New Year? Time to Reflect
Usually, when a new year rings in, it gives me an opportunity to reflect on the previous year. Looking back at 2018, I examine what has changed, not just in regards to what has happened FOR me but IN me.
One unexpected word that comes to mind is contentment. No one is more surprised than I am that this would be something that describes me inwardly. I have always been driven by a vigorous “wanting” nature. I want what I want. No matter how hard I have tried in the past to “want” less, it has proved nearly impossible to tame.
Self-will is at the root of my “wanting”. There is no denying that. But even when I knew it was from my own sinful nature, it seemed stubbornly persistent which made me feel helpless against it. With all my effort, I could not uproot this harmful tendency I found in myself.
The irony was that by my own self-will, I could not subdue my selfish will.The irony was that by my own self-will, I could not subdue my selfish will. Click To Tweet
But oh what God does when we are least aware!
The Unseen, Powerful, Progressive Work of God
As 2018 progressed, I noticed that I was becoming more at ease, less fretful over what was happening or not happening according to my plan. In reality, I became aware that I really didn’t HAVE a plan anymore. I was more than happy to NOT be in charge any longer but rather, look for God to lead.
Surrender your anxiety! Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God. Ps. 46:10 TPT
Mind you this did not happen with my focused effort. I did not “will” this change in myself. For years I had tried to “be still” (the NIV translation of cease striving) but with little success. This change took place through the way it is intended to take place- as a by-product of a relationship with Christ.
First Things First
The way I experienced progress with contentment was through my trust of God growing. Trust increased as I paid less attention to the fruit of faith and more attention to the object of my faith- Christ. Instead of prioritizing how I needed to change or grow, I focused on enjoying Jesus as I spent time with Him. The more I learned of Him, the more I grew to love Him. The more I loved Him, the more I trusted Him.
This reminds me of what I learned as a young mom, desperately wanting to grow in patience. It seemed the more I tried to be patient with my little ones, the worse I became. God taught me a valuable lesson back then that explained what happened last year as I grew more contented.
God did not want me to USE Him for the sake of bearing greater fruit of the Spirit. Fruitfulness, even Christlikeness, isn’t supposed to be our primary, all-consuming goal. It is meant to be the by-product of what naturally occurs through a personal, intimate relationship with God.
Fruitfulness, even Christlikeness, isn’t supposed to be our primary, all-consuming goal. It is meant to be the by-product of what naturally occurs through a personal, intimate relationship with God.
As I have said in previous posts, I can be goal oriented to a fault. Christ taught me that growing in faith should not be my goal as much as Christ Himself, for the sake of relishing who He is! The priority of following hard after Jesus is because of who He is, not what He can do for me.
If I am wanting more of Jesus in order to become more patient, kind, contented, self-controlled…… then that is manipulation, not adoration. The Bible declares that our two main priorities are to love God and others (Matt. 22:37-40 NIV ), not sanctify ourselves, even for the best of intentions.
It is God’s work in us that brings about our greatest change. When we focus on what we are supposed to focus on, then it is His responsibility for the rest. Thus, our sanctification, our bearing fruit, happens from His effort, not our own. We do have the responsibility to cooperate with His work but we are mindful that it is through His initiative and power, not ours.
This is actually a wonderful grace to us. We do not have to work at our faith as much as God invites us to enjoy it! When our adoration of God grows, our selfish nature naturally diminishes. One love triumphs over another. Our love of Christ gives us victory over our love of self. Perfect love casts out fear, therefore, our trust in God flourishes.One love triumphs over another. Our love of Christ gives us victory over our love of self! Click To Tweet
The Beauty of Thriving Faith
The surprising secret for thriving faith is to understand our part compared to God’s. We are to focus on growing in love while God bears the fruit from that. Matthew 6:33 MSG explains our understanding of God’s responsibility compared to ours.
“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
As we love God, we trust Him more and more. In this process, our faith begins to thrive even as our self-nature dies. I have heard it said many times that what we focus on grows. Feed what we want to grow. So by feeding our love for God, our fruitfulness and Christlikeness will naturally increase, overtaking our selfish nature. What we are powerless to subdue begins to whither naturally, almost effortlessly.
Maturity in faith was never meant to progress through self-effort. The Gospel applies to our sanctification, maturity in faith, as much as our salvation.
The Surprising Relief
Because the Lord is our Shepherd, we shall not want…… to our own utter amazement! He knows how to lead us, protect us, transform us, challenge us, and correct us. The glorious reality is that our “wants” decrease as He increases in our lives. I did not experience contentment because I worked hard enough to become that way but because I became so satisfied with my wonderful Shepherd. A thriving faith satisfies as nothing else can! That is what ultimately leads to unimaginable contentment.
So as 2018 ends, I rejoice once again in the work of Christ on my behalf. It makes me ‘Godfident’ that 2019 will be fruitful, I will be edified, God will be glorified, all because that is what He is in charge of, not me. I get to rejoice in His love and faithfulness. What a glorious inheritance through Christ!!
What about you? Are you frustrated over besetting sin that hinders your spiritual maturity? Are you less than satisfied in your faith? Do you want a thriving faith for 2019? Then refocus your efforts on enjoying Christ for the motive that He can become your very favorite thing in the whole world. As you spend time daily with Him, do this without your own personal agenda. Allow this time to be one of sweet intimacy where you grow in your knowledge of God, leading you to grow in your love of God. Ask for a passion for God and His Word each day this year and you will be AMAZED at the changes God brings about in you and for you.
For more tips on how to enjoy your faith, check out my link below that details ten ways to follow hard after Christ for all that He is. These are ways in which I daily enjoy my relationship with the Lord and I know they can help you too!
Happy New Year friends!