For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (NIV)
We recently celebrated a national holiday that celebrated the life and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a pastor, I draw inspiration from the ability he had to develop his mind and bring it to the pulpit for a standard in excellence that provides a truly outstanding example for ministry today. He didn’t let doubt stop him from moving his thoughts forward and bringing them to the public. In fact, his passion for improving the situation of his culture and race—all races, really—stands as an inspiration to others to this day. He executed this initiative during a time that was volatile and unfriendly in the way of race equality. Doubt didn’t stop him then. He went on to affect government and author legislation that changed the landscape of racial equality in this country.
The truth is that we all need help now and then; we all have doubts. Recognizing that in ourselves should help us dispel some of the doubt that we experience when we face challenges of any kind or when we set off to improve our lifestyle and our frame of mind. Just as Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, God has good things in store for us. He will provide a promising future and give us our heart’s desire when we strive to follow His direction and heed His wisdom. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., there are many paths to take in life, but those that set us on the journey to righteousness are best.
The challenges we face each year aren’t anything we haven’t seen before. When we bring the idea of change into our psyche, however, it can seem daunting. I’m sure there were countless days and nights that Martin Luther King, Jr. felt overwhelmed and discouraged. Always remember that God’s plan is for us to prosper and He longs to give us hope and a fulfilling future. With God’s help and our own fortitude behind us, our struggles are not insurmountable, and doubt will not overtake us. Make 2016 your year, using a renewed sense of confidence to believe that you WILL achieve the things you set your mind to.
Are we ten pounds lighter yet? Have we managed to save a million dollars in the last two weeks? Have we been getting up every morning at 6:00 AM to pray and reflect on our lives? Have we stopped worrying entirely? Taken that vacation we told ourselves we deserved? While I hope some of these initiatives and positive thoughts for the new year are on our minds, I’m sure we haven’t even come close to any of our New Year’s goals and aspirations yet. I’m hoping that we maintain a positive perspective, making sure to tackle our goals and resolutions at an appropriate speed. Part of our plan this year should also be to avoid taking everything so seriously and being too hard on ourselves. There is time for all of our resolutions and improvements. There is also time to sit back and decide what can happen early on in 2016 to make us feel better, enjoy more time with our families, and get more satisfaction out of our weekly worship.
Simply put, just taking a moment to reflect and think about daily life is the first step in enriched experiences with family and friends, and with ourselves. When we move too fast and pack too much into our days, we run the risk of not enjoying and absorbing any of the beauty of the day. When we slow down and have dinner with our family or actually take the time to enjoy a morning run instead of ticking it off our lists for the day, we can learn to relish the moments that allow us reflection or togetherness with loved ones. In church, when we make the effort to truly sit, listen, and experience the message of God’s Word, we are more centered and more open to that message for the rest of our week! If we sit, tense and thinking of other things, the message is lost on us, and the fellowship with other members of the congregation becomes nonexistent.
So, my advice on this day in mid-January 2016 is this: Stop and take in the day. Understand each moment as God wants us to. Listen to your kids, talk to your spouse, enjoy your time alone exercising, praying, or whatever brings you peace. Take the fellowship that you experience in church into your workplace or in your community as you buy groceries or get your car serviced. Talk to people and interact on a deeper level, trying to understand what makes others happy and what gets you through your own day. This is your first step to seeing all the other components of a happy life fall into place for 2016.
We are a full week into 2016, and I am wondering how we’re all doing with our New Year’s resolutions and our other personal commitments to be better to ourselves and to others. None of us can deny that we do make these vows for change every year. Whether or not we actively participate in the formal making of the resolutions each year, we do mentally decide to do some things differently in the New Year. I am sure that 2016 is no different.
In recent posts, I asked us all to pay more attention to family, hospitality, and graciousness to others, in addition to shaping our own priorities in life. I know that we all have remained faithful churchgoers and stayed true to our own family traditions over the holidays. But, I am wondering if in addition to our New Year’s resolutions, we are keeping the aforementioned important directives in the front of our minds. While I do think we are capable of so much giving at the holidays, I often think that we forget to prioritize our own lives or make changes that benefit ourselves, our families, and our communities. Ultimately, changes that have long-term benefits will help us with success and happiness in the New Year.
So, while we’re all trying to fit our new workout routines into our day or cut sugar and fat out of our diet, let’s also try to focus on changes that will make real, measurable changes in the coming months. What can we do to make ourselves more fulfilled? What can we do to make sure that our problems of the past year—bills that got out of control, relationships that went wrong, endeavors that we never saw through to fruition—do not repeat in the coming weeks, months, or even years? How will we approach each day differently so that we do not slip into past funks or bad habits?
As we kick off this New Year, we will soon see change in the areas we want to see change and movement if we incorporate a new perspective regarding our priorities. If we take the time each day to check how we pay attention to even the most mundane of tasks in our lives, like paying bills or eating right, we will see results. Beyond that, if we also attempt to reach out to others in the simplest of ways, we will see change in how others react to us. By remaining vigilant ambassadors to how God wants us to shape priorities for ourselves and others, we can set a good example in the community. When we’re at the store, we can be the customer in line who thanks the salesperson instead of complaining, or the customer who asks about another’s well-being instead of going about our business and ignoring the needs of others around us. Instead of judging, we can take the time to help that mother with her cranky kids or the elderly person with too many packages in his or her arms.
The little priorities in life truly matter. If we take time to focus on what is right in front of us, we will see satisfying change and fulfillment more quickly, and we will be able to maintain our newfound approaches of attending to others. Instead of looking ten years into the future and wondering how much money we’ll be making or if we’ll have a bigger house, we should look at tomorrow and decide what is important to us like time with family, life in service to others, and a more organized and calmer daily life. God rewards those who help themselves; this we know. By helping ourselves and reprioritizing, we can in turn help others and begin to “pay it forward” a bit by providing the example that others need.
I have posted a lot in the past few months on many subjects related to our preparations for the New Year. At one point, I even had all of us keeping track of lists that would allow us to do better in our lives, to improve our relationships with others, and to commit to healthier and happier lifestyles. I asked us all to dig deep, give back to our communities, and stay mindful of the responsibilities that we have to others. I even spoke directly about events in the news that upset or bothered us. It was all in an effort to inspire changes and initiate movement for a dynamic, improved, and hopeful New Year.
Despite turmoil in the world and concerns we may have after the long holiday season, if you all stayed with me, I feel that reading the blog and focusing on how to remain challenged in your faith and in your responsibilities to others will help you enter into 2016 with a certain confidence. I know that we’ve all been thinking about a plan for the new year that will tap into our strengths and allow us to take stock of where we need to change and where we might want to direct our efforts. We should review the past year and determine where it has lead us and where the lessons we’ve learned will take us.
We should focus our priorities this year. In recent weeks, as we made our way through the busy Christmas season, I reminded us all to be hospitable and let faith guide us into relationships and fellowship with others. I encouraged you all to open your hearts and sing the praises of Jesus as we celebrated His birth and all the blessings that He brings us. In this brand new year of 2016, we need to shape our lives to fit the role we think God has in store for us. We need to reach out and allow others to see what we’ve become as a result of our challenges, our triumphs, our questions, and our answers. Our path to happiness lies with God and His expectations of us. The path to success is paved by the behaviors we use to reach that happiness goal. What can we do to reach out? How can we help others? What needs to happen in our lives to make us fulfilled in our eyes and in the eyes of God?
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (NIV)
Just as hospitality is important to the family dynamic as we celebrate our blessings this season, so too is the graciousness of forgiveness. During the high intensity of this season, we sometimes allow the smallest things to get to us. We are so overscheduled that we can’t see past our own commitments, worries, and other mixed holiday feelings. This can lead to arguments with others. Whether we are in a crowded grocery store or attending a family gathering, the close proximity and amped up activity level can test even the best of us.
During this time, we have to remember that family should be our focus. With increased proximity, there will come opportunities for interaction that we don’t always see during the year. When people are feeling especially nostalgic or compassionate toward others, a whirlwind of other emotions may present themselves. Maybe there are past differences that can be mended, or good memories to be shared. Regardless of the tone, the sense that family is important should always be prevalent. Just as the hospitality of allowing others into your home or sharing experiences with others is important, so too is the sense that past grievances and new annoyances need to be forgiven. In this season of hope, there is no room for hurt feelings and personal grudges. It is time to be the bigger person. In order to keep the love and hope alive this season, we must be more gracious than we have ever been.
In the spirit of healing our families, our communities, and the world, we need to maintain a sense of charity to all. We have to be open with our feelings, generous with our time, and warm in our approach to other people. Jesus came into this world to heal, to be a friend to those with no friends and a mentor to those who had lost their way. We need to live in His image and according to His plan. Forgiveness, friendship, and family need to be a top priority this Christmas season.