As 2016 comes to a close, I feel a little like Paul–wanting to put the past behind me and strain toward what is ahead.
“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14, NIV).
I love new beginnings–Mondays, weddings, first day of a new year. To me they all signify a chance to start fresh, to begin again, to experience something new and move forward. I love spending time with God every day, but never as much as I do on January first of each year. I always ask God to give me a Word for the new year. Not a word, mind you, but a Word. A Scripture. A Bible verse. A Word from Him that will guide my heart and my mind for the next 365 days.
Each year, I pray that God will empower me to be better than I was the year before. I mean, that’s the whole point of resolutions, right? We want to be more disciplined in the coming year, whether in our finances, diet, fitness, or our dedication to God. I usually ask for more peace or patience or humility or kindness or generosity in the coming year.
“You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:2b-3).
But this year it occurred to me that I may be asking the wrong questions. Why do I want more peace? To avoid the pain of strife. Why do I want more kindness? So others will like me more. Why do I want more generosity? So people will see me as giving. Just like James said–wrong motives.
This year, I want to ask the right question–the question that Saul asked on the road to Damascus.
“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’
‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked” (Acts 9:1-5).
Now, remember that Saul was “…circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Philippians 3:5-6). In others words, Saul believed he knew God. He was a devout religious person who worshiped the one true God of the Hebrews. I bet he had asked for more kindness and generosity, too. He was asking the wrong questions.
But on the road to Damascus, he asked the right one: “Who are you, Lord?”
He knew whom he had encountered. He wasn’t asking for clarification of the identity of the One who spoke to him. He was asking, “Who are you really, Lord? I’ve been serving You all my life, but I’m afraid I don’t really know You.
Could the same be said of us? Are we of the people of God, of the right denomination, a Christian of Christians, full of zeal for the church and legalistically righteous, but without really knowing Jesus? Are we asking for all the blessings of the Christian life as long as they don’t come with testing, suffering, or pain?
This past year I encountered some testing and pain, but I have grown more in the last year than ever before. And I have never experienced more peace and spiritual blessings. Look at what Paul said about knowing Jesus:
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in death, and so, somehow to attain to the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11).
If we truly want to know Christ, we must be willing to consider everything else loss. We must be willing to suffer if that is what draws us closer to Him and makes us more like Him. We must be willing to go beyond the veil and into the secret place of intimacy and fellowship with the Lord. I don’t believe that it’s wrong to ask for peace or kindness; but I do believe that if we will seek to know Jesus more in the coming year, we will walk in the spiritual blessings that we seek.
The good news is that we can know Him.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…” (John 10:14).
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
As 2017 draws near, what are we asking of God? Do we truly want to know Him more? Are we willing to do what it takes to seek more of Him in our lives in the coming year? Are we willing to give up some television or Facebook so that we have time to read His Word? Are we willing to rid our lives of the sins that entangle us and keep us from being effective for the Kingdom? Are we willing to suffer in order to experience more of His glory? Are we willing to sacrifice our own wants in order to meet the needs of others?
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:17-23).
He fills everything in every way. Let’s seek to know the fullness of Jesus in 2017, no matter what the cost.