Thursday, December 31, 2015

How to Get from Here to There

Another calendar year is poised to shift into our rearview mirrors. Gazing there typically brings a mixture of happiness, satisfaction, excitement, sadness, disappointment, regret, even remorse. Hopefully we’ve appreciated good times and successes and learned from failures. But 2016 is upon us, so it’s time to move forward.

Just as a foggy highway obscures what's ahead,
our view of the future remains unclear.
As someone has said, from the driver’s seat of a car the windshield is big and broad while the rearview mirror is small and narrow, and there’s good reason for that. The apostle Paul expressed it even better when he said, “Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus… (Philippians 3:13-14).

How do we “press on”? We can step into the new year and let life happen, or be intentional and devise some sort of plan for what we would hope to experience and accomplish over the next 366 days. (Yes, we’re entering a leap year, so imagine how much more we can get done!) Granted, life does throw the proverbial curveballs, and we must deal with the unexpected, but as a wise man once told me, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”

Some people embark on the new year with resolutions. “I resolve to…” or “I resolve not to….” A problem with resolutions, whether it’s to stop smoking, eat better, be more kind, or exercise more, is that once a resolution is broken we tend to conclude, “Oh well, that’s it. I knew I couldn’t do it. What’s the use?”

That’s why I prefer setting goals, focusing on different areas of my life – physical health, mental vitality, family and social relationships, finances, work, hobbies, and spiritual growth. Goals can span weeks, months, even the entire year. They provide something to aim at, understanding sometimes you miss the target and sometimes you hit the bulls-eye. At the very least, they provide a path for getting from here to there.

Many people are good at setting goals in certain areas – get a new job, pay off debt, buy a new car, start an exercise program, activities to nurture relationships with spouse and children, take up a new pastime. But spiritual goal-setting isn’t nearly as common. After all, aren’t the best goals measureable and attainable? How can you measure spiritual growth or a relationship with God?

True, only God can do that. But we can set goals that if pursued consistently can help in our desire to move forward spiritually. Like reading a passage of the Bible every day. As David wrote in Psalm 119:9-11, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

This doesn’t happen automatically. It needs to be done thoughtfully and intentionally. Just as with human relationships, a relationship with God grows with time and attention. Some people find the first thing in the morning, before activities of the day become distractions, best for reading and studying the Scriptures. Others find evenings work best. When to consciously spend time with the Lord and His Word matters little – what does matter is that we do spend the time.

Prayer, of course, is important – talking to God and also listening to Him. Some of that, too, can be done at a specific time and place. But as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us, “Pray without ceasing.” Location, posture and time might be helpful, but not as essential as seeking to stay in continual contact with God. So ensuring that we do devote time daily to prayer is of immeasurable value.

We’re told we can’t flourish in everyday service to God in isolation. We need to be a part of the body of Christ, adding our gifts and talents to what others are doing – and benefiting from them. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another…” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Even Jesus needed companionship and enjoyed the camaraderie of like-minded people. So why shouldn’t we?

There are many other areas we could explore that can enhance spiritual growth; perhaps you’re thinking of some now. The key is recognizing our part in growing spiritually requires an act of the will, trusting God won’t fail to do His part. “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 do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (Psalm 37:4-6). How does that promise sound to you?

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