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Dr. Ray Pritchard Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. Ray Pritchard

Dr. Ray Pritchard's Weblog

No one becomes godly by accident.

You can grow spiritually in 2016.
You can become a better person.
You can deepen your walk with God.
You can change.

You can deepen your faith next year, but you must be intentional about it. Here are ten steps you can take that will help you grow as a Christian in the new year.

1. Meet with God before you check Facebook

We live in a social media world. We text, we tweet, we update Facebook, we post our projects on Pinterest, and we put photos on Instagram Some days I feel like I live on Facebook. And I like to start my day checking my Twitter feed. While there is nothing wrong with social media, it can control us if we're not careful.

Start with God next year. Commit yourself to reading God's Word and praying before you get absorbed in the latest updates. "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). Your day will go better when you start with God, not with social media.

2. Choose a book of the Bible to study this year

Many people will start reading through the Bible in January. Nothing wrong with that. I encourage you to read through the whole Bible in 2016, especially if you've never done it before. But there is a great value in digging deeply into one book of the Bible and letting its message soak into your heart. You could read Genesis or Proverbs or Daniel or Mark or 1 Peter. If you don't know where to begin, start with Ephesians. Read it at least 20 times. Read it slowly. Read it fast. Read a few verses a day. Use a Bible commentary to help you with difficult passages. Ephesians is so rich that you could spend all of 2016 studying it.

3. Buy a study Bible

Owning a study Bible is like having a seminary faculty on your bookshelf. A good study Bible has notes on every passage, book introductions, outlines, maps, charts, diagrams, and illustrations. Today you have many excellent options: The ESV Study Bible, the NLT Study Bible, the MacArthur Study Bible, the Life Application Bible, the Ryrie Study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible, and the NKJV Study Bible, to name only a few. You'll never regret investing money in a good study Bible. It will jumpstart your knowledge of God's Word.

4. Get involved in a small group

While it is possible to grow on your own, you will grow much faster when you are involved with a small group of other Christians. You could join a Sunday School class, a men's group, a women's group, a BSF group, a Bible study group, or a prayer team. The possibilities are endless. Don't sit on the sidelines. Share your life with other Christians who can encourage you, pray with you, laugh with you, and cry with you. Taking part in a healthy small group is like taking an energy shot for your soul.

5. Start a journal

Twenty years ago I started journaling after reading Chuck Swindoll's testimony. He said he found journaling a useful way to track God's work in his life. Keeping a journal is like keeping a diary, except that you use your journal to do "God sightings." Where has God shown up unexpectedly in your life? Where have you seen the fingerprints of the Lord? Write it down so you won't forget it. Over time your journal will help you see how God's plan is unfolding in your life.

6. Memorize Psalm 1

That's the one that starts this way:

"Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night."

Psalm 1 stands at the head of the psalter for a reason. It describes the fundamental difference between a life lived for self versus a life lived for God. Because we live in a me-centered world, we need to tattoo these verses on our heart so we won't forget them.

Start with Psalm 1 and memorize a verse or two each day. You could easily finish it in a week. After that, go on to Psalm 2 or Ephesians 1 or 1 Corinthians 3 or Matthew 5:1-16. Whatever passage you choose, commit yourself to storing God's truth in your heart this year.

7. Do some Bible listening

Start by downloading these two apps: YouVersion and Bible.Is. Bible listening means that instead of reading the Bible, you listen as someone reads it aloud. The Bible.Is app contains hundreds of audio versions of the Bible, including tribal languages from around the world. They also include dramatized versions that include music and other sound effects. After listening to a large part of the Bible on audio, I can testify that many passages came alive to me for the first time, even though I had read them many times on my own.

8. Become a quick forgiver

Mark Twain once remarked that forgiveness is the fragrance the violet yields to the heel that has crushed it. Easy to say, hard to do. Make up your mind that you won't be a grievance collector in 2016. "Love doesn't keep score of the sins of others" (1 Corinthians 13:5 MSG). Add to that 1 Peter 4:8, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." Love has a short memory and sealed lips. We need to hear this word because others will indeed fail us a “multitude” of times. Sometimes the people we love the most will hurt us deeply. Love expects others to fail, expects to be hurt and expects to be used unfairly. It goes on loving anyway.

There is nothing sadder than a bitter Christian. Don't fall into that trap this year. Be a quick forgiver.

9. Do something crazy for God this year

Start by reading Hebrews 11. Noah built a boat. Abraham left a prosperous city, not knowing where he was going. Sarah got pregnant when she was 89. Abraham offered Isaac. Moses refused the riches of Egypt in favor of suffering with his own people. The Hebrews marched around Jericho. Rahab hid the spies.

Faith is belief plus unbelief, and acting on the belief part. At some point, you've got to get off the couch and do something. Faith grows when we, like Peter, dare to get out of the boat. What does that mean? It might mean pursuing a God-sized dream. It might mean giving more than some think is wise. It might mean getting involved in a new ministry. It might mean spending two weeks on a missions trip. It might mean daring to start over again.

Living by faith means that you stop making excuses and get in the game for God. If it doesn't scare you, it's probably not crazy enough. True faith leads you out of your comfort zone. God will help you, but you've got to take the first step.

10. Pray for missionary eyes

Every day you meet people who need the help only you can give. Some of them need a word of encouragement, and you are the only one who can give them that word. Some of them are staggering beneath a heavy load, and you are the only one who can lift that burden from their shoulders. Some of them are about to quit, and you are the only one who can keep them in the race. Some of them have been hit with an incredible string of trials, and you are the only one who can help them keep going.

Pray that God will give you Missionary Eyes to see the real needs of the people you meet. Pray that God will bring at least one person across your path who needs the help only you can give. That's a prayer God will answer, for there are folks all around you who are just barely making it. You see them where you work, and you live next door to them. Your children go to school with their children. They are out there waiting for someone to give them help.

So there you have it. Here are ten ways you can grow your faith in 2016. But remember the key point: No one becomes godly by accident. Intentionality is the key. If you want to grow next year, you can. With God's help, you can be a different person 365 days from now.

You can reach the author at [email protected]. Click here to sign up for the free email sermon.

Start Again in 2016

We all need a fresh start now and then. To help you make a new beginning in 2016, we've put together a page with 47 sermons for New Year's Day. We have messages on making a new start, growing your faith, doing God's will, learning about God's grace, hope for the future, spiritual growth. letting go of the past, and dealing with hard times.

We hope that pastors and Bible teachers will use this material as part of their own sermon preparation. We offer this as our way of encouraging you to grow in your own walk with God in 2016. 

Joy to the World!

 

 


Navajo Nativity scene, Source

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people’” (Luke 2:10 ESV).

Isaac Watts wasn’t impressed. He thought he could write better hymns than the ones he heard because most church music sounded dreary to him. So his father, a radical non-conformist who was shunned because he did not support the Church of England, told him, “If you can do better, go ahead.”

Isaac was only 18 years old at the time.

For 222 Sundays he prepared a new hymn each week for the worship service, revolutionizing English congregational singing in the process. In those days (the 1700s) the Puritans believed only the Psalms should be sung in church. When Isaac Watts wrote his paraphrase of Psalm 98, he didn’t intend it to be a Christmas carol. After all, if you compare this to the other songs on our list, you mostly notice what is missing. “Joy to the World” contains nothing about the shepherds, the Wise Men, the star, Bethlehem, Mary, Joseph, or baby Jesus.

Which is why some people don’t think of this as a Christmas carol.

When Isaac Watts wrote this song in 1719, he entitled it “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom,” which has the virtue of being accurate, though not very catchy. Over a century later Lowell Mason wrote the music, using Handel’s Messiah as inspiration. The words and music perfectly capture our emotions on Christmas Day:

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

The second verse calls on nature to “repeat the sounding joy,” while the third verse looks forward to the day when we will

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground.”

The final verse triumphantly proclaims that one day his rule and reign will spread over all the earth:

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Someone has said we need bifocal vision at Christmas so we can look back to Christ’s first coming and look ahead to his second coming. In the meantime, we celebrate the “wonders of his love.”

For our final stop on this Advent journey, let’s listen to aacoustic version of Joy to the World by Steven Curtis Chapman.

Lord Jesus, may we never take for granted the miracle of your birth. May your presence fill our hearts today as we proclaim, “Joy to the World! The Lord is come!” Amen.

You can reach the author at [email protected]. Click here to sign up for the free email sermon.

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