From Ed Stetzer on Christianity Today:
The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God.
1. What's one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
2. What's the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?
3. What's the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?
4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?
5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?
6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
8. What's the most important way you will, by God's grace, try to make this year different from last year?
9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?
Think about this for a moment: God doesn’t put people in your life by accident.
When you think about this statement, do you think about the people in your life who make it more challenging, who frustrate you, who you disagree with in some way, or do you think of the people you love who have been generous to you and to others and bring smile to your face?
God has carefully placed both the people who test our emotional limitations and those who strengthen our spirit for us to learn to love those standing before us, no matter who they are—in the same way that He loves us. Our faith is tested daily, but to treat everyone with the same patience, kindness and honesty is what we have been called to do—this is our charge as God’s people:
16 "Don't just stand by when your neighbor's life is in danger. I am God. 17 "Don't secretly hate your neighbor…18 "Don't seek revenge or carry a grudge against any of your people. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God. 33 "When a foreigner lives with you in your land, don't take advantage of him. 34 Treat the foreigner the same as a native. Love him like one of your own.” (Leviticus; Message)
The next moment you find yourself facing one of your neighbors; a stranger or loved one, show them grace as they stand before you in anger, in greed, in humility, in benevolence…because whoever is placed in your path deserves the same grace that has been freely given to us by God.
God is with you.
Any occasion of celebration and wonder, whether an underdog football team throwing a “Hail Mary” pass with one second left to win the game or a child’s first birthday party, is encompassed by loud cheers, singing, activity and excitement. They are accompanied by happiness, hope, pride and full of possibilities. These events do not fall quickly from our memories, but often seem to pass by in an instant.
As social beings, we tend to recount the last game or our child’s latest milestone with embellishments, forgetting to turn down our desire to impress. Instead, the gift of experiencing joy, faith and camaraderie is a gift from God and in servitude; we should praise Him thoughtfully and not boast. “…boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that Cross, [I] have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate.” (Galatians 6:14, Message)
As the Christmas season approaches, reflect upon the peaceful celebration of Jesus’s birth and the abundant gifts God has given all of us. Be thankful and full of excitement for the blessings to come as you praise Him in your silent moments.
God is with you.
If I had a nickel for every time a Christian maligned society's approach to Christmas, I would have a lot of nickels.
I don't have a problem with it. And here's why: it is the ONLY time in our culture when generosity is the social norm.
Generosity has been shown repeatedly in studies to boost people's sense of personal happiness. In very simple studies, people are given money to spend on themselves while other people are given money to spend on others. Without fail, the individuals who spent money on others reported experiencing more happiness, while the individuals that spent on themselves reported no such change. It is no wonder that Christmastime is adored by our culture almost universally - whether by practicing Christians or secularists. It is the season when we all are encouraged to actively engage and practice vital element in personal happiness, giving to others.
Simply put, we are not designed to be self-absorbed. God did not create us with only our own well-being, wants, and needs to consider. Our social and cultural pressures to put ourselves first, and use all that we generate on ourselves is making us very spiritually sick. We have created a society that really only engages this important aspect of the equation for personal well-being once a year, at Christmastime.
For those of us who are believers, we would be happier if we take to heart this important God-fact and learn God's plan for generosity. God created us to be in an ongoing generous relationship with God and with others. The Old Testament design was to tithe - to give 10% of what we earn for God's Kingdom building. I have never met someone who was unhappy with tithing. But as we know, Jesus not only affirmed tithing, but established the modern church in a New Testament above and beyond manner. The church Jesus launched practiced giving above and beyond 10% as a way of life in order to care for one another and build the church, speeding God's Kingdom-building Gospel as far as missionaries could travel with unprecedented results. God established this church as the hope of the world, His design, His body, His instrument for life change. He gave it one mission, to share Him on earth.
It is no wonder Jesus said that our joy would be made complete in Him. Imagine how happy we would live as God's followers if we put Jesus generosity at the heart of our lives and livelihood. It would never stop being Christmastime!
Regardless of where you now walk with God, take a new look at generosity. Enjoy the unique cultural solidarity of the generosity of the holidays, but take Christmas into the rest of your days.