Midnight strikes. You hear commentators wishing you “Happy New Year!” from the screen as people embrace and cheer. And the questions sound in your heart, “What will be new this next year? What can be different?” Recently, my grandson bemoaned to his parents that he couldn’t clean up the toys in the room with his sister. It was too overwhelming. There were too many. How could it ever change from the state that it was into something different? How do we start something hard and see it through? Well, my daughter gave the same advice to my grandson that I remember giving to her as a little girl: ”How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Dear reader, take heart. Change is possible. It can be slow, but it is worth it. We can create new, wonderful habits that will grow us closer to Christ! But we must realize that the change does not come from ourselves—it comes from the Holy Spirit. When we rely on our Bulwark, our Fortress, our Defender, our Rock—that is when we can do the hard thing and create the new habit. And nothing matters more than our relationship with Jesus. So whether you are a new believer or a seasoned saint, let’s make the resolution to grow deeper in our faith. And I have some key principles you can implement in your life—slowly and surely—with the help of the Holy Spirit! And you will find that by the end of 2023, things will look a little different, and you will ring in the next new year closer to God. So let’s get started!
The Bible is the most widely distributed book—and also the least read. There are millions of professing believers who have not yet discovered the joy and spiritual benefits of digging deeply into the Word of God. It is an inexhaustible treasure trove of wisdom. From the opening chapters of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation, the God of the Bible is the God who speaks. And He uses His Word as a primary means to do so in our lives. So, if we are not seeking to hear God’s voice through reading the Bible, we are missing out on some major growth in our Christian walk.
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Isn’t that the truth? And as we seek to grow in the area of Bible reading, it’s important to have a good plan. The reason we plan is because it’s important as children of God to, over time, gain a thorough knowledge of the contents of all of Scripture. The more familiar you are with its contents, the more able you are to appreciate what God is doing and what He’s saying to us. You can find published plans on many Bible apps (or even online) that will take you through the whole Bible in a year or more. Whatever your plan, make sure to stick to it. If, for some reason, your reading lapses for a while, don’t give up—find where you left off and start again. Start creating this important habit in your life and watch your faith grow! And then, as you listen to God speak to you through His Word, we can also grow by talking with him through prayer.
Did you know there is great power in prayer? That might be something you’ve heard of, but knowing this is not enough…we actually have to experience it! The power of prayer is that our strong and loving Heavenly Father listens to us and responds. It is so vital in our relationship with Him to actually communicate. Jesus knew the importance found in seeking the Father. In Luke 5:16, the Bible says that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Christ Himself needed a break from the demands of His busy life to recharge and spend time with His Father. When we follow Jesus’ example and do the same, we’ll receive peace, power, and purpose that comes from God alone. You know it has never been more important for God’s people to be on their knees. Take some time today and carve out five minutes in your morning schedule to speak to God. Set reminders or alarms, and then follow through. Keep the conversation going throughout the day! The Bible calls us to “pray without ceasing.” Just like our closest relationships with family and friends, we must speak with God to have a thriving, vibrant relationship with Him. And as we grow closer to our Father through prayer, our gratitude and wonder at Who He is turned into worship.
Do you like to sing praises to God? Now, I know some of us aren’t professional singers, but singing is an important part of Christian worship. Paul said that when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, singing will come naturally as an expression of our joy. In Ephesians 15:19, Paul writes, “be filled with the Spirit […] singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” King David is a perfect example of the Holy Spirit causing Him to worship through song. And as a leader, he was very concerned about the people of God singing in their worship services. Our hymns of worship should have a singular purpose to them: and that is to thank and praise the Lord for all He has done. He truly is worthy of all our praise!
However, one of the biggest misconceptions about worship is that Christians think “worship” just means singing worship songs. While it is important to sing to our Savior, you can worship through many other means as well. Anything we do to glorify God is considered worship. And we do so because Jesus is worthy of all praise! In Psalm 95, we read that we worship God because He is the “great King. In His hands are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land.” And because God made this world and everything in it, the psalmist instructs us to bow down in worship and “kneel before the Lord our Maker.” And it always leaves me in awe when I think about how our Creator has also created a way to redeem us from our sins—that the Creator Himself became a man to live a perfect life and die on the cross for our sins. So today, let us worship Him—our Creator and Lord! And as we worship, let us spur on our brothers- and sisters-in-Christ through fellowship.
Charles Spurgeon said, “Satan always hates Christian fellowship; it is his policy to keep Christians apart. Anything which can divide saints from one another he delights in. […] Since union is strength, he does his best to promote separation.” Our fellowship together results from our belonging individually to God through faith in Jesus Christ. His Spirit has come to live in us, and He provides for us a strong unity with one another. Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Let’s not buy into the lie that meeting together as believers is unimportant. Instead, let’s prioritize coming together and edifying one another in the works God has given us to do as the church. That accountability and fellowship will grow us individually and collectively! And as we spur each other on, we will be faithful to witness to others about our wonderful Savior.
What’s your biggest fear? For some, it’s spiders or the dark, or falling from a high place. But for Christians, there is great fear in sharing our faith. For some, they just don’t know where to start. Others are afraid of facing difficult questions or simply rejection. You know, we’ve all been there; and unfortunately, many believers never move beyond that fear. The problem is Satan knows this and often uses fear to keep us from sharing the Gospel. But let me encourage you to take that step in faith. Ask God to give you courage. Pray that He will open a door for you to share His love with another person. God loves to prepare people’s hearts to hear the Good News, and He is waiting for people willing to step out in faith and speak for Him. God uses ordinary people just like you and me to point others to Christ.
And the truth is the Holy Spirit is with us. And He is working everywhere—all the time—drawing people all over the world to Jesus. And the same Holy Spirit lives inside each one of us. So, when it comes to sharing our faith, we don’t have to be afraid. Witnessing under the direction of the Holy Spirit is just seeing where God is already working and then joining Him in it. When it comes to witnessing, our part is simply taking a step of obedience and sharing our faith. The Holy Spirit’s part is drawing men and women to Jesus. In John 5:19, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son of Man can do nothing of His own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” Our job as witnesses is to simply follow Jesus’ example—to only do what the Father is already doing. So watch and see where God is already at work, and then join him there.
Through each of these five means of growth (reading the Bible, prayer, worship, fellowship, and witness), may we be strengthened and grow in our faith. May it be that when the next year comes, we are different people than we were the year before. And may we do so for the glory of our King Jesus and persevere to the end so we can say like Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
John Sorensen (Doctorate of Divinity, Knox Theological Seminary & Doctor of Humane Letters, Montreat College) is the president of Evangelism Explosion International (www.evangelismexplosion.org) and host of Share Life Today (www.sharelife.today). Sorensen has authored the books Well Done and Your Story Counts and travels the globe for Evangelism Explosion. This past year Evangelism Explosion International equipped more than 435,000 Christians worldwide to be witnesses for Christ, and saw, by the grace of God, more than 7.9 million people make a profession of faith in Jesus. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife, Ann, and he has four adult children and six grandchildren.