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 Plans Go Astray

“And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” – Luke 2:6-7.

Everybody has a friend(s) that plan every single thing. There’s no space for spontaneity. They have a blueprint in place that will help them know how to make the most efficient use of their time and energy. Nothing frustrates them more than when a well-conceived plan falls apart at the seams. Yet life has a way of changing the best-laid plans.

Joseph and Mary were all excited and planning to get married, when all of a sudden, an angel told Mary she was going to have a baby. And not just any baby, but the baby that would later save the world from our sins. Mary isn’t married yet. People, including Joseph, would have a pretty hard time believing she got pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Consequences could’ve been pretty dire for Mary if anyone wanted to make an example of her. So, yeah, their plans took an inexplicable turn.

What were Mary and Joseph thinking and feeling as they arrived in Bethlehem and were unable to find the living space that maybe they were hoping for?  While we don’t know their exact plan after arriving in Bethlehem, it probably didn’t include laying Jesus in a feeding trough after He was born.  Regardless of His make-shift crib, Jesus’ birth was no less miraculous.  His arrival on this earth was made no less meaningful.  His first moments and cries no less special.  It was that powerful moment that ultimately changed life as we know it, and it didn’t take everything going according to plan to make it so.

Mary and Joseph trusted in God’s plan, even when it wasn’t their plan. Mary could’ve insisted that having a baby wasn’t in her life plan, and even if she were going to do this, couldn’t God wait until she was happily married? But she didn’t. In the middle of her worries, fears, and doubts, she trusted God enough to know that His plan was better. And because she was willing to trust in God’s plan more than her plan, she played a huge role in His story on earth.

This Christmas, remember that when things don’t go as planned, God has the most room to work. And may this Christmas remind you that in the midst of our unplanned lives, God is with us in the waiting, working to bring the best plans—better plans than we can ask for or imagine.

As you get busy this Christmas weekend gathering with friends and family, orchestrating feasts, and making sure that everyone has the holiday experience they were hoping for, take a moment to stop thinking about what comes next, or perhaps what didn’t quite pan out earlier that day.  Set aside the plan.  Breathe in the hope of a newborn Savior.  Remember the peace that He brings with Him.  Celebrate the joy that His birth offers.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we learn from Joseph and Mary’s reaction to their plans being changed? When was a time when you really knew you were living God’s plans for you? How did you know?  Or, when was a time when you realized that you were not living God’s plans for you? How did you know?
  2. 2. Proverbs 16:4 says: “The Lord has made everything for His own purposes.” What are the implications of this verse for our lives?

Some Good News Amidst The Bad

“For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” – Psalm 112:6-7 (ESV)

Have you ever had to tell someone bad news? It isn’t very fun. It is no fun to let your parents know you got in big trouble at school or to tell a good friend the harsh truth.  We seem surrounded by bad news these days, in our local churches, in our homes, and in our own hearts.

We live in a broken world, and try as we might, we can’t hide from bad news or heartache by turning off the TV, ignoring it, or in a Netflix binge. None of those things will ever bring us peace because peace comes in the form of a Person: Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

That’s the good news about bad news: simply put, when the news seems all bad, there is good news. God is in control of history and anyone who acknowledges his need for God in Christ holds the key to inner peace and security. For in Christ, whether we live or die, we can’t lose. Christ gives us the key to eternal life and living this life victoriously.

God reminds us in His word that peace will not naturally just come our way. Psalm 34:14 says, “Turn away from evil and do good; search for peace and work to maintain it.”  There is no shortage of ideas on how to obtain peace. There are numerous books on the subject. They include suggestions such as – getting away for a few days, relaxing, being happy, taking a vacation, tuning out, just don’t think about stressful stuff, and searching for your inner place of peace. But these are all superficial fixes, that are at best temporary.

The peace of God is different. It’s lasting. Confident. Real. It gives us deep reassurance in the midst of all that we face in our past, present, and future.  Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace all who trust in, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.”

No matter what we go through in this life, or what we’re up against today, we don’t have to be shaken. We’re safe with Him. At rest. At peace. He sent His only Son, the pure essence of Peace Himself, to give us lasting freedom and peace that only He can give.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you react to bad news?
  2. How can you turn bad news into peace?
  3. What are practical ways we can trust God for peace in our lives?

Promises, Promises

“The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 13:1-3.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep was one of the common maxims in business. It is wide advice as it was accepted that it is better to turn business away rather than disappoint. Promises are hard to keep, and we will experience unfulfilled promises. It is a pretty common struggle in life.

The Bible confirms that fact. Adam and Eve invite sin and death into our world. Cain kills Abel, even after God warns him about the evil lurking in his heart. And there’s nearly everyone else: “The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil” (Genesis 6:5). It would be easy to imagine God having enough. But in Genesis 12, God does something tremendously gracious: He chooses to befriend an elderly man and bless him beyond all imagination.

The promises God made to Abraham in Genesis 13, seem too big for reality: descendants enough to replace the stars in the sky and a name known far and wide to name two. These promises seem so removed from our everyday lives that we tend to leave them in the past, there among the tents and flocks of Abraham and Sarah. But the New Testament tells us that these promises are actually ours in Christ.

When we read God’s Word, we find God’s promises. Though it can be difficult to know how to apply them to our lives—or even if we should—the Bible makes an amazing claim that is itself a promise: All of God’s promises are “Yes” in Jesus: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

What are God’s promises? There are too many to list here, but when you hold your Bible you are holding God’s promises to you.  Some of the spiritual promises are the continued forgiveness of sins, our sanctification, supplying us with strength and peace in trials, and preserving us to the end.

It’s easy to become disappointed when we lump God in with humans who can’t keep their every promise, no matter how good their intentions are.  But God wants to, can, and will fulfill His promises to us. No matter how long we may have to wait, they will ultimately come to pass. He never fails in His promises. We need to pray daily for God to fulfill His promises in our lives and we must ask Him to give us the patience we need to wait and trust.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you tend to trust promises or react with skepticism? Why?
  2. How do you think the promises that people have broken in your life have affected your ability to trust God’s promises?
  3. If you completely accepted God’s promises, how would your life be different?   

Blessed Are The Meek, For They Shall Inherit The Earth

“The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather, he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is, in the sight of God, more important than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything.”  – A.W. Tozer

The first beatitude—being “poor in spirit”—is about recognizing our insignificance compared to God on a very personal level. The second beatitude is about mourning for sin and its many devastating effects. Together, these two beatitudes set the stage for the third: meekness.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mathew 5:5 ESV) A bunch of meek people gaining control of the earth? Seems unlikely. Most people believe the strong will inherit the earth. Here’s the thing for us who are Jesus’s followers: Jesus took time in His limited earthly ministry to talk about it. He wanted us to know about it on this side of eternity. Logically, meekness is something that God desires and shows favor on. The challenge is understanding the word meek.   

Meekness is a controlled strength that puts everything in the hands of God. It’s founded on a trust of the Lord, and it always denies self. It seeks another person’s interest at the expense of its own, and it’s pure, peaceable, gentle, and open to reason. James 3:17 says, “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.  How counter-cultural is that in today’s world?

There are many biblical references to the word “meek.”  Bible Psalm 37:11 (ESV) mirrors that of Matthew 5:5 by stating, “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” Proverbs 16:19 says, “Better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud.”

Meekness should not be confused with cowardice or weakness. It’s not being afraid to stand up to someone; rather it’s having the courage to trust God for justice. In the eyes of God being meek is seen as being peaceful, humble, and clear-minded about what is most important in life. Being meek means that you will follow God’s guidance in this life.  Meekness is a trait that is necessary for a Christian’s life. It is not just power under control, but power under God’s control. For a Christian, meekness is about surrendering everything to God and being completely at His disposal.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Everyone who has humility has meekness and every person with meekness is likely also humble. Agree or disagree and why? 
  2. When you think about meekness, what synonyms come to mind?
  3. Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth. What does He mean and how does that apply to us today?

I Can Trust God With My Grief

“Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress, my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing”Psalm 31:9-10 (ESV).

In times of grief, it is hard to keep trusting in God — and in His plan for our life. There are things that happen that completely take the starch out of the present and seemingly our future. A heartbreaking loss seems like it will take years to truly recover and heal.   

You are not alone. Nobody escapes this life without battle scars. No matter how strong your faith or deep your love for Jesus is, you will experience pain. But if you choose to trust God, you’ll also experience deep joy, peace, freedom, and hope. Learning how to trust God’s plan for your life will get you through your loss, no matter how heartbreaking it is.

So, as we search for something to grab hold of in the midst of grief that will bring comfort, or as we search for words to say to someone else who is grieving, we want to make sure that what we’re grabbing hold of, or offering to someone else to hold onto, is profoundly, fully, and eternally true.

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end. If you look for comfort, you will not get either comfort or truth — only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.”

It seems counterintuitive, but grief and grace co-mingle pretty well together. When we are grieving God does not throw up His hands and say, “I’m done with him or her. Where is their faith?”  God loves each one of us and His grace will never leave us.  Psalm 94:18-19 reminds us, ‘I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.’”

You can read God’s words for you in Hebrews: “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:15-16). God is reminding us that He isn’t far off. He wants to comfort you. He wants you to find His grace.

Trust God in hard times. Even when times are hard and grief seems to be a constant companion, trusting God is possible. In a time of loss, choose to trust that God is still with you and has a glorious plan for your life. As David said in Psalm 31:14, “But I am trusting you, O LORD, saying, “You are my God!”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can you tell your grief is affecting you more than you thought it was? 
  2. Have other people suggested that you need “to get on with it” and move on? Is this good advice? What do you need to say to them when they tell you this? 
  3. What does it mean to lean into God in your grief? How do we effectively do that?  

What Does Surrender Mean?

“The man or woman who is wholly or joyously surrendered to Christ can’t make a wrong choice – any choice will be the right one.” – A. W. Tozer

In American culture, surrender is rarely seen as a positive idea. It is commonly seen as giving up or losing. But to a Christian surrender is an act of faith: it is the first act for those coming to salvation, and a continual habit of those walking with Christ. To spiritually surrender means to let go of control and trust God with our present and future. Galatians 2:20 says, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

The returning prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 is a picture of what it means to surrender to God. The son gives up on his way of life and runs back to the father hoping to be a servant. His surrender is met with rewards beyond his expectations. He is received with open arms, lavish love, and a new life as a restored son.

Jesus lived a life of continual surrender to the Father. ”So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” (John 5:19). And as He said to the Father when the time came to surrender His life, “I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Luke 22:42).

Walking with Jesus means continual surrender, trusting that the God who made you has a plan for you and loves you. When you surrender to Christ, you aren’t surrendering your God-given identity and uniqueness. We surrender not for fear or threat, but in hope that the One to whom we surrender has a better life for us.  And that hope doesn’t disappoint.

In surrender, God may—or may not—give us what we want. But when we surrender, He always wants to give us Himself. When we surrender, we always receive what is best: the Lord Jesus.

Surrender isn’t about giving up; it’s about giving in to the One who knows what is best for us, to the One who knows us most and has a perfect plan.  Surrender is the only real way to experience His peace. It’s the only way to true joy.

“He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:30).

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is an area of your life that you know you need to surrender to God? 
  2. What might you be giving up if you do surrender that area to God? 
  3. Do you believe that surrendering to God could actually benefit you? How?

Dependence On God

Living in the spirit means that I trust the Holy Spirit to do in me what I cannot do myself. This is completely different from the life I would naturally live of myself. Each time I am faced with a new demand from the Lord, I look to Him to do in me what He requires of me. It is not a case of trying, but of trusting; not of struggling, but of resting in him.” – Watchman Nee. 

We need to be dependent on God. But here is the catch: you and I don’t always like having to depend upon God. So instead of learning to depend on God, we spend our whole lives trying to supplement our dependence upon Him.  We try to put enough money in the bank so we don’t have to depend on Him for our daily bread. We try to control our decisions so we have some control over how much we need to depend on God. 

Dependence starts by acknowledging Almighty God as the owner of everything, and the controller of every circumstance. Nothing is impossible with God, and everything is within His reach. Your part is to trust and obey, and His part is to do the rest. Dependency depends on Him working in and through you. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Jesus said in John 15:5:” Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus wants us to stay “plugged in” to Him, and depend upon Him, to be able to do anything in the Christian life.

Jesus is not an add-on to a full and balanced life—He is our life. It is short-sighted to use the Lord as a last resort only after we have exhausted ourselves and our resources. That is not dependence on Him. “But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” (Psalm 1:2-3).

The Beatitudes are character qualities of Jesus Himself. He lived them out perfectly. He demonstrated dependence on God the Father continually throughout His life on earth. In John 5:19, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” Jesus knew He had to depend upon His Father for everything He did here on earth.

In the same way, we can do nothing without Jesus. Just as Jesus could do nothing without the Father, so we can do nothing apart from Jesus. We will inevitably struggle in heart, body, mind, or community, and so our ultimate reliance on God is demonstrated through daily embracing His undeserved grace and never-failing love.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When do you tend to learn the most about God–when things are going well or when things are going poorly? Why do you think that is so?  
  2. How can you display dependence on God in times of pain and times of prosperity?

The Attributes Of God – The Wisdom Of God

What are God’s attributes? Each Friday we will look at an attribute of God. This week, the wisdom of God. On a human level, we learn wisdom through experience, usually by the wrong application of knowledge. We may act wisely from time to time, but we also act rashly or foolishly at other times. The wisdom of God, on the other hand, is perfection. God must act wisely in everything He does, not because He has wisdom, but because He is wisdom.

“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” – Romans 11:33

Like Solomon, Christians have prayed for wisdom. James 1:5 speaks to God’s promise to give wisdom any time we ask for it. This powerful assurance is comforting since we need wisdom. We may be sometimes wise, but God is always wise.

Trying to wrap our arms around the wisdom of God is impossible. Man cannot, through his own wisdom, knowledge, and learning, come to an understanding of the wisdom of God. His understanding is infinite, and so there is no earthly comparison. His knowledge is immutable, for He knows all, and is all in all. Mankind will never understand the solitary, unending, limitless, established wisdom of God. 

Indeed, when we see wisdom like this, we realize just how much our limited, finite wisdom compares with the limitless, infinite wisdom of God. The fact that God can never be wiser means He is always doing the wisest thing in our lives. In God’s perfect way and God’s perfect time, He continues with His perfect plan. No plan we could make for our lives could be better than the plan He has already crafted and is carrying out for us. We might not understand His ways today, but we can trust that because God is infinitely wise and is working all things out in the best possible way.

The fact that God is wisdom, that He knows all and knows how to use all, should make us trust Him more. Living out a life of wisdom was never designed to highlight our handling of things, but rather when we realize that we aren’t enough on our own. We realize that in Christ we have more than enough to equip us to live bigger, bolder, and fuller lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what area of your life have you asked God for wisdom recently?
  2. What is one way you could use the knowledge you’ve been given to impact the world around you?

Got It All Figured Out…Think Again

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to God! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life! Honor God with everything you own; give him the first and the best. Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over. But don’t, dear friend, resent God’s discipline; don’t sulk under his loving correction. It’s the child he loves that God corrects; a father’s delight is behind all this.” – Proverbs 3:5-12 (MSG). 

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He’s the one who will keep you on track. Though that will not be easy, especially the “do not depend on your own understanding.” (NIV) 

The Bible is pervaded by teachings that God’s sovereign control is complete, not partial. It governs every aspect of nature, every aspect of history, national life, personal life — nothing, absolutely nothing, is outside God’s sovereign governance. Nothing in the universe is random or without divine design and purpose. We would not be human if we did not believe that we are right more often than we are wrong. So, once we have weighed the pros and cons of a decision, it is probably the right one. But so often we find out that we are not right and find ourselves in places we do not want to be in. Fortunately, we don’t have to figure things out on our own.

Moses had a heart of gold. He was a true servant of God who selflessly cared for the well-being of those he served. He was about to pay dearly for his personal sin. He would not see the land for which he had labored for forty years. But Moses did not bemoan his situation. He was more concerned about the future of God’s children. He wanted to ensure that they had a genuine person to succeed him as their shepherd. Numbers 27:15-17 tells us “O Lord, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” That request was no surprise to God. God already had a solution in place in the person of Joshua.  “The Lord replied, “Take Joshua son of Nun, who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him.” (Numbers 27:18)

Every day of your life has been written in God’s book before it unfolds in the annals of history and time. God has your situation already figured out. Don’t live in anxiety. Don’t sweat the details of life.

Why? Because God has it already figured out!

 Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you decide which things you should control and which you should let go? Is this worth your time, attention, and energy to try to control the trivial and the unimportant?
  2. The more confident you are in God, the more comfortable you are with His control. Agree or disagree and why?