we started.
Worship is for God, there’s no doubt about it. But worship is also for us too. That’s why passages like Ephesians 5:18 and Colossians 3:17 talk about the joy of singing together, and Hebrews 10:24-25 – that all-important verse that describes the necessity of attendance – emphasizes the importance of considering how to “stir one another up unto love and good works.”
I love the people I worship with. Not just like-them-love-them, I mean love-them-love-them-love-them, and I’m sure, if you’re reading this right now, there are people at your local congregation that you love too.
Consider how much your presence means to them and how much your absence hurts them.
Consider how much your soul is encouraged by their faith and how much their soul is strengthened by yours.
Finally, consider how much it hurt God to see His Son on the cross and compare that with the “struggle” of getting your family together in the morning (hey, I’ve got two kids in diapers still; it’s definitely a struggle).
We don’t go to worship because we have to, we go to worship because we get to.
If only the people in the first century were so lucky.
4. Instead of saying, “I will pray with my family every night,” say “I will make prayer a part of everyday life.”
Without a doubt, prayer is one of the best things we can do with our families. Besides showing our kids how to be thankful, it also reinforces in our minds what the most important thing is in our lives: God.
Our last name doesn’t bind us together: God does.
But instead of making prayer a rigid, miniaturized version of corporate prayer that we have at services, family prayer is an excellent time to ask your family what they perceive as the needs of the family.
Do we have family or friends that we need to pray for?
Is there something specific to thank God for?
What kind of struggles are we each facing?
Once we identify those things, then prayer becomes an opportunity to ask God to help us with those things as only He can. Take 15 minutes every day to sit with your family, pull out a notepad, jot some of these things down, and pray together. Hold hands too – it helps.
Family prayer is just one way to weave God’s will into our everyday life. It becomes less rigid and formal and more about communicating with our Maker.
We need to develop a God-consciousness in our lives that seek to commune with Him constantly, all day, every day. “Pray without ceasing,” as Paul told the church in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5:17).
Pretty soon, you’ll notice other Godly attributes becoming a part of your daily walk: temptations won’t have as much of a hold because you’ll hate sin as God hates sin; compassion and love will be second-nature because you’ll love people as God loves people.
The more we can introduce God into our everyday life without a checklist, the faster our likeness will be transformed into His (Romans. 12:1-2).
And at the end of the day, isn’t that something Christians should be striving after?
Should be a busy year.