New Year, New You?

new year, goals, plans, surrenderLast year is gone and a new year is here.  With the arrival of the new year our thoughts will often shift to reflection and review of the past year and how we could improve and do things differently going forward.  Some folks make resolutions or plans for improvement and there are probably more diets started in January and promises to begin exercising than there are at any other time of the year.  There’s just something about a new calendar year that makes us think about a clean slate and a fresh start and a desire to begin again in a better way and this is not a bad thing by any means.

But from a Christian perspective there are a couple of things that we need to keep in mind before we make any improvement plans or start any journey towards a goal and the first and most important of those is this: we are not our own.  We belong to Jesus and therefore anything that we set our minds to needs to be done in a way that brings glory to Him and His name.

We first need to prayerfully examine our motives (do we want to diet and exercise to be more healthy or just because our vanity tells us that we should look better in that pair of jeans?) and once we have done that we can then include the Lord in every step of our planning and preparation with the knowledge that the outcome and the victory already belongs to Him.

We can praise Him and thank Him for His provision and draw strength from His presence and from His counsel.  We are not alone and we best show that when we work towards a goal hand in hand with Him, filled by His Spirit.  Difficulties and challenges can and will be overcome if God is with us and our relationship to Him will be strengthened as we work with Him towards our goal.

The most joyful aspect of all of this is that our improvement and the power to reach our goals does not rest with us and is not dependent on our strength.  God provides based on our surrender to Him and our obedience to His Word.  We don’t have to wonder about what will happen or worry about the outcome.  If God is in it, it will be done!

And furthermore, we never have to wait for a new year to come around to decide to do things God’s way or to commit our ways and thoughts to Him.  He provides renewal and regeneration to all who come to Him and it is available 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.

I hope, like me, that you are excited about the new year and the new opportunities and challenges that it will bring.  I also hope that you are walking into the near year hand in hand with Jesus and secure in the knowledge that you belong to Him.  Because once you are in that position there is no power in the world that can stand against you and you will be amazed to see what God can do in your life.

 

Love, Prayer, Forgiveness and Surrender

love, prayer, surrender, forgivenessIf we were, just for a moment, to talk about a few of the most powerful actions and ideas available to us then my top four would be 1) love in action, 2) prayer, 3) surrender and 4) forgiveness.  In these, Jesus Christ is our model and we can be assured that in order to become more Christlike we must work towards being excellent at all four.

And I say “work towards” because we don’t start our walk with Christ being strong in these areas and none of us, no matter how long we have been a child of God, are perfect in all four.  We’ve all got work to do or perhaps it’s more accurate to say we must continue(or begin) to surrender our selves to the Holy Spirit so that He can work in us and on us.  It is the work of God to change us, it is the responsibility of the person to surrender themselves so that they may be changed.

(So there’s number 3 from our list, right there, and please bear with me even if this is not in numerical order!)  Just as Christ surrendered his position in heaven and left his throne to come and live as a man, and just as Christ then surrendered his life for all so must we surrender our rights and desires to Him.  Our surrender is what allows us to accept Jesus Christ as savior and Lord and it is our daily (or even hourly) surrender that allows us to continue to grow and know Him better.

Closely related to surrender is forgiveness(number 4 from our list).  God forgives us of our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness and this forgiveness is applied to our past, present and future!  The entirety of the sin debt of every man, woman and child who has ever lived or will ever live has already been paid for.  The enormity of that act is difficult to comprehend but what it means for us is that we no longer have the right to withhold forgiveness from anyone or anything.  God forgave it all, every last sin, at the exact moment that the sin debt was laid on His only son Jesus.  For us, who have been so forgiven, we are now free to surrender our right to retribution, hatred, revenge and all thoughts of “getting even”.

Not only that, we must forgive ourselves and not hold on to guilt or failure.  And sometimes, we even need to forgive a situation or circumstance.  Sometimes things happen that aren’t in our plan and are not welcomed or appreciated and if we aren’t careful we can develop bitterness that will poison our lives and everything that we touch.  God’s children must forgive and the only way this can be done is in the power of the Holy Spirit and in Jesus’ name.  We simply lack the ability to forgive and let go apart from the power of God in us.

So then, how do we access the power of God in us and live lives that are filled with the Holy Spirit?  We do this through prayer (number 2, here it is!) and meditation on God’s Word.  The Bible says we are to “pray continuously” and that we should “always, in everything, make our requests known to God with thanksgiving” and then, once we’ve done that, we can start to be amazed at what God can do through us and around us.  Prayer is powerful, not because of the words we say but because of who we are praying to; Jesus, in whom we live and move and have our being.  When we choose to communicate and cooperate with God it will always make an eternal and life changing difference.

And all of this, everything that we do, must be done out of a Christlike love for all people and to show love in action (number 1, here we are!)  Not love in feeling, which ebbs and flows and is only based on human emotion, but love like Christ has for all people and love that motivated Him to give up his own life to save all mankind.  Again, only God can change us to have a love like that and only through prayer, surrender and forgiveness can we share it with others.

God’s love never fails and never changes and He chooses to share it with us.  All that he asks is that we love Him in return by the way that we live our lives and the way that we treat others.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.  1 Corinthians 1:13 (NIV)

 

The “Stop Playing and Look at This!” Moment

stop playing, turn to GodOver a decade ago and not too long after Vicki and I were married, she said something to me that we still chuckle about to this day.  At the time, it was somewhat surprising and unexpected but it was also exactly what I needed to hear.  It made an impact on me then and even now it serves as a reminder of the wisdom of my wife and the need to keep my priorities in order.

In college, I had gotten into a routine that consisted of studying, socializing and spending my free time in front of a computer.  I was an avid internet gamer and unfortunately I carried this habit (truthfully it had become an addiction by this time) into our marriage.

One evening, as I sat in front of the computer playing, Vicki came in and began to speak to me and seek my input on various topics.  Being quite distracted and trying to divide my attention, I gave short, one word answers and grunts.  As she continued to try and communicate with me I continued to play and give her less than my full attention.

Finally, she came and stood in front of me and said “Stop playing!  Look at this!’  She was holding something in her hands that she had been desperately trying to show me for several minutes while I sat there obliviously.

Her actions worked wonderfully for a couple of reasons.  Vicki almost never raises her voice and almost never makes demands of anyone besides herself.  She’s the sweetest person I’ve ever met and probably the most selfless as well.  For her to interject herself in front of me and verbally command me to put my attention where it should have been all along was eye opening and very effective.

I immediately realized what a jerk I was being and how unfairly I was treating her.  I had let bad habits from my past creep into our new relationship and life together and they were jeopardizing the marriage that we were tying to build.

Needless to say, “Stop playing!  Look at this!” became a rallying cry for me to remember that the relationship between Vicki and I is the most important relationship that I have on this earth and is second only to my relationship with the Lord.  As long as I am on this earth it is my privilege and responsibility to honor my wife with my time and full attention whenever she needs it.

I wonder how many of us take a similar approach in our walk with God.  We bring bad habits and old ways of doing things into our new relationship with our Heavenly Father and when He speaks, we only half listen if we listen at all.

Brothers and sisters, this ought not be so.  God not only deeply desires our undivided love and attention, He truly deserves it.  Don’t let it come to a “Stop playing!  Look at this!” moment between you and the Lord before you decide to love Him with your whole heart and give Him everything you have.  There is deep joy and abiding peace in full surrender to the Lord Jesus.  Come willingly, come gladly and come before it is too late.