The holidays are done and a new year awaits. What are your goals for the year ahead? What do you expect or hope for? Even more importantly, what does God have in store for you?
A new year brings another opportunity to start over—a chance to hit the restart button. Some try out a new diet or resolve to end a bad habit or commit to more exercise. Lifestyle changes are good, but the best choice is to set new priorities in your spiritual life.
How would you characterize your current walk with the Lord? Where do you see yourself spiritually? Are you growing as a Christian? And if not, why not? Too many believers live stagnant spiritual lives. What would it look like for you to grow closer to the Lord this year?
Consider three assessment questions. Each offers crucial steps for your spiritual growth. What a worthy thing to contemplate as you begin 2020.
1. Do you personally know Christ?
Maybe you’re struggling. You are not in the Word or praying much. You’re superficially involved in your church, or not going to church at all. You don’t have deep Christian friendships. You own a Bible, but you don’t know what to do with it. Dust is collecting on its cover.
How do you grow? Here’s my first suggestion—start this year off by reading one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John). Your growth starts with a love for Christ himself. We know Christ intimately by meeting him in his Word. Do you desire to know Christ? Go to the Word, stare into Christ’s face, read about who he is, what his character is like, and what he’s done for you. Ask the Lord to grow you in your certainty that Jesus is the Messiah and Savior (Luke 1:4; John 20:31).
The Gospels are fertile soil for your soul. They deliver a clear picture of Jesus, the Son of God, who came to live and die for us. Christ rescues rebels like you and me (2 Corinthians 5:21). His grace initiates a relationship with us (Ephesians 2:1–10). We repent and put our trust in him (Mark 1:15).
The more you see Christ and get to know him in his Word, the more you will want to follow him.
2. Do you know how to study God’s Word?
Have you ever seen a small child with an orange slice in his mouth? He sucks on it to get every bit of juice out of it until the peel is dry.
Far too often, we don’t know how to suck everything we can out of the Word. We read it, but often don’t glean much from a passage. In the end, we can be tempted to feel like it’s not making much of a difference in our lives. Until we learn how to dig deeper, it’ll be hard for Scripture to make a significant impact.
Consider your reading strategy. It’s good to read through the entire Bible to get an overview of the Word, seeing the big picture of God’s redemptive history. Step back and see the mountain range of Scripture. Look at the hills and valleys of history, and how God’s presence and redemptive hand are interwoven through it all. The whole Bible is about God’s relationship with us through Christ.
In the thousands of Scriptural details, it’s easy to get lost. We get sidetracked in the minute details of more obscure passages. To keep your focus on God’s grand narrative, ask questions like: What’s the point of this text? What does it teach me about God, Christ, myself and the world I live in?
A variety of reading plans take you through the whole Bible. Some move straight through from beginning to end, and some offer a portion from both the Old and the New Testaments each day. Some pace the readings more quickly, to guide you through the entire Bible in a year, and others move more slowly. Whatever plan you choose, make your goal as realistic as possible.
It’s good to see the big picture and read about God’s redemptive story in the pages of Scripture. But it’s also important to slow down and dig deep. Let every word, phrase, and sentence mean something. Read a Bible text and then reread it again, and again, and again. As you read it more than once, details will stand out to you that you didn’t see the first time. Pick verses to memorize and to ponder throughout the day. There is glory (God’s glory) written in the details.
Have you ever listened to a sermon and thought, How did the pastor get that much out of the text? He’s studied the passage thoroughly. He’s soaked himself in it so much that by the time he gets to Sunday morning, he’s bursting at the seams and ready to tell others about the riches he found in that text.
Your Bible study can be like that. If you slow down and soak yourself in the Word, you’ll be surprised at how much God will teach you.
3. Are you committed to a local church?
If not, what is holding you back? Joining yourself to a body of believers is vital for your survival. You can read the Word. You can study the Gospels. But the context in which God intends your faith to deepen and grow is with a local church. There is no such thing as individual Christianity. Solomon reminds us, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment”(Proverbs 18:1). Isolation is a recipe for disaster. Because our hearts so easily deceive us, we need believers to remind us of truth and to lovingly steer us back toward the Lord when we stray. God’s plan is for you to be deeply connected to others. Terminally superficial relationships are bad for your soul.
As your life comes crashing up against the lives of genuine believers, as you get a front row seat to seeing them live out genuine faith, as you see what it looks like to suffer with hope, as you find support and help in the hard parts of life, you’ll grow in your faith. You can’t grow alone. It’s the whole body of Christ, with every believer joined together, that grows in love (Ephesians 4:15–16).
Find a Jesus-loving, Bible-teaching, God-exalting congregation. Pick a church where the pastor is committed to expositional preaching, where the point of the text is the point of the sermon. Look for a church that holds out the Scriptures as life for your soul, and points to Christ as the centerpiece of everything they do.
It’s common to make resolutions as you face the new year, especially if last year was tough. Save more money? Find another job? Read more? Spend more time with family? How about this—don’t settle for a mediocre spiritual life. Find Christ in his Word. Read about God’s grand narrative in Scripture, but also take time to dig deep. Join yourself to a local church and throw yourself into community. While this doesn’t offer a magical, quick-fix recipe, it does offer help for you to move beyond a stagnant spiritual life.
What does 2020 have in store for you? Are you willing to make your spiritual life a priority?