Preparing for the New Year – Building Spiritual Habits – Scripture

The calendar is not so important to God as it is to us. We tend to use months and years and special dates such as birthdays and anniversaries as times to begin changes in our lives. Case in point: New Year’s resolutions. However, most resolutions seem to fail. They may start out well, but they don’t last. Part of the reason is there isn’t any preparation behind the resolution. For instance, someone who plans on quitting smoking on January 1 doesn’t stand a good chance if that person hasn’t already started cutting back beforehand. Spiritually, we’re the same way. I know a lot of folks have made resolutions to read the Bible through in a year, to improve their prayer lives, to have better attend church, and a whole host of other “self-improvements.” I’ve been there and made those same types of resolutions. What I have found, however, is that without some dedicated preparation, my resolutions fail. I start out strong, but as time passes I slowly place less emphasis on whatever the resolution was. And I can make all the excuses I want, but the fact of the matter is I failed. Notice the word *I*. We’ll come back to that. But before we do, let’s look at a picture of how we should be before God:

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God?

– Psalm 42:1-2, NASB

This is a well known set of verses. There have been several songs and hymns based upon them. Most pastors have used these verses at some point in their sermons. It’s a beautiful word picture of how we should desire God. To fulfill this picture, though, it means we have to be diligent in a few areas of our spiritual lives. We’ll look at an area each day for the rest of the week. Today is Scripture. We need to become dedicated readers and students of Scripture. We need to know Scripture. We need to make it an integral part of our lives. We must give up the excuses. The interesting thing about excuses is they often center on *I* (I told you we’d come back to it). A couple I hear a lot are: “But I don’t like reading,” and “I’m no student.” Another one is about time. But that’s a whole different area we’ll look at later this week, so I’ll leave that be for now. Here’s the catch: we can’t be diligent readers and students of Scripture entirely on our own. Our fleshly side doesn’t want anything to do with God’s Word because it’s convicting. It’s humbling. It exalts God and not us. But if we want to be like those first two verses in Psalm 42, we can be studious when it comes to God’s Word. The thing is we have to stop relying on ourselves and start relying on God. We’ve got to trust an important promise He gives us in His Beatitudes:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. – Matthew 5:6, NASB

If we hunger and thirst for righteousness, God promises to fill us. It’s not about what we do. It’s not about our own abilities. It’s about relying on God. Now don’t get me wrong. We must still do our part. We must be at the panting and thirsting stage. We must earnestly (from our hearts) want to be a student of Scripture. And we’ve got to put aside the excuses and take responsibility for this aspect of our lives. After all, Scripture is crucial for us to live out our lives in a way that is pleasing and holy to God. Scripture is so important that God has deemed that not only should we learn it, we should make every effort to teach it to the next generation.

For He established a testimony in Jacob
And appointed a law in Israel,
Which He commanded our fathers
That they should teach them to their children,
That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born,
That they may arise and tell them to their children,
That they should put their confidence in God
And not forget the works of God,
But keep His commandments,
– Psalm 78:5-7, NASB

According to Psalm 78, Scripture does several things for us. First, it gives us a testimony about God. We learn who He is, what He loves, what He expects of us, and what He has done. Second, it gives us a confidence in God. As we learn more about God and who He is, we learn that we can trust Him more and more and more. We learn He is all powerful. We learn He stands for goodness and righteousness. We learn He is a God of justice and He hears the cries of His people. We also learn He is merciful and blesses us in spite of our sins. And all of that helps us walk by faith. When the world doesn’t see the path God calls us to, we know it’ll be fine because Scripture testifies that God will take care of us. Finally, Scripture helps us walk with God. It teaches us what is right. The Holy Spirit will use the Scriptures we have learned to help us in our decision making and to convict us of sin (even if it’s still in the mind’s eye). Scripture is absolutely essential for our lives. And it should be a daily habit.

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.

– Psalm 1:1-2, NASB

Studying the Scriptures isn’t just a Sunday morning thing. It’s not just a Sunday morning and evening thing. And it’s definitely not just a Sundays and Wednesdays thing. Scripture is an every day thing. According to Psalm 1 it’s a day and night thing. In other words, we should always be studying and thinking about Scripture. The great Christian writer and theologian and professor, J.I. Packer, points out in Knowing God that many Christians don’t meditate on God’s Word nowadays. And that’s a problem. As we prepare for the new year, we should think about how much time we spend in Scripture. We should be reading and thinking about Scripture each day. And not just for 15 minutes here or there, but that’s a good start. There are plenty of resources available to help us with this, too. There are Bible reading guides all over the Internet that’ll get us through the entire Bible in a year, or even in as short a time as 60 days. The former takes about 15 minutes a day. There is the Bible on CD. Some radio stations read through the Bible each day for 15 minutes a day. And we can purchase a special Bible in a Year or Chronological Bible in a Year if that’ll help. The tools are there. It’s up to use them. If we are to be a deer thirsting for God, we’ve got to make the study of Scripture a daily priority in our lives.

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