One question as we begin a new year: “How can I strengthen my relationship with God?”
Psalm one gets straight to the point: “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” (Psalm 1:1-3)
Abundant joy is promised for making good choices: Like trees you bear much fruit, your leaves never wither and you prosper in all you do.
“But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly.” (4-5) There is pain and disappointment. You are like worthless shells, good for nothing.
Psalm One provides words of encouragement and words of warning. Do you delight in strengthening your relationship with God? Building a strong foundation is important. “For the Lord watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.” (6)
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church also believed in a solid foundation spending many hours in prayer. Wesley frequently used questions to challenge himself:
- Am I creating the impression that I’m a better person than I really am?
- Do I laugh at the mistakes of others, reveling in their errors and misfortunes?
- Do I insist on having my own way?
- Is there a tendency for me to put others down?
- Do I pass on to others what is told to me in confidence?
- Am I thoughtful in expressing “thanks” to people?
- Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
- Am I self-conscious, self-pitying or self-justifying?
Acting better than I really am. Reveling in the errors and misfortunes of others. Insisting on having my own way. Putting down others. Addicted to work or habits. Being self-conscious or self-justifying.
How did you do? Sigh… I mess-up too. We come up short when answering questions like these. We can do better. We can improve. The next set of questions also adapted from questions of John Wesley focus on specifics about your relationship and service of God.
- Did the Bible live in me yesterday?
- Did I disobey God in anything yesterday?
- Did I insist on doing something about which my conscience was uneasy?
- Did I handle discouragement well or did I have to be coddled?
- Am I enjoying prayer?
- When did I last speak to someone about Christ?
- Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize or hold resentment toward?
- Is Christ real to me?
Rather than feel guilty for what I am not doing, I want to use the questions to remind me of things I can do today. How can the Bible live in me today? How can I obey God today? How can I listen more carefully to my conscience? How can I be an encourager rather than constantly needing encouragement? How can I better enjoy my prayer life? Who can I speak to about Jesus? How can I better resolve my difficulties with others? How can Jesus be more real to me today?
“Precious Lord, help me learn to let the Bible live in me. Help me obey You in everything. Help me follow my conscience more closely. Give me the wisdom and strength to handle discouragement. Help me to enjoy my prayer time with You. Give me courage to speak to others about Your amazing love and grace. Teach me to lovingly approach those I fear, dislike, disown, criticize or hold resentment toward. Help me to be more real, like you. Amen.”
How can I strengthen my relationship with God this year?
Psalm One provides encouragement and a warning. The questions of John Wesley provide direction. This year, I will be working on both. I expect to come up short but I will earnestly strive for improvement and rely on God’s grace to see me through. Instead of feeling discouraged at my shortcomings, I will be encouraged by my growth.