Happy New Year! Starting off a new year, people often make resolutions that quickly fade. Even in my (Aaron) own life, I have made some resolutions of which I quickly failed at. I rarely make resolutions for the New Year any more, but the reason may not be what you think. I think the best time for self-examination and self-reflection is all the time, not just at the beginning of a new year.
2013 brought several points of self-examination for me, of which the Lord is graciously keeping me and growing me in. As I stated above, I believe the best time for self-examination and self-reflection is ongoing. It seems to be that in today’s evangelical world, self-examination and self-reflection aren’t what they used to be. When I say “self-examination” and “self-reflection”, I don’t merely mean looking inward at oneself. I also mean what David means in Psalm 139:24:
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me, and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (ESV)
I recently preached a sermon birthed out of my blog about what True Christianity is (read here). I preached from Jude, and while preparing for Jude, I noticed in Jude a contrast within the letter. Jude says in v. 1, “to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ (ESV, emphasis mine)”. Again, in v. 24, Jude says, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy…(ESV, emphasis mine)”. Jude says, as a point of countering false teachers and false ideologies, in v. 21, “keep yourselves in the love of God (ESV, emphasis mine)”.
Do you see the contrast? Jude, for as small as it is, is weighty doctrinally. Jude is assuming the basic doctrine of perseverance of the saints! We are kept, by God’s grace, so that we will keep ourselves in Him! Paul says this about himself in 1 Corinthians 15:10:
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me (ESV, emphasis mine)”.
Jude’s point? Paul’s point? God preserves us, so that we will persevere! That is the emphasis of the Psalm 139 reflection – that God would search us, that He would find the sin that is deep in the dark corners and crevices of our lives, that He would lead us in the Way everlasting! Our growth, our perseverance, our ability to keep ourselves in God, is absolutely by God’s grace. But it is God’s grace that gives us the ability to grow, to work hard in our spiritual lives, to mature, to become like Christ. Those are things we do. We work hard, we mature, we become like Christ, through the power of God’s grace which fuels our gospel-driven effort.
What’s this to do with reflection on 2013? What’s this to do with looking at 2014? God’s grace. Samuel, in 1 Samuel 7:12, set up a remembrance stone, and he called it an Ebenezer, because “Till now the Lord has helped us (ESV)”. It was God’s grace which brought the Israelites to where they were, and Samuel wanted the Israelites to be able to look back and see God’s faithfulness and His grace. In 2013, I have some “Ebenezer’s” I would like to share.
1. God’s Grace was Sufficient to Help Me Lead My Family
Early 2013, my wife and I began to prepare for adoption. This wasn’t because of any problems of our own, but because God had been (and still is!) wrenching on our hearts for children who are parentless. Shortly after we began praying through this process and looking into it, we found out we were expecting our second child, now with us, Elijah James (and what a blessing he is!).
Elijah was born 5 weeks early, with no major developmental complications save for some weak lungs. He was in the NICU (ICU for babies) for 2 weeks. These two weeks were a blur. My wife and I were wrecked. We cried together when she was released and we had to leave the hospital where our son still was. We are thankful that he is fine now and you wouldn’t even know he was there! God certainly gave me strength and was my portion (Psalm 73:25-26) during that time, and His grace empowered me to lead my family and be strong during that time.
2. God’s Grace was Sufficient to Help Me Lead in My Church
When 2013 began, I looked back at a difficult 2012. Shortly before 2012 began, I began a new ministry role as Family Pastor, which essentially meant I was overseeing both Children’s work and Youth work in our church. This had been a tough transition, and with the help of some really faithful and godly volunteers, we tried some things (which failed miserably), and tried some new things, and tried even some more new things. Also in 2012, my personal life took a hit early on when my father passed away on December 27, 2011. When 2012 began, I was in Florida with my wife, our three month old daughter Ava Grace, and the rest on my family grieving his death after a battle with lung cancer.
Even now, typing this blog, I am teary eyed thinking of God’s grace and seeing that it truly was the Lord that has brought us as a church to where we are now beginning 2014. Our Children’s ministry is experiencing solid growth and our youth ministry is able to focus on discipleship for the new students we have gained in the past few years. I have never been more hopeful and secure that God has placed me in the right place, not because I’m special, but because He is working through me.
3. God’s Grace was Sufficient to Help Lead Me in School
I have been in college since 2005. Coming up on 10 years. TEN! I know, most of you may be thinking of the Tommy Boy reference “lots of people graduate college in 10 years, they are called DOCTORS!” Yeah, I tell myself that everyday. But, some unforeseen things have happened in the past 8 1/2 years – I had a really prideful attitude early on, one that made me goof off much of my first 2 years; I had a full time job, which was managing a bookstore, and it was difficult to balance with school; I got married 4 1/2 years ago, and we had our first child 2 years ago; I took 2 years off; I only took 1 or 2 classes for 4 semesters; etc. Enough of the excuses. But 2013 was the first time I attempted to go back full-time.
I see the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”. It was difficult, but the grace of God, coupled with a gracious wife (and patient!), saw me through a very busy schedule for 2013. I pray the same for 2014!
So, what about 2014?
I am confident even more than I was last year. Why? I see how God has orchestrated and directed every single step of the way, and brought us here by His grace. But it was not without effort! 2014 may be challenging, we may experience failures and disappointments, but God is still working! I have never been so confident (not that I was a doubter) that Philippians 1:6 holds true:
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (ESV)”.
For 2014, I have some goals (I prefer to say goals, sounds less cheesy than resolutions):
1. By God’s grace and my faithful effort, I want to become a better husband and father, shepherding my family into mature hood in Christ.
2. By God’s grace and my faithful effort, I want to become a more diligent reader, reading things which broaden my knowledge of the world and of God.
3. By God’s grace and my faithful effort, I want to shepherd and lead the flock of God with ever-increasing passion, zeal, and commitment to Christ and His church.
To close, I encourage you, self-reflect, self-reflect, self-reflect! Let’s be on our knees, praying over and over Psalm 139, asking God to search us and grow us. Look back many times as a reminder to see how faithful our God is to His people and to His promises. And look forward to this new year with great anticipation, knowing that God wants our ever-increasing joy in Him, and trusting that He will never leave us or forsake us!
Have a comment? Have your own Ebenezer’s? Have your own goals? We would love to hear from you!
Post Written By: Aaron Hale