Welcome to church & to 2023!
Opening a fresh calendar is a wonderful time to reflect on both the blessings God has given in the past & look forward with anticipation (maybe trepidation?) about how He will continue His good work. The Scriptures invite us to do these things regularly. God calls us to ‘Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realise that Christ Jesus is in you– unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13v5). That is, God invites us to look for the evidence of faith in our lives. To look back & see what He’s already done – & see the presence of Christ within. With that self-examination, God also invites us to be ambitious. Never the selfish ambition of advancing our own agenda, prestige or comfort (Gal 5v20, Phil 2v3, James 3v14-16). But a Kingdom-centred ambition to advance Christ’s reputation & the salvation of others (Matthew 28v16-20, Romans 15v20). As a New Year begins, take this chance to notice with gratitude what God has done. With that, re-commit in 2023 to His cause. Do this in two ways.
First, Commit to gospel ambition. Take God’s priorities for this world & make them your personal priorities. Genuine reflection on the gospel challenges our natural ambitions & turns them upside down – eg. Suffering goes from ‘avoid at all costs’, to a means of refinement (1 Peter 1) & path to glory (Col 1, Phil 3). As a 21-year-old, Jonathan Edwards resolved the following, with regard to his ‘Overall Life Mission’ (he had 70 resolutions in total):
1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.
2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.
3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.
4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.
6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.
62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Ephesians 6v6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; “knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.”
Take one to ‘own yourself’ & let it shape your 2023.
Second, Draw on gospel resources. None of our ambition – no matter how godly – can be achieved in our strength alone. It is the active presence of Christ within. As you look to 2023, consider how you’ll draw on the power of the gospel. The image of Psalm 1 is that the godly person bears righteous fruit, because like a tree by a stream, they draw on the Word of God. The Scriptures are the resource we delight in. Plan how you’ll be refreshed by God’s word in the coming year, using this prayer: ‘Lord of the Word, don’t let me be seduced by the world – either naively going with the crowd or becoming a hardened cynic. Help me meditate on your Word to the point of delight. Give me stability & contentment regardless of the circumstances. How I need that! Amen’ (Timothy Keller)
Mark Smith | Senior Minister