It’s been an unintentionally-extended hiatus from the blog the last couple weeks, and it may still be a little while before I’m able to get back to daily posting. Today I want to give a bit of a personal update, though. There’s been a lot going on lately!
I’ve never been one to make much of New Year’s resolutions. However, the beginning of a year is always a good time for reflection and goal-setting. Recently I had some rare vacation time that happened to coincide with the changing from 2010 to 2011. This afforded me the opportunity to reflect much, and to set some goals which will probably sound suspiciously like New Year’s resolutions.
In the introduction to Jerry Bridges’ excellent book The Pursuit of Holiness, he writes:
Holiness is a process. It’s something we never completely attain in this life. Rather, as we begin to conform to the will of God in one area of life, He reveals to us a need in another area. That is why we will always be pursuing — as opposed to attaining — holiness in this life.
This has certainly been my experience. Throughout my adult life, my personal goals have tended to be cyclical. Whenever I see (or when someone points out) an area of weakness, I try to focus on that weakness until it becomes a strength. Eventually, when I see improvement in that area, I’ll identify another problem area that requires special attention. It’s all part of the ongoing process of sanctification that the Lord works in the life of every believer.
About three and a half years ago (not long before I met my wife), the biggest glaring weakness in my spiritual walk was inconsistency in my time in God’s Word. I knew that if I was ever to be a man worth marrying, I needed to be able to be the spiritual leader of my family; able to teach my future wife and children, both by instruction and by example. I asked God to grant me wisdom (James 1:5) and to keep me in his Word each day, and he has been faithful to do that.
While a Christian’s sanctification is something which only God can accomplish, the pursuit of holiness combines God’s action with man’s responsibility. Though God ultimately gets the glory for any growth in my life, there are also practical, tangible steps which I must take as well, and setting goals is a big help to me. Last year, to increase my understanding of God’s Word, I set a goal to read 100 books in 2010, which I just barely managed to do thanks to spending the last week of the year resting at my in-laws reading a book a day.
By God’s grace, I have a new passion for reading the Bible (and other books of a theological nature) that was not present a few years ago, and I’m so thankful for that. However, as always happens, God has been revealing new areas of my life which now require my focus. Primary among these is joy. In the past, I’ve always thought of myself as a joyful person, but lately it seems to be missing from my life.
Christians are to be known by the joy that we have in Christ, and, unfortunately, that is probably not an attribute most would identify in me right now. My relationships with others have not be hostile so much as aloof. Though I still care deeply for people all around me, I have failed to demonstrate this love, and for that I am sorry.
The greatest balm for any ailment in the Christian life is God’s Word. In my reading lately, there have been a few passages which have been particularly convicting, as the Holy Spirit reveals my need for further sanctification. Here are a few of them:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. ~ Psalm 51:10-12
The key to my joy lies in the salvation that is God’s free gift to me in Jesus Christ. If I continue to seek God in his Word, then the Holy Spirit will keep the gospel foremost in my thoughts. This will produce a joy that is unshakeable, and a spirit that is willing to follow God wherever he leads!
“When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look to see HIM there, who made an end to all my sin.”
A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly. All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast. ~ Proverbs 15:13-15
Though my past few years have been filled with a search of knowledge, it is obvious that I do not yet possess understanding. True understanding results in a glad heart and a cheerful face. I cry with the psalmist: “O Lord, give me understanding according to your word!” (Psalm 119:169)
No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. ~ James 3:8-10
Earlier in this same passage, James compares the tongue to a rudder, which sets the course of our lives. I confess that my lack of joy has been accompanied (and quite possibly caused) by frustration with people. Though this frustration rarely manifests itself in outright cursing, I have been very guilty of slandering people in my mind, which is tantamount to murder (Matthew 5:21-22). If I want joy to return to my life, I must guard my thoughts and words with regard to my fellow man.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. ~ Ephesians 4:31
It’s time to put away my cynicism and cling to the cross of Christ. More than anything else, this is what manifests itself outwardly. This is where I need to be held accountable by my brothers in Christ. If you see any signs of bitterness, please call me on it.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. ~ Romans 12:12
This summarizes everything that is lacking in my life. I have far too little patience and rejoicing. Most of all, this is evident in my prayer life. Constancy requires more than frequency; it requires a commitment to pray as Jesus taught us to pray. My prayers, though frequent, tend to be trivial and inconsequential. A day marked by constant prayer will be marked by joy.
Which brings me to my practical goal for the year. I need to re-learn how to pray. Each day this year, I will begin and end each day by reading and reflecting on a prayer written by a Godly saint that has gone before. Starting out, I’ll be working my way through Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotionals, and then moving on to another prayer book (any recommendations?). I love the way the Puritans devoted themselves to prayer. Their prayers are saturated with God’s Word, and have a substance my own prayers sorely lack. It is my hope that through this process I will see a dramatic change in my own prayer life, and that God will grant me a joy that is evident to everyone around me. Please join me in praying for this! Soli Deo Gloria!