If God is willing, as the calendar changes to 2017, approximately 45% of Americans will resolve to make a change in the upcoming year. Most will resolve to lose weight. Others will endeavor to better organize their lives, spend less money, quit smoking, or spend more time with their families. Twenty-five percent will give up by the end of the first week and only 8% will achieve their goal. These statistics are neither encouraging nor inspiring. For those of us who are “92-percenters” more often than not, the numbers quantify what our failures have taught us: a life-change is difficult to sustain. However, a stated commitment to change is far more likely to succeed than either a half-hearted or impulsive attempt. If you are contemplating goals for the upcoming year, have you given thought to improving your spiritual well-being?
The Holy Spirit promises if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us (James 4:8). Where does your relationship with your Creator stand at this moment? Do you talk with Him on a regular basis? Do you consistently take time to listen to Him through His scriptures? Are there moments in each day when you allow your mind to dwell on what is pure, noble, just, and lovely? Is there a character flaw or habitual sin that weighs you down? Paul, a man with a history of spiritual self-deception, urges us to examine our lives (see 1 Corinthians 11:28, 2 Corinthians 13:5, Galatians 6:4). In this time when reflection and rededication are natural, make the most of this moment by taking spiritual inventory and either make corrections or deepen your commitments.
In his first epistle, John links spiritual health with love for brethren (see 1 John 3:14). The next time you assemble with the Lord’s body, take time to look at those seated in the pews around you. Go through the membership list hanging on your refrigerator. Listen closely during announcement time. Talk with your brethren before and after assemblies. Are you attuned to the many possibilities for service in the kingdom of God? Take a moment to think beyond the public assembly. Consider all those who you could visit — widows, the sick, those who are discouraged, the spiritually ill, etc. You do not have to visit them in person. I know a former elder who has mastered five minute phone calls. Greeting cards or short notes through the mail or email or Facebook are encouraging as well. Hot meals or freezer meals delivered to the door are a wonderful comfort to those who grieve or who are in the midst of troubling times. And above all else, prayers, intercessions, supplications, and giving of thanks need to be offered for our brethren. Any brother or sister, at any stage in life, in nearly any physical condition can minister to the Lord’s body in prayer. Our congregations desperately need to be blanketed with the faithful prayers of the righteous. As you inventory your spiritual life, take into account how you can serve the church in the upcoming months.
In setting spiritual goals for 2017, do not forget those beyond the borders of God’s kingdom. The first century church went about preaching the word and did not leave this responsibility to the apostles (see Acts 8:1-4). Effective personal evangelism begins with your example. We must give people a reason to ask about the reason for the hope that is in us (see 1 Peter 3:13-17). Are you under a basket? Have you lost your flavor? Is the influence of Christ evident in your life? Adorn the doctrine of Christ with your good behavior as well as sound speech. Speak words seasoned with goodwill, speak the truth with love, and share what the Lord has done for you and what He will do for everyone. With some imagination and diligence, all of this can be incorporated into your daily interactions.
Having established your testimony, now ask your friends or neighbors or co-workers about his or her beliefs. Listen to what they say and do not respond before you have heard their entire answer (see Proverbs 18:13). Find areas to agree and when you disagree, seek to better understand their perspective: “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5). Once you know more about what they believe, invite them to study the Bible with you. Remember that faith comes by hearing the word of God, not by hearing the words of men or women (Romans 10:17). Trust in the power of God’s word to convict, convince, and persuade (see John 16:7-11 and Hebrews 4:12-13).
Like the beginning of baseball season, a new year breathes optimism, hopefulness, and opportunity into life. A sense of a fresh start can inspire us to do better and to live better. However, may I suggest that new commitments are often abandoned because they fail to address our true needs. The dissatisfaction that compels resolutions may be spiritual, not physical. Feed your soul in 2017. Endeavor to draw near to God, to serve your brethren, and to minister the good news of Jesus to the lost.
I am resolved no longer to linger,
Charmed by the world’s delight;
Things that are higher, things that are nobler,
These have allured my sight.
~ Palmer Hartsough
~ Wade Stanley
Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’ Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, ‘Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?’ And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, ‘Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!’ (Mark 4:36-41).
The world is growing tempestuous. Entire cities are engulfed with mob violence. Good is called evil and evil is called good. Individuals of ill-repute continue to gain wealth and power. This may leave us feeling a lot like the disciples: afraid and wondering where our Teacher is.
Isaiah 9:6 prophesies concerning our Teacher:
“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah denotes the Messiah as Prince of Peace. The word “Prince” used here is rendered “chief” in Genesis 40:2. It gives the idea of authority committed to one at the behest of a greater. Christ speaks of himself in John 5:22, “For the Father judges no one, but has committed judgment to the Son.” Again, he says in John 14:10:
“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.”
As Prince of Peace, then, we understand that Christ was entrusted with peace from God to share with man.
Christ speaks of sharing this peace in John 16:33:
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
While acknowledging trouble in this world, He triumphantly expresses having overcome the world. What did it matter, then, if the world brought trial? There was something greater. The flesh may bring disease, failure, grief, or loss. Christ overcame all, and in Him you too have overcome the world. John writes in 1 John 4:4, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world.” Therefore, let us be at peace in this world, knowing that we have overcome through Christ and are now more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
Paul describes the peace that comes through Christ in Ephesians 2:13-15:
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.”
Through Christ we are all one family. He took the Gentiles, who were not God’s people, and grafted them into the family tree, thus making peace with God for all. Verse 16 continues, “and that he might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.” Christ’s death took the discord away, enabling all to enjoy peace with God. Isaiah 53:5 remarks, “the chastisement for our peace was upon Him.”
This peace with God means that we now have a means to peace with one another. It doesn’t come through political party affiliation or philosophical ideologies. It comes from abiding together in one body in Christ. Isaiah 11:6-9 presents nine incredible scenes:
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.”
These are unthinkable scenes of peace. Verse 9 concludes, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” We have been reconciled to God, and therefore we belong to a kingdom which stands for peace. Consider brethren in North and South Korea praying for each other. Consider brethren in Russia and Ukraine praising God together. Consider voters on either side of politics in the USA bearing with one another in love. God’s peace extends beyond physical borders or political spectrums. God’s kingdom breaks down barriers of nation, race, and tongue, making all equal as sons of God.
Paul concludes in Ephesians 2:19-20:
“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.”
We are all one in Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Let us, therefore, fix our eyes upon the Prince of Peace, and let the boisterous waves of this world fall harmlessly at our feet.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7).
~ Joshua Riggins