Regardless of your experience with and possible distaste for the practice of resolution-making, we can agree that Christians are called to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The installation, strengthening, or adjusting of biblically endorsed disciplines for that purpose are, perhaps then, well-worth the effort. There’s nothing that says they have to start on January 1st, but January 1st is as good a day as any!
To that end, here’s a short list of possibilities to prayerfully consider as 2021 begins.
Read the Bible
The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;Psalm 19:7–10
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
If the word of God is what it says it is (perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, and desirable), and if it does what it claims it does (brings restoration, wisdom, joy, and illumination), then we need more of it and never less!
Perhaps this is the year you determine to start reading the Bible for the first time. If that’s you, I recommend the gospels of Mark or John. Or, maybe you’ve never before read the entirety of God’s word and you want to check that off your to-do list. Alternatively, you’ve read Scripture a number of times and, this year, you’re seeking a novel approach.
May 2021 be the year we all get more of the word inside our minds!
Memorize the Word of God
I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified.Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life
Add to Swindoll’s wise words those of the apostle Paul: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” (Colossians 3:16a).
If you’ve never committed yourself to the habit of Scripture memory, perhaps this year is your year! The Navigator’s Topical Memory System is a tried and tested aid for this very worthwhile endeavour.
Paul commands us to “Devote yourselves to prayer” (Colossians 4:2) and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). James tells us to “pray for one another” (5:17) and the author of Hebrews encourages us to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace” (4:16).
If we want to grow in Christlikeness, become stronger and more rooted in our faith, and increase our usefulness to God for his glory, we must be a people of prayer. Here are a couple of suggestions that may help you pray in 2021.
First, pray the prayers of the Bible back to God. For starters, try praying the Psalms. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “The Psalter is the great school of prayer.” (Think about this: The Psalms is the only book of the Bible written both to us and to God!) After you’ve exhausted this Old Testament poetic book, make your way through the prayers of Christ in the gospels or the prayers of the apostles in the epistles. There’s lots of material and, if you’re still unsure as to how to pray the words of the Bible, try this resource.
Second, maybe pick up a copy of a book that records the prayers of believers that have gone before us. Not only will you likely find their prayers inspiring and formative for your own, but there’s comfort and perspective in realizing that there’s a lot of the Christian life that transcends the eras.
Let’s be a people of prayer in 2021, even more than we have been.
Connect with Your Church Family
… let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.Hebrews 10:24–25
At least at the outset of 2021, the coronavirus is still throwing a wrench into many church fellowship plans. However, this reality doesn’t dampen the need for such togetherness, mutual encouragement, corporate edification, and personal interaction. If anything, it has only served to highlight the necessity of gathering for these purposes!
How can you better connect with your brothers and sisters in Christ this coming year? Perhaps in the months ahead you find a mentor and mentee in your church family, someone with whom you can walk alongside, pray with and for, and talk about spiritual things. Maybe you join a (virtual?) small group or decide that you’re going to simply pick up your phone and call—yes, phone call—your way through the church directory … even the people you don’t yet know that well.
At minimum, I’ll encourage you to avoid “forsaking [your] own assembling together,” that is, prioritize the gathering of the whole church for the purposes of worship as God has prescribed it—whatever that may look like during these days. Said more simply: Go to church!
The bottom line is, the task of connecting with your church family can take a variety of forms. Be creative! But, no matter what method you choose, know that you will not be disappointed.
Worship with Your Family
I’ve written about this here but, in short, we must take care to not forget that the primary vehicle for evangelism and discipleship is the home.
As a parent myself I need to come to terms with the fact that the church Sunday School teacher is not going to stand before the Lord and given an account for my children. I am. This is a stewardship my wife and I must take seriously and avoid the temptation to outsource the faith of our children to others. One possible way we can do that is to worship together as a family. (This is true for families of all shapes and sizes, kids or no kids!)
Maybe 2021 is the year family devotions make a comeback or become slightly more regular. Perhaps praying as a couple or as a family becomes part of the weekly rhythm of the home. Whatever it looks like for you and yours, consider some form of family worship this year, one that fits your home and the people inside.
Share Your Faith
But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.2 Timothy 4:5
You can picture them in your mind as you read this sentence. That person at work, that family member, that classmate, or that person at your gym with whom you’ve been developing a relationship. Or maybe it’s your boss, your teacher, your mechanic, your accountant, your lawyer, your children, your spouse. Picture that person right now.
Perhaps 2021 is the year you take the step of faith, bring up issues of spiritual importance, and lovingly share with them the reason for the hope that you have. If you’re unsure as to how to make this happen, check out these resources on our website or those at Evantell.
Increase Your Giving
Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.2 Corinthians 9:7
There are many reasons to develop the worshipful habit of sacrificial giving to the church. For example, it’s one way we can combat the perennial idol of materialism from gripping our hearts. (If we give it away, it’s hard to worship it!) Another reason is that it can be a declaration of trust in a God who has promised to provide for all our needs. (It’s hard for some people to trust God when they also trust their bank account.)
If you’ve never made it a habit to joyfully give, I’ll encourage you to start. If sacrificially giving is already part of your spiritual discipline tool-bag, then perhaps ratchet it up 1-percent in 2021. Trust God and give joyfully.
Read Good Books
As the old saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.” What we allow to fill our minds colours what flows from our mouths (and actions). As Christ said, “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man” (Matthew 15:11).
What are the most significant sources of ideological input in your life? Netflix? YouTube? CNN? People’s Magazine? (Do they still make those?) To what voices are we giving the privilege of shaping our thoughts, attitudes, habits, and relationships?
As Christians we should be reading, memorizing, and sitting under the preached word every week. But even if we combined all of that time, that’s likely only four or five hours. Surely Paul had more in mind when he implored us to “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).
Reading good books can help even the playing field. Canadian blogger, Tim Challies, puts out a Reading Challenge every year that may make this habit more obtainable and feasible. Even if your goal is to read three more books in 2021 than you did in 2020, good for you! I’d add, though, make ’em count!