Preparing For The New Year Spiritually

“Do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house.” — Proverbs 24:27

Christmas is over. It is certainly a wonderful time of year to worship God incarnate and spend time with family and friends. But now that Christmas is in the rearview mirror, it is time to look forward to the new year.

A new year is a great time to develop new habits. Many people focus their New Year’s resolutions around their health and lifestyle, pledging to lose weight or spend more time with family. However, many people forget to center God in their New Year’s plans.  While many people are quick to take on areas such as health or finances, it is a little more challenging figuring out how to set spiritual goals, whether it’s for the new year or beyond. 1 Timothy tells us, “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” Now is always a great time to recenter yourself spiritually as you organize your life and look ahead.

God has provided everything we need, to grow strong spiritually. He provided us insight on how we can properly prepare ourselves to follow His direction in the new year. Scripture tells us in Proverbs 24:27 to “Do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house.” Before we set forth to perform the work God has for us in the new year, we must pray and seek God’s direction in 2023.“Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:6)

2023 presents us with a new race with a new finish line. It’s a new day, a new year, and a new you. So what changes would you like to make this year? What will you resolve to do differently this year? Psalm 17:3 provides an excellent example of someone that feels he “has” to make a commitment.  He is “determined…”   “You have tested my thoughts and examined my heart in the night. You have scrutinized me and found nothing wrong. I am determined not to sin in what I say.”

The new year seems the perfect time to make commitments and take action. If you are dissatisfied with how you have lived this past year, there will be new opportunities before you. It can truly be a new year for you, with a better and stronger relationship with God.  May this be a new beginning for a new you where you see the Lord move in your life.

As we begin 2023, my prayer is that we are committed to trusting God to work in our lives in a new, and powerful way. So rather than seeing the start of another year as a daunting task to be met or an unknown to be feared, my prayer is that we can trust in God’s sovereignty over every aspect of our lives. There will be new blessings, new trials, new failures, and new victories, but He is all we need.

Discussion questions:

  1. What is your mindset in entering the new year?
  2. What would you like to change in your life in 2023?

When God Is Speaking To Me

“When God speaks, he does not give new revelation about himself that contradicts what he has already revealed in Scripture. Rather, God speaks to give application of his Word to the specific circumstances in your life. When God speaks to you, he is not writing a new book of Scripture; rather, he is applying to your life what he has already said in his Word.” ―  Henry T. Blackaby, Hearing God’s Voice. 

As Christians, we talk a lot about having a personal relationship with God, But a genuine relationship is impossible without a two-way conversation. In order to know God for yourself, you need to hear God’s voice.  When we choose to follow Him, God gives us the Holy Spirit who speaks to us wherever we are. The challenge is learning to discern God’s voice above the others we hear. 

We spend a lot of time wondering if God is speaking to us.  But think about that for a minute. It seems unlikely that we would pray and speak to God without expecting God to speak back. The fact of the matter is that God doesn’t try to speak to us. God does. God does speak to us, but various aspects of our lives get in the way. We are distracted, or too busy, or we are having trouble with our earthly relationships so He’s not able to get through. In other words, we are blocking His attempt to speak to us. 

If God has something to say, He has no trouble getting His message across. Can you name a single place in Scripture where God tried to communicate something but didn’t get through? Look at Saul of Tarsus. He was a passionate insurrectionary who was persecuting the church and putting to death men and women who trusted in Jesus as the Messiah. Acts 9:4 says, “…“Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” Paul didn’t say when he picked himself up off the ground blind, “Gee, I wonder if God was trying to tell me something there on the road to Damascus.” 

Although God may seem silent regarding a specific request or petition, remember that He is in a constant state of communication with us. In fact, it is possible that you already have an answer from God. The Bible is full of specific answers about what is right and wrong, as well as information about God’s character and His intention for us as His followers.

“Is God speaking to me?” God didn’t have any problem speaking to any one of us. The point is this: if God is not speaking to me then what is in the way that keeps me from hearing Him?  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read 1 Corinthians 2:9-10, 12.  How does God speak to us today?  Why is this important? What can happen when we try to “hear” God apart from the Spirit?
  2. Why is the primacy and authority of scripture so important when we are listening to God?  Discuss how we hear God’s voice through scripture.  
  3. What is the most important role of prayer in how we listening for God’s voice? 

Refocus On God When You Are Drifting

“The Christian life is first and foremost a life of contemplation – listening to Jesus, considering Jesus, fixing the eyes of the heart on Jesus. Everything else in the Christian life grows out of this. Without this, the Christian life is simply unlivable.” ― John Piper.

Every day you can read articles on the problem of people drifting away from their life’s purpose or dreams. Those articles remind us that not only can we drift away from our life plans–work, family, creative endeavors, for example, we can also drift greatly from God. What does it look like when we drift from God and how do we stop the drift? One way to prevent drifting is to refocus on God.

The issue of focus is central to our walk with Christ. The Book of Hebrews emphasizes the importance of fixing and focusing our eyes on Jesus. “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2) Hebrews 3:1 says, “Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.”  

The concept of drifting is certainly not unfamiliar to us. How many times have you reached the bottom of a page only to realize that you weren’t paying close enough attention to recall what you just read? And how many times have you driven for miles without realizing that you missed your turn-off? Life’s purpose and dreams require focus and refocus: especially for spiritual priorities. 

I know it sounds simple enough, but is it?  If you or I am going to stay focused on God, we have got to include the things of God in our daily lives. God will restore you: Deuteronomy 30:1-5, 8-9, (MSG) explains this point very well: “Here’s what will happen. While you’re out among the nations where God has dispersed you and the blessings and curses come in just the way I have set them before you, and you and your children take them seriously and come back to God, your God, and obey him with your whole heart and soul according to everything that I command you today, God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered. No matter how far away you end up, God, your God, will get you out of there and bring you back to the land your ancestors once possessed. It will be yours again. He will give you a good life and make you more numerous than your ancestors… And you will make a new start, listening obediently to God, keeping all his commandments that I’m commanding you today. God, your God, will outdo himself in making things go well for you: you’ll have babies, get calves, grow crops, and enjoy an all-around good life. Yes, God will start enjoying you again, making things go well for you just as he enjoyed doing it for your ancestors”

Read that passage when circumstances bring you down when you are drifting or have the inclination to not stay the course.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Is focusing or refocusing harder in your mind? Why? 
  2. What can we do this week to refocus the areas we may be drifting?  

Dealing With The Pressures Of Life

“It does not matter how great the pressure is. What really matters is where the pressure lies – whether it comes between you and God, or whether it presses you nearer His heart.” – Hudson Taylor. 

People today live pressure-filled lives and it’s taking its toll. Experts say that the way we live our lives is emerging as the main cause of illness today. The American Academy of Family Physicians says that two-thirds of all visits to doctors are stress related. We are constantly looking for ways to relieve anxiety. We look for ways to feel with the coronavirus fears. We search for the best ways to reduce stress and, have more balance and margin in our lives. We simply want to be calmer inside. But, let’s face it, stress and pressure are a part of life.

Psalms 119:43 says, “As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands.” As he turned to God’s Word, he found “joy.” His whole attitude changed. He was reminded of His promises, and his spiritual strength was renewed. The apostle Paul came to a similar conclusion. As a man who had persecuted followers of Jesus, he knew that Christians were not free from stress. But he also realized Christians undergo a change. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Paul knew how to respond when he was “…pressed on every side by troubles.…” He knew that “we are not crushed.” We could be “perplexed,” but in these moments we are “not driven to despair.” We may be “hunted down,” but we can know that God never abandons us. We may “get knocked down,” but we can know that He is with us and we will not be “destroyed.” ( 2 Corinthians 4:8-10) 

We must “never give up” but realize that God is at work, renewing us. And we are to remember that our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.  

Isaiah 26:3 promises to keep me in perfect peace, despite any situation, if I willingly commit to doing these two things: Trust God, instead of trying to master things on my own.  Keep my thoughts fixed on God, instead of worrying about what everyone else thinks.

Don’t be surprised if you experience pressure, or feel stress. As the psalmist discovered, these are moments to turn to God. Trusting in Him, confident that He will bring you through, and give you the strength you need.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you typically respond when you are in a high-pressure situation?
  2. Knowing the Holy Spirit will teach you how to respond when your faith is being questioned, does that inspire confidence in God or cause you concern that you’re not in control?

The Power of Prayer

When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said, “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.”– Nehemiah 1:4-7.

The power of prayer isn’t in the person praying. It’s not a magic formula. It isn’t keywords. It is an open heart, humble and filled with awe of who our mighty God is. Rather, the power resides in the God who is being prayed to.

Nehemiah had a burden for his people and for the city of Jerusalem. He had a vision of what could be, but he didn’t immediately pack up and race off to Jerusalem and try to get things fixed. He didn’t start developing a strategy or plan. He didn’t communicate with the populace in an attempt to get them on board. Instead, he went to the Person who knew the problem and had the power to fix it. Nehemiah went to the Lord and prayed. Nehemiah understood that he needed God to be successful.

We all have dreams just as we have have a purpose in this life. Every day each of us is faced with numerous choices. Decision-making can be difficult. There is often a lot at stake. So the question is: How do we choose wisely? What criteria do we use to evaluate, to discern the best course of action? Gathering all information necessary to make a wise decision is essential. We need the kind of wisdom that comes from above and that wisdom begins with prayer.

We know that God is sovereign. God is above all things and before all things. He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. He is present everywhere so that everyone can know Him. God created all things and holds all things together, both in heaven and on earth. That being the case, God can help us with our decisions about our dreams and purpose if we ask Him in prayer. In His timeless plan, God has conceived all possible scenarios and has thought of every possible contingency. There has never been an event that took God by surprise, and there never will be.

That should be comforting to every follower of Jesus faced with a decision. Pray and tell God that you are worried about a decision. Pray that God would give you a heart of wisdom. Pray that you will make wise choices; and when two paths seem to be equal, pray God will help you to trust even as you make the decision. Pray if the decision is the right one that God would open the door wide. And if it’s not what God has for you, that God would close the door tightly.  And at the end of this decision, pray for continued guidance.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe every decision should begin with prayer? Why or why not?
  2. What can we do to make prayer an integral part of the decision-making process?   

The Attributes Of God – God Is Always With You

What are God’s attributes? When we talk about the attributes of God, we are trying to answer questions like, who is God, what is God like, and what kind of God is He? An attribute of God is something true about Him. Each Friday we will look at the attributes of God. This week, God is always with you.   

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” –  Joshua 1:9. 

You are not alone. You are never alone. You may feel like the only person in the room, but God’s presence is always with you. God is present everywhere … so He is always with you. Because He is an infinite Spirit, He is not restricted to being in one location at a time. God is not limited to time and space; He exists everywhere at the same time. No matter where you go or how fast you get there, God is already there. You simply cannot escape the presence of God. If it was possible for you to travel from east to west at the speed of light, you will find God is already there, waiting for you. 

Jesus Christ promises to be with us always and everywhere: “… And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 20). In Acts 17:28 we are told, “For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.”We live in His presence every second of our lives. When we are alone, God watches what we do. When we do something good that nobody else knows about, God sees it.  He also sees the bad things we do in secret. Hebrews 4:13 states, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the one to whom we are accountable”

We actually have the presence of Almighty God living inside us. The apostle Paul wrote, “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)  God wants us to “consciously” live in His presence each day.  Because He is always present, it is possible for us to be in constant communication with Him and to depend on Him in every situation. But too often we ignore His presence because we are so preoccupied with our lives.

The bottom line is that no person or circumstance can ever remove us from the presence of our loving God. He is always with us, hearing our cries for help. He is always with us, protecting us from danger. He is always with us, watching what we do. He is our ever-present Lord and Savior.  

“…I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:20. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. It isn’t a matter of achieving God’s presence, but surrendering to God’s presence that is already within the Christian. Do you agree with that statement? Why or why not?
  2. Is anything making it difficult for you to see God’s presence in your life? Is there something you need to stop or start?

Having An Encounter With God

“When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.” – Jeremiah 15:16. 

Have you ever had a personal encounter with God? Do you know what it means or even that it is possible today in our everyday lives?

Scripture tells us how to have a perfect and direct avenue to powerful and transformational encounters with God. Jeremiah 15:16 says, “When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.” In Scripture, we find both our weakness and God’s unfailing love portrayed through countless stories. All we need to both understand and pursue a wholehearted unveiled relationship with God is found in scripture.

Do you desire to have a personal encounter with God?  One thing we need to understand is that as we try to find God, He is trying to find us. If you can’t find God, start to worship and He will find you. Hebrews 11:6 says “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”

People are changed when they have a real encounter with Jesus. When Jesus was here on earth no one who needed help could come into His presence and remain the same. Sick people were healed. Dead people came back to life. Broken people became whole. It’s no different now. The reason people are changed is when people encounter God. If the presence of God is present, people are changed. Some of the most impactful times in the presence of God can be just you and Him. You’re alone in your prayer closet or in God’s great outdoors in silence and stillness. He will show up.

When you experience such an encounter, what makes it so wonderful, is the realization that you matter to God. Whether in a crowd or by yourself, an encounter with God is not Him raining down something “on” you; it’s Him being with you. Your heart is open and still, and the living God of the universe “…will share a meal together as friends.”  (Revelation 3:20) When we seek God with passion, desire, and excitement, He shows up, and everything changes.

The key is to keep showing up alone with God. Invest in your relationship with your Creator. Something special can happen if you are focused on Him. And you will find yourself being transformed.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe yourself when you have been the most “connected” to Jesus. The most “disconnected.” 
  2. What can you add or delete from your life today to be more connected this week?

Planning For The Good Work

“So I arrived in Jerusalem. Three days later, I slipped out during the night, taking only a few others with me. I had not told anyone about the plans God had put in my heart for Jerusalem. We took no pack animals with us except the donkey I was riding. After dark I went out through the Valley Gate, past the Jackal’s Well, and over to the Dung Gate to inspect the broken walls and burned gates. Then I went to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but my donkey couldn’t get through the rubble. 15 So, though it was still dark, I went up the Kidron Valley instead, inspecting the wall before I turned back and entered again at the Valley Gate.” – Nehemiah 2:11-15.

Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king of Persia. For him to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls was not a step he would take randomly. For four months Nehemiah prayed and fasted about his plan before he approached the king for permission and help. His prayers paved the way for him to receive the king’s favor.

Nehemiah needed to fully understand all the circumstances of the project he was about to undertake. Initially, he was not physically in Jerusalem, so his early assessment was made from discussions he had with people who saw first-hand the destruction and were knowledgeable about the current state of the walls and gates. Once he arrived in the city, he spent three evenings personally examining the damage to the wall and the gates before rebuilding.

Can you almost picture Nehemiah secretly riding around the city three nights in a row? I imagine him and a couple of trusted men. They were quiet. He needed wisdom, and he needed to formulate a plan. None of which could be accomplished if he relied on other people to show him their version of the situation, or hearsay commentary from enemies inhabiting the city waiting for him to fail. He wanted to assess the situation, in the dark, without detection.

When he had gathered all of the information needed, he held a meeting with the officials and nobles. Nehemiah stated something these men already knew, they were in a bad situation. Desperate even. Jerusalem abandoned. The walls, crumbling and the gates burned. Yet, Nehemiah told leaders that God had been favorable to him. We don’t have his whole speech, but it must have been stirring because the response was . . . “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!”

Nehemiah taught us that vision is a divinely given picture of what could be and should be. Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem had been broken down. Right away, Nehemiah saw what could be and should be – that the defenses of the city could be restored, and the walls rebuilt. A vision is always a picture of what could and should be from God’s perspective.

There’s nothing more exciting than following God’s leading in our lives. There’s nothing more exciting than sensing and obeying God’s promptings in your life.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What can we learn about the kind of person Nehemiah was by the way he sets out at night to personally inspect the entire wall?
  2. Read Nehemiah 2:17-20: How does Nehemiah describe the situation that the people have been used to for many decades? What are some troubling realities you have become accustomed to over the years?
  3. Think about the beautiful response of the people, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” and the words, “they began the good work.” What good work has God given you to do, and what was your response to it?

Nehemiah And The Wall

“But now I said to them, “You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!” Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king. They replied at once, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” So they began the good work.” – Nehemiah 2:17-18 

The city of Berlin will be forever famous for its infamous Wall. It was a wall that separated East from West Germany. The Berlin Wall has gained fame as a wall that divides, but the city of Jerusalem is also famous for its walls. In Nehemiah’s time, it was a wall that united the people together.

Nehemiah had a burden for his people and for the city of Jerusalem. He had a vision of what could be, but he didn’t immediately pack up and race off to Jerusalem and try to get things fixed. He didn’t start developing a strategy or plan. He didn’t communicate with the populace in an attempt to get them on board. Instead, he went to the Lord and prayed. Nehemiah understood that he needed God to be successful.

“When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4) He begins his prayer after days of fasting and mourning. He mourned how his people had turned their backs on God. He mourned how nothing was right. He mourned the lack of dignity God’s people had. He mourned his sins. All the while he was talking to God. He was pouring out his heart and soul to God. Nehemiah’s relationship with God teaches us we ought to walk and talk with God not just in the little things, but the big things too. God wants us to bring our worries, anxiety, dreams and hopes to Him. That is when God will direct us. That is when God will set us on our purpose. Prayer helps us to find strength for today and hope for our future.

Nehemiah needed to get the consent of the king to travel to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall.  You can imagine him, standing there, rehearsing what he was going to say to the king. As a servant of the king, he was not supposed to serve the king and he was about to present a request to the king on behalf of God’s people. You can see him standing there silently praying to God for the right words, for strength or wisdom. It makes me see the importance of giving my anxieties over to God in the midst of adversity.  Saying, “God you got this, help me, Father”.  What an amazing gift we have that our Almighty God hears us when we talk to him.  He comforts us and strengthens us in times of need.

As we read on down through Nehemiah 2, we see that king Artaxerxes was pleased to send Nehemiah to Judah. He sent him along with the letters to grant him safe passage and letters to the managers in charge of the royal forest. These letters telling him to provide the materials needed to rebuild the walls. The goal of the wall was to make the city of Jerusalem defensible.

God uses all kinds of people in all kinds of places to change the culture, revive hearts, and build His Kingdom. God has placed you where you are for a purpose.  God wants us to remember: “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17).

Discussion Questions:

  1. If God were to answer all of our prayers from just last week, how would our lives and the lives of those around us look different? Would it make any difference?
  2. What steps can we take to become people who are marked by big, bold, and faith-filled prayers?

Loving God and Loving Others

Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” – Matthew 22:36–39.

If you have been a Christian for any time, then you have heard that the entire law in the Bible can be summed up in these two commands: love God and love others. If you want to grow deeper with God, get on mission with Jesus. Do more than just go to Bible studies, read books, or listen to podcasts. Apply what you’re learning about God by loving Him and loving other people. 

The application is important: As we begin loving others, we are also learning just how much God loves us. If we are able to forgive and give grace to people who are hard to love, then just how deep is God’s love for us? It is easier to love others when we realize the endless, astonishing love of Christ. Ephesians 3:18–19 (MSG) says, “ My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.”   

The more we begin to love, the more we begin to change from within. All of a sudden, we don’t find it as hard to love others anymore, and we get a better picture of what it means to love God—and how deeply He loves us! When we truly, actively begin loving others, we also learn how to love God better.

A struggle for many people is that they think they can’t love others until their heart motive is “right.” So they spend a lot of time checking their heart, asking God to make them more loving. There are so many creative ways to love others, and you don’t have to wait. Venture out in faith and loving feelings will follow the loving actions.

Let’s make it our prayer today to ask God to help us actively love others – to actively walk across the street to help our neighbors, to actively cook a warm meal for a friend in need, or actively visit a nearby nursing home to love on the elderly. Let us ask Him to lead us to places where He wants us to shine His light and ask Him for the courage and strength to share His love with all who surround us in our daily lives.   

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What does it mean to you to reflect God’s love to others? What are some practical ways for you to give others a taste of what the love of God is like?
  2. Is loving others loving as God loves? Is this even practical?