This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Haggai 1:7 (NIV)
Once again, we find ourselves on the threshold of a new year. Traditionally, it is a time for making resolutions. Many of those resolutions will be cast aside by the middle of January. As I have previously written, I have found most New Year’s resolutions, however well-intentioned, ineffectual. We should begin immediately anytime we are aware of changes that need to be made, regardless of what the calendar tells us.
Whether you agree concerning the usefulness of New Year’s resolutions, the new year does represent a milestone that reflects the passage of time. A careful consideration of where we have been and what direction we are heading is warranted. The Message translation of our text reads: That’s why God-of-the-Angel-Armies said: “Take a good, hard look at your life. Think it over.” Socrates’ statement that “The unexamined life is not worth living” is too extreme. However, an unexamined life cannot reach the destiny that God has intended for it.
A Look in the Mirror
Self-examination is difficult. Our capacity for self-delusion is enormous. We often see what we want to see when we look in the mirror. As we get older, we are inclined to make statements such as, “I can’t believe how old people my age are!” Isn’t it much easier to examine other people than to look critically at ourselves?
Although there are many facets of life that we can consider for examination, we will limit ourselves to just two. Are we becoming more Christlike, and are we fulfilling the call that God has placed on our lives?
To Be like Jesus
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV)
Many families chart the growth progress of children’s height on door frames or walls. Perhaps yearly or another interval, a child will stand with their back to the wall (probably standing up as straight as possible) to measure growth. It can be a competition between siblings and, eventually, parents. There is pride in growth.
But continue to grow and increase in God’s grace and intimacy with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 3:18 (TPT)
Peter encourages us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Is there something like a mark on the wall that will indicate our spiritual growth? Oh, that it could be that simple.
The problem with spiritual growth is that it does not align well with self-awareness. As we become more Christlike, we become more aware of our shortcomings. Unlike the pride of a child who surpasses a sibling or a parent in height, pride in becoming Christlike is a contradiction.
Search Me, God
Examine me, and probe my thoughts! Test me, and know my concerns! Psalm 139:23 (NET)
Now that we have established that it is difficult to measure our own spiritual maturity, what can we do to see our progress? It is popular to say, “follow your heart.” Scripture belies that idea (Jeremiah 17:9, Matthew 15:19, Ecclesiastes 9:3).
We can deceive ourselves and even others, but God knows us better than we know ourselves. It can be very unsettling and even traumatic to ask God to examine our hearts and motives. Deep inside, we know when everything is not right with us.
In the same way that people who are not feeling well in their bodies are hesitant to be examined by a doctor, we might be reluctant to ask God to perform a spiritual MRI. But it is when we submit to the Holy Spirit and the word of God that we receive an accurate diagnosis of our condition.
We Need Each Other
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)
The apostle Paul undoubtedly experienced Christlike growth and maturity in his life, but nevertheless, after many years of ministry, he would still consider himself to be “the chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Inevitably, others will see our spiritual growth before we do. We cannot measure our spiritual growth in isolation. Spiritual growth requires community.
As we approach the end of this year, let us take inventory of our lives and progress. We may not like everything that we discover. Instead of making resolutions about changing a habit or losing weight or whatever, let us resolve to draw close to God. Let us challenge and encourage one another to become more Christlike.
We live in a world that is hostile to Christ, and people are unaware of their desperate need for Jesus Christ. The primary purpose of self-examination and submitting to the examination of the Holy Spirit and the word of God is so that we can be useful vessels of honor (2 Timothy 2:20-21).
Finally, as we prepare to mark the end of another year and the beginning of a new one, may we recognize our purpose and divine calling. We have not been saved and set apart solely for our own benefit. So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Ephesians 5:15–16 (The Message)
There are great things in store in the year in front of us. Remember, Jesus taught us to pray: “Your Kingdom Come, Your Will Be Done, On Earth, As It Is in Heaven.”