January can be an opportunity given by God to start over. One question guides me: “How can I strengthen my relationship with God this year?”

Psalm one gets straight to the point when it comes to our relationship with God. Every day, we make choices. Will those choices be good or not…?

“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 and delight in strengthening their relationship with God. Like trees they bear much fruit, their leaves never wither and they prosper in all they 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)

Oh the pain when the choices you make are not good and avoid strengthening your relationship with God. You are like worthless shells, good for nothing meaningful.

“For the Lord watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.” (6)

Words of encouragement and words of warning, all in the same short passage. Do you delight in strengthening your relationship with God? Building a strong foundation is important.

John Wesley, the founder of the United Methodist Church also believed in a strong foundation and spent many hours in prayer. Wesley frequently used questions to challenge himself and others. I found an updated version of his questions:

• Am I consciously or unconsciously 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 so that I’ll be thought of more highly?
• Do I pass on to others what is told to me in confidence?
• Am I thoughtful in expressing “thanks” to people for what they’ve done for me, no matter how insignificant it seems?
• 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.

Sigh… I didn’t do well either. Everyone comes up short when it comes to truthfully answering questions like these. But I can do better. You can improve. Strengthening our relationship with God provides the help and encouragement needed to 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? If so, what am I doing about it?
• Is Christ real to me?

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. I want 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 can provide direction.

At the end of 2015, I will look at Psalm One and the questions of John Wesley again. I expect to come up short again but I should see improvement. Instead of feeling discouraged, I will be encouraged by my growth. Most of all, I will more closely feel the presence of God in my daily life.