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