Here in this last week of the year, most of us are thinking ahead, wondering what 2022 holds in store for us. I have no special insight into what will happen in our nation, our world, or in your own personal life over the next twelve months. But I would like to help you get ready for these days. Whatever they hold, there are things we can do to prepare ourselves, so that we can truly rejoice in the good things and grow through the storms. There are four questions I believe each of us needs to answer as we head into a new year:
- How will I feed my soul?
- How will I pray?
- Who will I invest in?
- How will I change?
Psalm 1 says that the person “whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night” will be like “a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.” When we feed our soul on the Word of God, we are like a tree planted by a stream; even when we go through droughts, we are fruitful. So let’s make a plan today to feed our souls daily on the Word of God.
The first decision is when and where will you read God’s Word? I find the best time is first thing in the morning. That way, my day is set, and I can think about what I’ve read the rest of the day. If I wait until later, inevitably, things come up that lead me to say, “I’ll get back to it tomorrow.” So set your alarm clock fifteen minutes earlier. If you are non-functional early in the morning, you might want to set your time later in the day. Perhaps on your lunch break, or at night, when everyone else has gone to bed. Some even find it’s best to listen to God’s Word on their morning commute. Just make sure you do this in a time and place where you can be completely alone with God and His Word.
The second decision is what you will read. It’s key to have a plan. Here are some options:
Through the Bible in a Year This plan includes daily readings from the Old and New Testaments.
Through the Bible in two years A more realistic goal for most people.
Through the New Testament in a Year This is what I recommend for first-time Bible readers.
If you’d like some commentary with your Scripture reading, Tim Keller has written excellent one-year studies of Psalms and Proverbs. And if you’d like to spend a year focusing on the life and ministry of Jesus, here’s a link to my book Finding Jesus. I also have some copies in my office if you want to pick them up there.
I highly recommend the Youversion app for your smartphone. It has virtually every Bible translation, multiple reading plans, and other great resources…and it’s free. Biblegateway.com is also a great site to use.
Question #2: How will I pray?
At first blush, this one seems like a no-brainer. Prayer isn’t complicated. We simply talk to God, sharing with Him our fears, desires, hopes and concerns. Hebrews 4:16 contains an extraordinary promise. It says that because Jesus is both our Great High Priest and our ultimate sacrificial Lamb, we have access that would have been unthinkable before: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
For a child of God, prayer is simple. So why don’t we pray more often? Why do so many of us feel like our prayer lives are fruitless? I believe it’s because we don’t have a plan. If you were invited to visit the White House, wouldn’t you think ahead of time about what you were going to say to the man in the Oval Office? God is infinitely more powerful and important than any earthly ruler. Yet how often do we plan how we will approach Him? Prayer is simple and free, but that doesn’t mean God should be taken lightly!
How do we plan our prayer lives? Here is a suggestion that has been helpful to me: At least once a day, listen to God before you pray. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to pray without ceasing, which implies a constant contact with the Lord, praying over every situation you face. But I believe that sort of life is easier when we start the day in focused prayer. And the best way to focus is to listen first. Here’s how I do it: As I do my daily Bible reading, I identify some truth, some promise, some command that I want to apply to my life. Then I pray it back to God: “Lord, thank you for sending Jesus to be my Great High Priest,” for instance. Sometimes, that thought becomes the essence of my entire prayer. I set aside my prayer list, and just pray over that one thought, asking God to help me live it out more effectively. Often, it’s just the beginning of my prayers. But either way, it’s a reminder that the purpose of prayer is not to change God’s mind or plans, but to shape us to His will. You don’t have to use my plan, but you need to make a plan that works for you. Whatever you must to do slow down and focus on Him as you pray–remembering this isn’t a going-through-the-motions, it’s talking to the King of the Universe—start doing that.
Question #3: “Who will I invest in?”
Ask the average churchgoer what is distinct about the Christian life, and they will likely say some version of: “We avoid certain vices and go to church on Sundays.” Yet when Jesus was asked to sum up the Christian life by naming the most important command of God, He said it all comes down to loving the Lord and loving our neighbor. By “love,” he didn’t mean a warm, sentimental feeling. He meant action. We know this, because He illustrated the point by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. The hero in that story went out of his way to help someone in need, and it was someone that society didn’t expect for him to care about. Ask yourself: If you interviewed non-Christians in this country and asked them the question above—“What is distinct about the Christian life?”—do you think the predominant answer would be, “Going out of your way to help people no one expects you to care about?” No, I don’t think so either. If we ever become known for that, there won’t be room in our churches for all the people who will want the Jesus they see in us.
At First Baptist, our goal is to invest in others, especially the people no one expects us to care about. We call those Transforming Relationships. So in your prayer time today, ask the Lord to show you who He wants you to invest in this year. It might be a friend who is walking through a difficult time. Or perhaps a neighbor you’ve never really gotten to know. It may be a co-worker who isn’t a believer. It might even be someone who has been openly hostile to you in the past. Whoever they are, start praying for them today. Ask God to show you how to meet some need in their life. And wait for Him to open a door—create a divine appointment—to show love to this person. Please tell us about it, too, by filling out one of our Transforming Relationship cards: click here. When our lives become about loving others, that’s when we’re truly following in the footsteps of Jesus.
Question #4: “How will I grow?”
Every year, millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Most are health-related, and I endorse that. Getting healthy physically is a very good thing. But it pales in comparison to the need to grow spiritually. Remember, your baptism was not a finish line; it was a starting line. You are supposed to be on a journey with Jesus that ends with you becoming like Him. Philippians 2:12-13 commands us to “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you…” It’s telling us that only God can change us, but He will only change us if we’re willing to work alongside Him in this great renovation project. Our part in that project consists of repentance. And repentance is more than acknowledging our sin. It’s more even than feeling sorry. It’s doing a U-turn. It’s taking tangible steps to change.
So what should you repent of in order for 2022 to be different from all the years in the past? And what steps will you take in order to ensure—by the grace of God—you are closer to the character of Jesus Christ, more loving toward your family and friends, more winsome to unbelievers—this time next year than you are right now?
Some of you already know the answer to those questions. You know what to do; you just haven’t done it yet. You need to have that difficult conversation with that person you hurt. You need to take practical steps to stop that bad habit. You need to start treating that loved one differently.
Others of you don’t know what to do. Perhaps the idea of discipleship as a continual life of repentance is new to you. You need to pray that God would show you the areas of your character He wants to transform first. Or perhaps you know what needs to change, but you don’t know how. Make an appointment with a pastor. Go see a Christian counselor. Take real steps to address that part of yourself that stands in the way of full commitment to Christ. Don’t ignore this. Don’t close this email and walk away unchanged. Now is the time to obey, and see what God can do.
None of us knows what will happen over the next twelve months. Some of us will make new friends. Others will have to say goodbye to loved ones. Some will experience personal triumphs, while others will feel the sting of bitter disappointment. Some will be healed, and others will be blindsided by unexpected health issues. We can’t control most of what happens in the world around us. But we can commit ourselves to God, no matter what comes our way. I hope you’ll answer the four questions I’ve outlined here. I think it’s a good idea to write these things down: Get a slip of paper or type it out. You can use any words you want, but here is my suggestion:
In Ephesians 4:22-24, we’re told to “put off your old self,which belongs to your former manner of life…and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Imagine a man who works a hard, blue collar job, then comes home every night in his sweaty, dirty clothes. Now imagine he gets married. He begins a new habit: Every night, when he comes home from work, he sheds those dirty, smelly garments, takes a shower, and then sits with his bride in the evenings, clean and fresh. That’s the life of a disciple. We continually acknowledge our dirt, and by the power of Jesus, we cleanse ourselves whenever it’s needed. We do this not because He’ll be disgusted with us otherwise; we do it, like that newlywed, because it brings us joy to please Him. So pray right now that God would help you in 2022 to continually put off the things associated with your old self, the “2021 you” and put on a new you, which is a little more like Jesus every day. I am praying for you today, too, that the coming year would bring you closer to Christ than you’ve ever been. I can’t wait to see what He’ll do!