A New Year’s Resolution – by Pastor Curt Sharbaugh

A New Year. A fresh start. Time to fix all the fails and mistakes of last year. Well, perhaps fixing all of them is a bit ambitious. Maybe it’s time to focus on what needs to change most, but first we should acknowledge our need for change. Hopefully we aren’t like the comic strip when Hobbes asked Calvin about his new year’s resolutions. Calvin responded, “Resolutions? ME?? Just what are you implying? That I need to CHANGE?? Well, buddy, as far as I’m concerned, I’m perfect the way I AM!”

The truth is none of us are perfect. Every last one of us have changes that need to be made. But how should we prioritize which changes to make? Perhaps we should focus on our health. After all, as Count Rugen says in the Princess Bride, “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.” Even though it’s not a bad idea to be more healthy, I think there is a higher priority than even our health. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul says, “train yourself for godliness; for 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 Tim. 4:7-8 ESV). In terms of priorities, spiritual discipline trumps physical discipline because “it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

So while I’m not discouraging anyone from making changes for the good of your health, I am encouraging you to recognize that our greater need is the spiritual progress we all need to make. Not even the apostle Paul was perfectly mature, and listen to his attitude toward Christian maturity. He said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Phil. 3:12 ESV). We must press on toward maturity in our faith, not because it’s all up to us, but “because Christ Jesus has made us his own,” and he’s called us follow him.

So what should we do? Hebrews 12:1 explains that we should get rid of sinful hindrances, and Paul says that we press on by not dwelling on the progress we’ve already made (Phil. 3:13). Every effort is made to be more like Christ. We don’t spend time thinking about how mature we’ve become, and we want to get rid of whatever is keeping us from being more like Christ. Our focus is on how we can be more like Christ, and what sets Christ apart from everyone else is not simply that he never made a mistake. The key to Christ’s way of life was his focus on pleasing his Father. He delighted in obeying the Father (John 4:34; 6:38; 14:31), and he perfectly trusted his Father. That’s what enabled him to keep obeying even when he was mistreated (1 Peter 2:23).

But how do we encourage this delight and trust? Hebrews tells us to focus on Jesus (Heb. 12:2-3). We can focus on what he has done for us, and at the same time see how we should follow his example. But how do we focus on Jesus? There are many answers to that question, but two primary answers are prayer and meditation. We constantly depend on Christ’s strength through prayer, and we meditate, not by emptying our minds but by filling them with Scripture. Biblical meditation involves thinking over and over again on Scripture. In order to do that, we must be taking in God’s Word, which we can do through reading and studying Scripture ourselves or by listening to others teach us from the Word.

There is a constant stream of worldly thinking that flows into our lives from the society around us. Our unbelieving friends, families, co-workers, and neighbors approach life differently than Christ wants us to. We may not always feel their impact, but if we don’t have a constant focus on Christ, our growth will be hindered. TV, movies, radio, newspapers, entertainment, and other influences naturally pull our gaze away from Christ. We need to make room for positive influences as well. Take some time away from talk radio to listen to a sermon or Christian audiobook. Include some music that is biblical and not merely “Christian.” And beyond using whatever extra time you have to focus on Christ, set aside time to pray and meditate on God’s Word.

As we pray and meditate on the Word, the Spirit will direct our delights and grow our faith. So what are you going to do this year to be better about prayer and meditation? How can you be more consistent and deliberate in 2018 for your spiritual growth?