A number of years ago I stumbled across an intriguing article entitled “10 Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year”. It was written by Donald Whitney from the Southern Baptist Seminary on the Crossway publishers website. I’d come across Whitney before having read his book on spiritual disciplines which I’d found really helpful in thinking through what godly devotions and Bible reading should look like.
Whitney’s point, which is kind of obvious really, is that Christian growth; growth in joy, love for the Lord, love of others, maturity of understanding etc, doesn’t happen by accident. So while it is true that if you’re truly Christ’s you can’t lose your salvation, or even in an important sense lose your holiness, still it is entirely possible to live as a baby Christian and to pass up opportunities to grow, mature and even enjoy the Christian life. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” as Paul puts it in Galatians 6:7.
That means that taking stock of our Christian lives is really important, and a new calendar year is a great time to do that. So here I give you Donald Whitney’s 10 questions with a bit of waffle from me in between:
1. What’s the one thing you can do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
I love this way of starting. Whitney’s assumption is that we should enjoy the Christian life! Who knew! But it’s vital to our health as Christians not only that we trust Jesus but that we appreciate that there is nothing more delightful than trusting Jesus.
2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God for this year?
Again it’s the assumption behind the question that is delightful here. That God moves in answer to our prayers in ways which are inexplicable outside of his plans and purposes.
3. What’s the most important thing you could do to improve your family life?
Perhaps you don’t have immediate family with you but if you do it’s helpful to think not simply on a practical level but also a spiritual one. Are you able to read the Bible as a family or as a couple? Or pray for things in your family? Or take a bit of time over a meal to consider a truth from God’s word together?
4. In which spiritual discipline do you want to make the most progress this year?
Spiritual disciplines are things such as; personal Bible reading, prayer, fasting, journaling, meditation on God’s word. It’s perhaps easy to write a generic “read the Bible more” but probably more useful to think about how and set your mind to doing it in a specific way.
5. What’s the single biggest time-waster in your life, and how can you redeem the time?
This probably doesn’t take much thought, but if you can’t think of anything just ask someone who you live with and they will tell you!
6. What’s the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
These things are all connected because clearly growing as a Christian personally is strengthening the local church. But also strengthened church grows individual Christians. So what can we do to help church do this well?
7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
If you’re like me you will find it easy to give up praying for family members or friends who aren’t Christians, almost despairingly resigning myself to their disinterest and unbelief. But we mustn’t do that, and the new year is a good chance to commit ourselves to praying for unbelieving friends and family again.
8. What’s the most important way, by God’s grace, you will try to make this year different from last?
Whitney points out in his article that God while is sovereign over all things that happen, that doesn’t negate the measure of responsibility he gives us over many areas of our lives. So is there a habit you need to break? A pattern of thinking or living that needs to change? Is there a situation you’ve been ignoring or a problem you’ve been neglecting?
9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
A few years ago I decided in response to this question that I would write out some prayers I wanted to pray every day. Prayers for family members, for personal godliness, for church life. That’s been a massive help to me so that I’m not just reading down a list but actually pausing to think.
10. What single thing can you plan to do this year that will matter most in ten years? In eternity?
Here I think is the genius of these questions. We tend to think that it’s the big decisions which will have this big impact, when really it’s the little daily commitments which over the decades will shape us the most.
(submitted by Steve Palframan)