“Consider your ways.” Haggai 1:5
The Lord gave this sobering command to His people after they drifted from rebuilding His temple in 520BC. They began well, but when opposition came, their faithfulness fizzled out. Left in the weeds was God’s house, overgrown due to lack of attention. But the Lord graciously intervened and the people reflected, repented, and reengaged in the work He had entrusted to them.
Most of us would probably do well to “consider our ways.” If you’re anything like me, you get overloaded and feel a persistent strain on your devotion to God. We get distracted and begin to drift, and as D.A. Carson says, “we do not drift toward holiness.”
If we don’t regularly take time to evaluate our heart, we can, often unknowingly, drift into sluggish and sinful patterns.
To fight against this deadly drifting, it’s wise to prayerfully consider our ways. And while there’s nothing magical about doing this at the turn of the year, a completed calendar does provide a natural opportunity to intentionally remember, reflect, and resolve with hopes of developing deeper devotion to Christ in the year ahead.
Take Time to Remember
The turn of the New Year has become one of my favorite times of the year. It’s not because I’m stoked to see Pitbull’s New Year’s Revolution (how did he get invited back?), but rather because of a tradition my wife and I have kept over the years.
Shortly after the turn of the calendar page, my bride and I sit down with lists we’ve compiled separately. Preparing the lists is a sweet time for us and we’re both usually anxious to share their contents with each other.
The first list is of the five things we’re most thankful for from the past year.
“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your wonders of old. I will ponder all Your work, and meditate on Your mighty deeds.” Psalm 77:11-12
Taking time to remember what God has done over a whole year is sweet for our souls. We tend to forget the many mercies that fill our day, but we’ve found that preparing our lists helps us think back through the peaks and valleys of the past year. During that journey we’re afforded a prime opportunity to remember God’s goodness. During our time of sharing we’re often reminded of things we’d forgotten and blessed to see how God used the same event to affect us in different ways.
What are you thankful for from this past year? Who can you share these memories with?
The second is a list is of five things we’re hoping for God to do in the year ahead.
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act.” Psalm 37:4-5
Over the years that we’ve done our New Years reflecting, I’ve sensed that our trust in God has deepened. He has proven faithful, but usually in ways we hadn’t planned for.
We’ve seen Him carry us through miscarriages when we’d prayed for babies. We’ve seen Him close doors we’d hoped for while opening other doors that led into greener pastures.We’ve seen Him say yes to things we asked for, and often in ways we hadn’t even considered possible. When we look back on the passport of our lives we find that the pages are stamped by His perfectly faithful hand.
God’s past faithfulness strengthens our present hope to believe in His future faithfulness. We have full confidence that our God will answer every one of our prayers in ways that are better than we can ask them (Matthew 7:7-11). He knows what we don’t know and sees what we don’t see. We have come to delight in this truth, even when it’s tough.
Since God has been so good to us in the past, we find great joy in looking with hopeful expectation toward the future. We’ve found that if we aren’t prayerfully trusting God for great things, our faith can grow weak and we can slip into spiritual cruise control.
This list helps us to trust God to do specific things in the year ahead. Our lists often include the names of people we hope God will save, particular sins we desire to experience victory over, or ways we hope to see God move in our church. This list stirs us to hope in God because we know He delights in doing great things for His people (Ephesians 3:20-21).
What big things are you trusting God for in the year to come? Who can join you in praying for these things?
Reflect on Your Heart
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any previous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24
The Lord knows us better than we know ourselves. We need Him to open our eyes to see where our hearts have strayed from His ways. One of the best ways unearth the calloused soil of our hearts is by considering heart-probing questions. Questions serve us uniquely because they force us to step into the light as we answer them.
A number of years ago a friend shared with me a list prepared by Dr. Donald Whitney that contained questions “to prayerfully ask in the presence of God.” These questions are designed to help us do the kind of heart work that we all desperately need.
Below are the first 10 questions, but a full list of 31 questions can be found here.
1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?
3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?
4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?
5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?
6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?
9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?
Whether you consider these questions alone or with someone else, they will be well worth your time.
Resolve to Go Deeper
Most New Year’s resolutions have something to do with losing a few pounds, getting on a budget, or to make our communities a better place. Those resolutions may be good, but Christians shouldn’t stop there. Remember that “while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” 1 Timothy 4:8.
Our resolutions should primarily center on growing in godliness, not just in reducing our waist size. The best model I’ve ever seen of making spiritual resolutions is Jonathan Edwards. When he was 19 he composed a list of 70 resolutions that he committed to re-reading each week in hopes of keeping them faithfully. Matt Perman developed a thematic arrangement of these resolutions that you should check out.
Here are a few of Edwards’ resolutions that I strive to keep as well:
#7 – “Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.”
#14 – “Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.”
#22 – “Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can…”
#30 – “Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.”
#67 – “Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.”
Whatever your resolutions may be, here are two things to keep in mind.
1. God gives us grace to keep our resolutions.
We must not fall into the trap of making resolutions that lead us to rely on ourselves. Jesus said “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God gives grace to do what we resolve (1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:13) and He gives us grace when we fail to keep our resolutions (1 John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 12:9). God promises to give us grace and as Matthew Henry said “God’s promises to us are more powerful and effectual for the mortifying of sin than our promises to God.”
2. Don’t find righteousness in keeping your resolutions.
God won’t love you more because you make it to the gym more often.
God won’t love you more because you finish the Bible in a year.
God won’t love you more or less because of how many people you witnessed to.
God won’t love you more if you fast twice a week.
We should resolve to grow in practical righteousness, but we must not look to our resolution-keeping for our positional righteousness. Our righteousness is found in the One who resolved to die on a cross for sinners who failed at their resolutions toward self-improvement. Our justification is found only in a resurrected Savior who clothes us in His righteousness. Rest in the righteousness Christ gives us through faith, not in any kind of righteousness we resolve to achieve.
So, let us be a people who remember, reflect, and resolve with the hope that God will deepen our love for Christ and guard us from drifting from His perfect ways.