He tells us everything over and over again, a line at a time and in such simple words!(Isaiah 28:10, TLB)
For the past two days, we’ve been laying the foundation for a wise and working understanding of where we’ve been and where we’re going. That view begins and ends with God. He is steadily and faithfully at work within us. In Him, we are in process.
With that perspective front and center, now it’s time to review the past year in practical terms. What areas of your life are most important to you? Revisit where you were on January 1, 2017. As you approach January 1, 2018, in what ways have you improved your approach in these areas? What specific actions have you taken? How are your attitudes more positive or your thoughts more constructive?
Without self-condemnation, now answer the question, what do you wish you’d done more effectively or differently? Don’t judge yourself as a colosssal failure because you weren’t able to pull off that revolution you intended. Look for ways you inched forward. Congratulate yourself in the Lord for every time you got back up when you slipped and fell. Remind yourself once more of how the Hand of the Lord was upon you and how He has not given up on you.
Gain an understanding of where you are right now on the goals that matter by applying two C’s – courage and compassion. Muster the courage to get honest with yourself about the times you chose to ponder too long without action (procrastinate), to make excuses and blame others rather than doing what you could do, or to allow yourself to be controlled by negative habits. As you courageously look at what you want to do differently in the coming year, do so with a heart of compassion for yourself. Compassion doesn’t mean that you shirk the responsibility for change. It just means that you don’t beat yourself black and blue. You recognize that you are a struggling human being, that God’s not through with you, and that you can begin again from here – more wisely this time.
God, I thank You that You don’t give up on me or throw me away. I’m grateful that You have been right there with me, even when I’ve failed to live up to my own self-expectations and Your best for me. Help me, Lord, to courageously and compassionately take a look in the rearview mirror at where I’ve been in 2017. Equip me to build a clear understanding of what You want to do in my life in the coming year and beyond.
Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it, and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it, and killed it.Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord Who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.” (I Samuel 17: 33-37)
I can’t get away from the challenge I shared with you yesterday, and I hope you’ve joined me in reflecting on God’s faithfulness in your life in 2017 and before. This morning, I’ve been reminded of young David, who knew and lived his covenant with Almighty God. When God had made the blood covenant with Abraham, He was saying, “All that I am and have is yours. You will never tackle anything without me and My strength. When you face a challenge, you have all of My resources at your disposal. You are Mine, and I am yours.”
So when David had been confronted by the lion or the bear while tending his sheep, this young shepherd knew that his God, his Covenant Partner, was more than enough. He went after those great animals in the courage and strength of the Lord, and they were goners.
With that knowledge and that experience with God under his belt, David was not intimidated by the almost 10-foot Goliath. Why? Read it carefully. The Philistine was uncircumcised (the sign of the covenant). Goliath had size and human strength. David was in covenant with God. And the rest is history! The carefully-aimed stone from the slingshot of a boy whose whiskers were not yet growing killed that lumbering, roaring, intimidating giant. Goliath was dead, and David went on to become king of Israel.
What does all this have to do with you and me? Everything! Because Jesus cut the New Covenant by His own blood, we have an even better covenant with Him! David had God’s help from the outside. Us? All that He is, we have now because we have Him within us.
No giant will roar at us in 2018 and beyond that He cannot completely handle. No goal that He inspires in our hearts is too big for Him. No mess is too complicated for Him to unravel. No purpose of His will be unfulfilled in the life of one who trusts Him completely.
I don’t know about you, but I feel my excitement building. This is the best “looking back to look forward” I’ve ever done at the end of a year. I know that God has big plans for this new year. I know that His vision and His capabilities far exceed my own. I have faith that that He Who began a good work in me will complete it (Phil. 1: 6). I know in Whom I have believed, and I’m persuaded that HE IS ABLE! (II Timothy 1: 12)
God, thank You for reminding me that it’s all about Your strength and not my own. When I think about the fact that You entered into blood covenant with me, I am astounded each and every time it hits me all over again. All that You are, You’ve given to me? Amazing. Amazing grace!
The poor and needy seek water, but there is none,
Their tongues fail for thirst.
I, the Lord, will hear them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
I will open rivers in desolate heights,
And fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
And the dry land springs of water.
I will plant in the wilderness the cedar and the acacia tree,
The myrtle and the oil tree;
I will set in the desert the cypress tree and the pine
And the box tree together,
That they may see and know,
And consider and understand together,
That the hand of the Lord has done this,
And the Holy One of Israel has created it. (Isaiah 41: 17-20)
For me, the week between Christmas and New Year is one of reflection – reflection on where I’ve been in the past year, on where I am right now, and on where I believe God wants me to go. At times in the looking back part, I can begin to berate myself for all the goals I didn’t fully achieve – especially when I pull out that long and unrealistic list I made last January. I am determined that this year I will do it differently. Maybe you’d like to join me?
Instead of starting with ME, I’m going to begin with HIM. In this past year, what has God done in my life? I’m going to review my prayer journals and my memories and consider Jesus.
~Though I’ve struggled, how has the Lord been there for me and brought me through?
~When I’ve been completely stumped, how did His light begin to slowly illumine my path?
~What startling and/or delightful surprises did God bring my way this year?
~How did He hold my hand through the steps of progress that I did make?
~What has the Holy Spirit taught me this year?
~I’m still here! How has God kept His Hand on me and helped me to survive?
Looking back, I see vividly that though I’m weak, He is strong. Though I falter, He is faithful. When I am confused, He is clear. When I’m lost, His Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Though I have not been all I would have hoped, HE HAS, HE IS, AND HE ALWAYS WILL BE. (Yes, I know that capital letters are shouting. I’m shouting this!)
Pause, reflect, and consider how the Lord has worked in your life in 2017. From that, take courage as you plan for and head into the New Year.
God, I’m not finished with these questions You inspired in my heart this morning, but I know that I will continue to be amazed at Your work in my life. You never leave me, never forsake me, and always keep unfolding Your plans for me. I praise You, O Lord, for Who You are, for Your Presence with me, and for Your unconditional, never-ending Love.
Now abide faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13: 13)
The best gifts cost nothing. When will we learn that? Instead, we max the credit card for material gifts that will wind up being thrown on the floor of the closet. We get caught up in the pursuit of the perfect experience under the tree, and any expectation of perfection is always disappointing. Face it, a little (lot of) ego gets involved.
Stop. Breathe. Remember.
Jesus, Whose birthday we are celebrating, was clear about the greatest gift. It’s a four-letter word call L-O-V-E. Sure, material gifts can be one meager expression of LOVE, but caring attitudes and actions are even more powerful. Such loving behavior should definitely not be confined to the Christmas season.
Give genuinely valuable presents all year, precious gifts that don’t give you buyer’s remorse when the credit card bill comes in at the end of December. Be generous with warm hugs and genuine compliments. Show that you notice your loved one’s efforts and progress. Take the time to listen and just to hang out. Speak the truth in love. Show kindness. Encourage and support the people you love. Be a model of principled living so that you can be trusted. Be willing to help, touching gently when somone is hurting. Very importantly, show respect in your words and your actions.
Most people don’t remember the gift you gave them under the tree last year. But they will remember these real gifts of LOVE for a lifetime.
“Now abide faith, hope, and love – but the greatest of these is LOVE.”
Lord, may I celebrate Your coming to earth as a human by living Your Love every day of the year.
Have a blessed and loving Christmas, friends. Devotionals will resume on Tuesday morning.
Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3: 17-18)
“Joy to the world” can sound pretty hollow when your world has fallen apart. When you’ve lost someone beloved, every jingle bell can jangle the nerves of your heart. From a natural standpoint, it seems there’s nothing to rejoice about. (Oh, but there is!)
Today is the birthday of my oldest grandson, Joseph, who now lives in heaven. Our family re-experiences this struggle of grief this time every holiday season. I know that many of you do, too.
But does grief have to cancel out joy? Do difficult circumstances doom you to being “under the circumstances,” unable to climb out? In this Christmas season, when your situation feels all wrong, does that mean nothing is right? No, no, and no again,
Look at the last line in the Habakkuk passage. “I will rejoice.” “I will joy.” In other words, though my circumstances look bleak, I will choose to rejoice in the Lord, in the God of my salvation! God, Who He is and all He has promised – now that’s something to rejoice about! He is the supreme Comforter in my grief. My situation is not too hard for Him. He will make a way where there seems to be no way.
I WILL CHOOSE to focus on God, Who came to this earth as a human baby. God, Who understands because He’s been here and walked through the losses I feel and so much more. God, Who has big plans for my future. I’ll ponder all of that, and I WILL REJOICE.
Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King!
Jesus, thank You for Your willingness to come to this earth and do what that You did so that we could have salvation and all that comes with it. I rest today in You, knowing that You are in control. When I meditate on YOU, I rejoice!
I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)
I get what they mean about keeping Christ in Christmas. Christmas has become overcommercialized. People too easily write “Xmas.” The celebration of Jesus’ birthday has become for some a festival of selfishness. None of these good, I agree. However, the danger of becoming too focused on these “keep Christ in Christmas” issues is that we can get up in arms about them and get on our sacntimonious soapboxes about them without any real change of heart within ourselves.
…Which leads me to what I believe is an even more important topic than the happy holiday words or the number of presents requested and received. The real question is, “Am I allowing Christ to be Himself in me during this holiday season and all year ’round? Is my own big self out of the way so that Jesus’ personality can shine through? When people think of me, do they think of peace and joy or conflict and chaos? Do I bring light into a room, or do the lights grow a little dimmer when I enter?” All questions that lead to the real question: Is this Christ Whose birthday I’m about to celebrate the absolute Lord of my life? Am I honoring Christ in me in my every attitude and action?
“Keeping Christ in Christmas” can inspire a good personal rant or two, and those crusades might just do a little good. But my challenge to myself and to you this morning is even more personal.
Keeping Jesus Christ in me as the absolute center of MY priorities? Completely surrendering to and reflecting the Christ in me? Allowing The Light to shine through me without hindrance? Now there’s a goal worth chasing every day of my life!
Dear Lord, in this busy season that tempts me to get caught up in so many “other things,” I want to keep the One Thing in its proper place in my heart. That One Thing is YOU.