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06 January, 2014

SEVEN SIMPLE PRIORITIES COULD MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE IN 2014

The holidays are over, family and friends have returned home, the trappings of Christmas have been put away for another year (unless you are married to a child of the Ukraine like me) and now its time to go back to work and school.  In a way, that is kind of depressing, isn't it.

And even more depressing than that are the new year’s resolutions we make and then so quickly break. We make a lot of resolutions and promises to ourselves at this time of year, right?  And then we promptly go about breaking every one of them in a matter of mere days.

An old Irish New Year’s toast goes like this, “May all your troubles in the coming year be as short as your New Year’s resolutions.”  I would really like to think more positively than that however.

God offers us more hope than that. In 2 Cor. 5:17, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

A new calendar tells us that we have been given a fresh gift to build and change our lives. Every new year and every new day is an opportunity make it better than the day before and the year before.  We would do well to make a commitment to focus more on spiritual things in this new year.

I do not hesitate to say that our focus and priorities should no longer be centered in the things of this earth, but on the things of God. This, of course, is a very real challenge, because we still have to live in the real world, with all of its stresses and struggles.

Focusing on spiritual things does not remove the stress and struggle altogether, but it certainly makes a huge difference in our ability to both survive and thrive.  In trying to live a more spiritually focused life in the new year, I emphasize seven practical priorities for serious consideration. I'd call them "resolutions", but then we might not keep them.

Priority #1 - Forget About Yesterday
The Apostle Paul wrote, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14).  It should be understood that Paul was a man who had some things from his past that could haunt him if he let them. He had made some terrible mistakes that brought great suffering to others.

There is not one of us who doesn’t have something negative in our past that could immobilize us.  Failures, hurts, disappointments happen to all of us.  But God does not want us dwelling on them, rather He would have us come to Him for forgiveness and healing of the pain and regret of yesterday.

It is God’s gift to us that we can walk in newness of life, that we can forget those things in the past and live in the present.  So that’s a good place for us to start the new year, to forget about yesterday.

Priority #2 -- Don't worry about tomorrow
I know that forgetting about tomorrow is easier said than done.  Tomorrow can be so overwhelming with the potential for pain and insufficiency.

Jesus gave us this prescription, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you, by worrying, can add a single hour to his life?...So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Those words were taken from Matthew 6.

I’m not trying to pretend that any of this is easy, but I am certain that there is no better way.  Corrie Ten Boom, who had suffered greatly in her life said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of sorrows; it empties today of strength.”

Whatever we face in this new year, we will be better off if we make it a priority to forget the past, and not worry about the future.

Priority #3 - Make Today Count
The famous funny man, Groucho Marx, said, “Yesterday is gone - tomorrow isn’t here yet. I have just one day - today - and I can choose how I shall be! And I choose to be happy!!”  The only day we have and literally the only moment we have is now.  We are not promised tomorrow, nor even the rest of today!

Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  As we try to take life one day at a time, and make each day count, we can free ourselves from the burden of the past, and the worry of the future.

The following four priorities are really ways to make each day count.

Priority #4 - Help Every Person You Can
When we focus all our attention on ourselves, we get lost in our struggles, but when we turn our attention outward, we realize the tremendous blessing of helping others.  Every person we encounter is facing some kind of challenge, or is carrying some kind of heartache.  Our own personal struggles or heartaches may be bigger or smaller than theirs, but it makes no difference.

If we seek to be a blessing to everyone we meet, then both of us will be blessed.  Paul again wrote in Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”   In the chapter before that one, Paul beautifully summarized the Christian life with these words, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

Isn’t that good?  What a great year and great life we can live if we focus on others and attempt to help every person we can!  Come on now...How difficult can that be?

Priority #5 - Keep Your Heart Pure
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”   Any mechanic ill tell you that a clean engine runs better and delivers more power than a dirty one. The same is true of a pure heart.  We make a terrible mistake when we collect and retain all kinds of garbage in our hearts.

Think of things like evil desires, resentments, jealousy, hatred and thoughts of revenge.  These things eat away at us like a cancer. They poison our hearts and block our ability to see God and experience a vibrant spiritual life.

It was also Paul who wrote, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Again, I’m not trying to say that any of this is easy.  In Romans 7, Paul talked about his very real struggle to do what he knew was right. I can testify to how difficult it is for me to keep my heart and life pure, but this must be our ongoing priority. If we give into temptation and evil, and allow it to take up residence in our hearts, then our entire lives will be harmed and hindered.

But just as Paul concluded, I believe that God will give us the relief and the resources we need to develop a pure heart and life. Thank God there is hope for us.

Priority #6 - Renew Your Strength Daily
One of my favorite passages is Isaiah 40:28-31, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

I don’t know about you, but I need some of that!  Just as our bodies require daily nourishment from food and water, so does our spirit.  We need daily nourishment for our souls.

Priority #7 - Act on God’s Promises and Commands

In Philippians 4:9, Paul summarized his instructions to the Philippine Christians, saying, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”  There is no substitute for faith and obedience.

As we move into this new year, let’s make it a priority to claim God’s promises and in so doing walk by faith.  The old Nike commercial, “Just Do It,” is a good recipe when it comes to acting on the forgoing Seven Priorities in the next 12 months.

Be the best you can be, dear reader...and have the best year of your life while you are at it!

Acknowledgments:  David Garrett and David Owens

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