As 2017 draws to an immediate close, it would be instructive for us, as Christians, to step into the future and begin to pray about and look towards 2018.
It’s unfortunate that regularly practicing apologetics often leaves us in the clouds, as it were. That is, we find ourself focusing so hard on philosophical, historical, and scientific arguments for our faith that our spiritual growth suffers.
I, myself, am going to make a specific commitment to achieve a better balance next year–something I will write about in a few weeks.
Scripture often speaks to areas of our lives where we least expect it–I love this about God’s Word! The older I grow, the more the Bible seems relevant in unexpected areas of my life.
It’s in this spirit that I write this blog post. I’d like to give you five Biblical steps to help prepare for next year. But first, a few thoughts on resolutions:
We should be careful not to think in terms of New Year’s resolutions here. 1 Corinthians 15:58 says, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
The phrase always abounding speaks volumes. Resolutions are almost always finite–and usually, don’t make it past a few months. But these Scriptural principles should be practiced diligently, fervently, and continually!
We often have difficulty keeping resolutions because we lose sight of what is at stake.
Once we grasp the gravity of God’s place in our lives–something so sacred it may never be truly grasped in this life–we realize how important it is to stay close to God and allow Truth to dictate and permeate each and every fabric.
1. Submit to God; Resist the Devil
James 4:7–“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
It’s been well said that Satan usually does not bother those who are not actively engaged in ministry and sound Christian living. This verse seems to make one thing very clear–if you submit yourself to God, the Devil will attempt to stifle you and your ministry.
I cannot think of a group of people the devil would attack harder than active, committed apologists.
We should be careful to guard our hearts, our minds, our actions, our families, our attitudes, etc., against his attacks. They are persistent, and they are annoying, but James 4:7 gives us hope.
See, the same verse that indicates we’ll have the devil to fight also indicates we have the power to resist him. And furthermore, when we do that, he will flee!
Scripture, however, further reveals a sobering thought (read Matthew 6:24 for context): Every action, thought, and idea will be in service of either God or Satan. There is no in-between! What do we do?
Two practical suggestions: (1) Pray before major decisions, especially as they relate to your family or ministry. This keeping in communication with God will grow your confidence and faith in His ultimate plan for your life. (2) Pray daily and STAY in His Word. This will ensure that you’re thinking biblically about even the littlest decisions of life.
I want everything I do to point to God’s truth and God’s glory–the only way I can make that happen is through the power of the Holy Spirit and by staying in communication with the One who governs my path and orders my steps.
As our verse declares at the start, this process involves submission. Total submission to God involves at least three things:
- Humility toward His provision. In other words, understanding that God holds the ownership of our lives and He alone deserves the glory for all that we do and all that we are.
- Trust in His position. This means realizing that our lives are not the product of our circumstances, but rather, the sovereignty of an infinite God.
- Loyalty to His petition. Or, a life of obedience to God’s commandments and statutes in accordance with His revealed will.
This is yet another opportunity to remember where our ultimate authority lies. Even Jesus was tempted of the devil, and had to resist him. How did Jesus do it? Three simple words that the devil–and his followers–hate: “It is written.”
A great new year–with a biblical focus–will require passionate submission to God and an adamant resistance of the devil. Peter reminds us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
Satan is looking for those with their guard down; will he find you that way in 2018, or will you be ready to face him with the Conquerer on your side? It’s your choice.
2. Draw Nigh to God
James 4:8–“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.”
Christian educator Charlotte Mason once declared, “We do not merely give a religious education because that would seem to imply the possibility of some other education, a secular education, for example. But we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education (which may at the same time be reached by a little child) is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God in which our being finds its fullest perfection.”
If the Christian worldview is the right one–and it is–then the ultimate purpose of mankind is to know God and to make Him known (to others). In keeping with that purpose, we should seek not to only glorify God in all that we do, but to learn from God in all that we do.
This is why we need Christian technical schools, specialty schools, colleges, etc. Even the most menial of tasks is performed in a different light if being done to the glory of God.
Why draw nigh (near) to God? Because the Scriptures promise that if we do so, He will draw nigh to us! What a thought, that the God all of all glory would want to draw close to us. This is what is meant when Christians speak of a “personal relationship” with God.
God is not merely a deistic force of creation–He is personal, intelligent being who “…is not slack concerning his promise…but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
This “nearness” to God manifests itself in two very important ways. First, a “clean heart” and a “right spirit” (Psalm 51:10). It is impossible, as God moves closer to us, to continue basking in sin and self-righteousness. These “high-minded” characteristic are incompatible with the “hostile takeover” of the Holy Spirit upon a Christian.
Second, an intercessory fellowship with the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:26 says, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
This means that the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us; that is, He prays for us–even in those times when we cannot pray for ourselves.
So in drawing near to God, and Him to us, we find in ourselves a new heart which is able to be made perfect and conformed to the will of God and a new Helper who comforts us and directs us even closer toward God’s perfect will for our lives.
3. Be Afflicted, Mourn, and Weep
James 4:9–“Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.”
What an unusual admonition is found here. Why ought we to be afflicted, to mourn and to weep? Furthermore, how is that a recipe for a great new year?
Matthew Henry beautifully paraphrases this verse, “What afflictions God sends take them as he would have you, and be duly sensible of them. Be afflicted when afflictions are sent upon you, and do not despise them; or be afflicted in your sympathies with those who are so, and in laying to heart the calamities of the church of God. Mourn and weep for your own sins and the sins of others; times of contention and division are times to mourn in, and the sins that occasion wars and fightings should be mourned for. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness.”
A “mountain” for me way well be a “valley” for you, and vice-versa. In times of wealth and prosperity, we’d do well to remember that another may not be so fortunate, and our perseverance in prayer must not change with our circumstances.
So, we have a great new year by keeping our lives in context– the context of what God has done for us, is doing through us, and may well be doing for others. We often forget, however, that when God does something for us, we may not know it! In fact, we may well be convinced that it is some form of punishment.
This is why a Christian must reflect daily on Romans 8:28. We’re wise to remember that, while not all things are good, all things are worked together for good to them that love God.
Therefore, I conclude that James 4:9 is really talking about empathy, which could be defined as: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
Romans 12:15 highlights this and commands, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”
A crucial part of the Christian experience is to “bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” We have a great new year by remembering to be empathetic towards the multiplied needs of others, and to remember that your fellow brothers and sisters, in accordance with the law of Christ, are also empathetic towards yours.
4. Humble Yourselves
James 4:10—”Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”
Humility is one of the very easiest ways to identify with our Lord. Philippians 2:5-8 teaches, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
This incredible passage of Scripture gives us a personal glimpse at our Savior. He was humble—He was born low, lived low, died low, and taught others to be low.
Jesus said, on numerous occasions, that in the Kingdom, whoever is first shall be last, and whoever is last shall be first. This unconventional teaching was not very well received in the culture which Jesus was born into.
Nevertheless, Jesus faithfully taught that humility was the key to a successful life of Christian service.
Humility, I’ve discovered, has to do with at least three things: First, service. A humble heart and spirit will place you in a position of servitude toward others. “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).
Second, humility involves a higher regard for others. “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
Finally, humility is confidence without overconfidence. In his book, The Private Life of the Preacher, Dr. Kenneth Kuykendall declares, “Humility is the loss of pride, the denial of self; while insecurity is the loss of confidence, the obsession of self.”
Therefore, to humble ourselves to is trade insecurity for humility; to have confidence in the gifts and abilities God has given us while making sure He alone receives the glory for bestowing them upon us.
James 4:16 says, “But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.” As the contemporary hymn, How Deep the Father’s Love, states so beautifully, “I will not boast in anything; no gifts, no power, no wisdom. But I will boast in Jesus Christ; His death and resurrection.”
The cross of Christ is all we, as Christians who were once dead in trespasses and sin, have to boast about anyway. We—and our lives—would be nothing without the sacrifice of Christ and the gift of God—faith—to receive Him.
5. Speak not Evil of Your Brethren
James 4:11—”Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.”
As a Christian living in the 21st century, we’ve got much bigger problems to worry about than infighting. Even a short list of these would include those who think we’re:
- Religious Nuts
- Afraid of death
Here’s the thing: We have a responsibility to the world to show them what Christ’s love can do for them; we cannot accomplish this while living with a poor testimony!
And, you can rest assured, all the infighting casts a very poor light on Christ and the gospel.
Want to have a great new year? Submit all of your thoughts and actions to Christ; take every thought captive; hold your tongue, and be found nowhere near those who make it a habit to cast others down.
There is simply too much work to be done for the cause of the gospel to waste time speaking badly of others. It’s likely a matter of preference anyway; arguably, those you criticize are at least doing something!
Specifically, James 4:11 is telling us that when we make ourselves out to be the judge of another, we become just that–a judge–instead of a doer of the law, which God has commanded of us (James 1:22).
This raises an important question–should we judge others? Of course–one has to make judgments. It’s impossible to live without doing so. But there is a proper way to make a judgment about someone.
This is outlined for us in Matthew 7:1-5:
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”
In other words, we must not judge one another hypocritically; ironically, this will help us to avoid gossiping and slandering others because we will be attuned to our own actions and attitudes first.
We can have a great new year by remembering to first examine ourselves before casting down another. Then, and only then, do we continue making any judgments–following biblical truth and principles for correction and instruction.
Remember that “…every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). Words matter–and us much as they matter to us, they matter a great deal more to God.
What is the biblical prescription for this malady? It is found in Ephesians 4:32–“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
Whether we like it or not, we will only find the proper prescription for a great new year by examining the timeless truths and principles of God’s Word.
We are tempted, as this time of year rolls around, to begin purchasing books, DVD’s, programs, etc., to help us find meaning and purpose as we look ahead to the future.
Although there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, there is no better manual for life than the Bible. Jesus has already walked our footsteps, and is with us even as we are walking now.
Through the instruction He has provided in His Word, and as the Holy Spirit shapes and molds your life, submit yourself to God–yield yourself to His will, and 2018 will most certainly be the very best year of your life.
As you attempt to know and find the will of God for your life, I’ll leave you with words that a young lady named Amy Carmichael once penned:
“And shall I pray Thee change Thy will, my Father, Until it be according unto mine? But, no, Lord, no, that never shall be, rather I pray Thee blend my human will with Thine.
I pray Thee hush the hurrying, eager longing, I pray Thee soothe the pangs of keen desire—See in my quiet places, wishes thronging—Forbid them, Lord, purge, though it be with fire.”
Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!