Four Keys to Your Best Year Ever

Best Year Ever LOGO(Note: This article is a summary of the “Best Year Ever” series I preached to The Exchange student ministry at Movement Church in Akron, Ohio.)

Let me ask you a question: Why can’t 2016 be the best year of your life?

Let me be more specific.  In light of the fact that God’s promises include things like “surely I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20), “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God” (Romans 8:28), and “For I know the plans I have for you…They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11), why can’t 2016 be the best year of your life?

It can be.

While I can’t guarantee you will have your best year ever (there are many things outside of your control), I can guarantee that it’s possible.  Here are a few things you can do to get off to a strong start in 2016.

1. Give God your best.

God tends to bless those who honor him with their very best.  We have all been given resources — time, talent, and treasure — and what we do with those resources can tell us a lot about the status of our own hearts, as well as whether or not God finds our life-offerings acceptable.

God has made it clear that we are stewards who have been given the responsibility of managing his resources.  After all, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him” (Psalm 24:1). So it doesn’t make sense to think that God would look favorably on our leftovers.  We’re called to give God our best, in part, because acceptable worship begins with the understanding that the things we own aren’t ours to begin with.

Evaluating our lives to see where we’ve been giving him our leftovers is a great place to start making changes this year.

2. Be faithful with the little things.

Have you ever watched the Adam Sandler movie “Click”?  It’s about a businessman who routinely ignores his family for the sake of the next big deal or promotion, and the problems that result from focusing his attention on the wrong things.

He stumbles upon a magic remote in the “Beyond” section of Bed Bath & Beyond that allows him to control his life as if it’s a TV show on his DVR, which only amplifies his problems.  The remote starts fast forwarding through the small things in life (read: family time) to get to the major milestones (read: corporate accomplishments), and by the time he’s old and gray he’s wealthy beyond imagination but his family life is in shambles.

Here’s the principle: One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to think the little things are a waste of time.  Just because they’re small doesn’t mean they’re insignificant.

Think about it.  The majority of your life is spent doing little things.  Eating.  Homework.  Menial tasks at work.  Time with family.  Praying.  Reading the Bible.  Paying bills.  If they make up the majority of your life, how can they possibly be unimportant?

Let’s use bills as a more extended example.  I live in Ohio, where the weather is brutal and cold in the winter.  Is my gas bill a little thing?  Sure it is.  But if I ignore that little thing for too long and the gas company shuts off my heat, I’ll quickly realize just how significant that little piece of paper is.

Remember what Jesus said:

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.” –Luke 16:10

God knows that the big moments are few and far between, so this year we need to be more faithful with the little things he’s already given us if we want to experience even greater things.

3. Make God the center of your life, not the top of your list.

Priorities are important.  They help guide our decisions by showing us what deserves attention in our lives.  To have the best year ever I believe we need to have our priorities in order.

But one of the problems with the way we prioritize is that we often put our priorities on a list.  God at the top, family next, then friends, then work, and so on.  The problem I have with this way of prioritizing is that it makes God seem like an item we can just check off our list.  It’s as if we can get up in the morning, read our Bible and pray, then set God aside so we can move on to other things.

That’s why I’m a big fan of the prioritization model that looks more like a wagon wheel, where God is at the center and the rest of life’s priorities are the various spokes.  The spokes are all connected to the center, and without the center in place the whole wheel becomes unstable.

The Bible is clear that God wants to be the center of our lives, not just the top of our list.  He doesn’t want to be checked off and forgotten, but as the Creator and Sustainer of life he wants to be invited into everyday activities to be an influential part of everything we do.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:31:

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God”

One final thought on this: Your priorities aren’t what you write down; your priorities are what you do.  If you say your family is a priority but don’t spend any quality time with them, for example, then you’re just lying to yourself.  Gandhi said it this way: “Action expresses priorities.”

4. Develop endurance.

Just one week into the new year, one-in-four people (25%) who made New Year’s resolutions have already quit on their goals, according to StatisticBrain.com.  After a month that number leaps up to more than one-in-three (36%).

The problem, I suspect, is one of endurance.  People set their goals in a moment of positivity, but when they’re confronted by an obstacle or challenge (which could be as simple as “I’m too tired today,” because we’re human) they give up.

But pressing on not only puts you in the position to continue pursuing your goals, but it also builds your faith and prepares you to endure greater challenges (and move to greater heights) in the future.

James, the half brother of Jesus, wrote:

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”  –James 1:2-4

Listen: You can’t grow without resistance.  Trying to grow without resistance is like trying be a body builder without lifting weights.  People, like muscles, don’t grow unless they face, and endure, some kind of struggle.  And in Christ the key to endurance is not just plowing through the problem, but leaning on God as he gives you the strength to make it through.

So start embracing your struggles, not because you should enjoy pain, but because you know that when you depend on God to get through tough times your faith has a chance to grow.

What are some other things you think we can do to make 2016 the best year of our lives?  Leave your response in the comments!

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The Motions

matthew-west40217

In May 2007, Christian music star Matthew West underwent vocal surgery that threatened his career as a singer.  The music video (see end of post) for his song, “The Motions,” shows West apparently voiceless in the time after his surgery, communicating via dry-erase board and asking questions like, “What if my voice sounds different?” and making statements such as, “I hate letting people down.”

The song isn’t new, but how appropriate it is for those of us who are hoping to make some changes in the new year!  The chorus is as follows:

I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
Without your all consuming passion inside of me
I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking
What if I had given everything?
Instead of going through the motions

The book of Malachi, which many church’s seem to have reduced to a book about tithing, seems to have a theme similar to that of West’s song.  It is a challenging and convicting piece of Old Testament prophecy that is both fierce and direct, bold and succinct.

At it’s core, I think Malachi is a call to give God our very best in everything, but that only happens after we realize that just going through the motions is not enough.

The prophet introduces us to an Israel that was under the illusion that they could just worship out of habit without putting any heart behind it.  They thought they were being obedient by offering sacrifices, but they failed to offer the cream of the crop that God had commanded them to give.  They offered crippled, blind, and even stolen animals as “sacrifices” to God, and in doing so failed to connect with the heart of God.

God challenges their thinking, and exclaims, “Try giving gifts like that to your governor, and see how pleased he is!” (Malachi 1:8) — Insert mic drop here!  In our context, the equivalent would be God saying something like, “Try giving the President of the United States half-eaten, stale birthday cake as a gift and see if he’s happy to receive it!”

Understand: Giving away your leftovers doesn’t require sacrifice.

God then takes things a step further when he says things like “How I wish one of you would shut the Temple doors so that these worthless sacrifices could not be offered!” and “Cursed is the cheat who promises to give a fine ram from his flock but then sacrifices a defective one to the Lord.”

The language is strong, but let’s take a step back and reflect.  As believers in Christ, Paul says we’re called not to sacrifice animals but to treat our lives as a “living and holy sacrifice” to God (Romans 12:1).  More than that, though, he writes that this sacrifice should be of “the kind he will find acceptable.”

So the question has to be asked: Am I giving God my best, or am I giving him my leftovers?  Is he getting the best of my time, the “first fruits” of my income, my best effort in service, and the whole of my heart in worship?  Or has my worship become nothing more than a habit, a series of things that I do because I’ve always done them before?  Am I just going through the motions?

God has given us his very best, and we’ll be blessed for offering our best in return.