The beginning of a new year is a natural time for thinking about renewal. We say good-bye to an old, tired year and look with hope and expectation to a new one. A clean page. A fresh chance. A time to think about how to make our future better--more productive, more significant, more successful, more joy-filled.
For Christians, thoughts of renewal usually revolve around God. We belong to Him forever, but we are vacillating human beings, and our relationship with Him can easily stagnate. We need times of refreshing. We need to come again to the fountain of living water. We need to long for Him so deeply that it drives us back into His presence. Thankfully, God prompts that longing. He never forces Himself back into our lives, but the restlessness we feel without Him invariably draws us.
So what to do when we feel the restlessness? When we become aware that something's not right in our spirits? God is the One who must rescue us from the doldrums of spiritual lethargy, but there are steps we can take to make ourselves available to Him again. If you are feeling this restlessness today, here are ten ways you can prepare your heart to receive Him anew in this new year:
1) You must choose. Make a decision to re-dedicate your life to God. Pray a prayer of submission to Him. Affirm your commitment to His lordship in your life. Give Him permission to touch you in a fresh way. Choose to die to your own agenda for your life. Mark this recommitment decision in your journal.
2) Time is of the essence. Follow up your decision with determined action: choose to spend time with Him. Not just a few moments at the beginning or the end of your day, but an extended time, over a period of time. This will require a measure of sacrifice. You’ll have to make the time or it won’t happen. The sacrifice might involve some kind of fast—giving up food, or a particular pleasurable activity you habitually enjoy (coffee time), or a time-waster you’re used to indulging in (TV or computer games). As you choose to remove something from your schedule, deliberately decide to put Him in its place. Spend the time you would normally be indulging in your sacrificed activities in quiet prayer in His presence. Ask Him to lead you in this process.
3) If you build it, He will come. But be prepared to wait. He might not meet you powerfully in the beginning. He sometimes has to test our commitment, not to find out how committed we are—He already knows that—but to strengthen our hunger for Him. Trust Him with the process. Just continue your discipline of spending time with Him, approaching Him on each occasion with the expectation that He may be ready to announce Himself to you in some new way. If he doesn’t, go away with anticipation that the next time He might. Let Him come in His own time.
4) Take encouragement from others. To jump-start your time of renewal, you might want to read an inspiring or challenging Christian book. Check out the church library. Go in and look around, asking the Lord to put your hand on a book that He wants to meet you in. Then browse until one strikes you as being valuable.
5) Promote a spirit of worship. That’s what this whole process is about. It’s not about personal discipline. It’s not about coming out of the doldrums in your life. It’s not even about intercession or evangelism. It’s about worship. Totally. All other benefits will come as a by-product of your focus on Him. How do you promote a spirit of worship? . . . . .
6) Focus on His attributes. You will find them in the Bible. Nowhere else do we learn what He is like. Make a list of His attributes. Rearrange the items on the list, from the most important (to you) to the least. Look up each attribute in a Bible concordance and write the Scripture references beside each. Read the references, looking for the one you connect with the most for each attribute. Memorize at least one sentence from the passage you have chosen for each attribute. Repeat the sentence off and on during your day, until it becomes a permanent fixture on the screen-saver of your mind. Note: The Psalms are great places to find such passages.
7) Listen to worship music. Find songs or a style or an artist you like—one that moves you toward worship—and play the music as you begin your time with Him. Sing the words to Him as you listen.
8) Don't miss worship time at your church on Sunday mornings. Note: This activity will not be useful to you unless you take time to pray before you come to church, asking God to touch you in the service and to bless others with His presence. It will also not be useful to you if you are not willing to let go of your irritation about any of the following: 1) the style of worship; 2) the selection of songs; 3) the loudness of the music; 4) the repetition of what might seem, at first glance, to be shallow messages. There is only one thing that can ever ruin worship, and that’s your attitude toward it. God doesn’t care how loud the music is, or who’s singing, or even what the words are. He cares only about the heart attitude and focus of the worshippers. Determine to look beyond anything that would distract you from loving God. Focus on the truth in the worship songs and love the people around you, for Jesus’s sake.
9) Let worship lead you into intercession. Intercession--praying for the needs of others--will lift you out of your stale mindset and put you down in a wider space. It will also place you right where the heart of God is. When you begin interceding for others from a place of worship, you will pray with strong faith and great authority, because the greatness and goodness of the One you’re petitioning is right before your eyes. You will have no doubts about his ability or willingness to answer your prayers. Praying with your eyes on God will also put you in a place of hearing from Him about how to pray. Ask God to bring specific people to your mind and show you specifically what to pray for, then pray for them that way. If appropriate, call or e-mail those people and tell them how you’ve felt led to pray for them. They will be encouraged that God brought them to your mind, and you may be encouraged to discover how appropriate the specific thing you asked for was.
10) Share your experience of renewed fellowship with God with others. Renewal must spread past the realm of individual experience before it can accomplish God’s complete purpose, and nothing is more stimulating for corporate renewal than hearing how God is working in individual lives. God’s desire is that His Church be renewed and that the world be blessed through His Church. Renewal must start with each individual—with a fresh commitment to Jesus as Lord and a leap of faith that leads to an expectation that He will meet us in a significant way. But when we come to him as individuals, and share our experiences, the fire spreads. God’s Church is revived and the world is redeemed.
Let’s pray together that God will pour out a spirit of repentance, of renewal and of hope on each of us as we move into this new year.