Around this time of year, it’s natural for us to reflect, take stock, and think about the New Year ahead of us. (If you have resolved to make no New Year Resolutions, don’t stop reading yet!)
During the next week or so, I encourage you to take a whole evening or two, alone or with your spouse if you are married, and ask yourself two questions:
- What has the Lord been teaching me in the last year?
- What are my hopes (and resolutions!) for me and God in the year to come?
As your pastor, I am not very qualified to give you advice about losing weight, getting out of debt, or balancing your checkbook! But when it comes to your spiritual life, I would like to give you some counsel. If one of your desires in 2020 is for increased spiritual growth for yourself and your family (and I hope it is!), I would urge you to consider the central role of the means of grace that God has given to you. The spiritual life is just as prone to gimmicks and marketing as any other area of our modern lives (if you don’t believe me, just search “Christian growth” on Amazon!). But growing spiritually is not a mystery or a complicated matter.
As your pastor, I want to issue you a New Year exhortation and challenge about the 3 critical pillars that, according to God, form the foundation of our spiritual lives: Worship, the Word, and his Church. I want to challenge you to commit to 3 things for yourself and also pray that others would do the same. All the research points to a great need for prayer for Christ’s Body in this regard. The Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism (one of the Constitutional documents for our denomination), addresses this topic well in question #88:
Question: What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
Answer: The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all of which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
In other words, growing spiritually isn’t a matter or searching for new and exciting experiences. Growing spiritually is simply found in spending time availing yourself, daily and weekly, of the means of grace that Christ himself offers to you by his Holy Spirit: the Word, sacraments, and prayer.
We need this. The statistics on how many young adults have not returned to the church post-college are staggering, alarming, and concerning. A whole generation of church-kids don’t come anymore. As we lament this and consider what it means, we have to consider that they were raised to believe that church really wasn’t important. As you’ve no doubt heard me say on a Sunday morning, weekly church attendance, by committed and serious Christians, drastically declined over the past generation. If or when going to church every week isn’t that important for us as adults, we are teaching the children and youth of the church that it’s not that important for them. That’s what we are seeing: they have grown up and the church isn’t important to them – because it wasn’t really important to their families.
The statistics about our time in the Word are also alarming. Year after year, people who regard themselves as serious Christians area only spending 10min in the Word 1-2 days a week at the most.
Practically speaking, here’s what this means:
1) The single most important thing you can do for yourself and your family to grow spiritually in the year to come is to commit yourself to attending Sunday morning worship every single Sunday in 2020 (even when you are out of town).That’s it. It’s really not that complicated! (Before I go one, let me be clear: Church of the Redeemer doesn’t track your attendance in Worship! The concerns I express here are based on national surveys and trends as well as my own experience as a pastor over the past 25 years.)
The reality is that the authorized preaching of God’s Word, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and the gathered prayers of God’s people are not means of grace that you can participate in outside of Sunday morning worship. And these means of grace, especially as they are found in gathered Sunday worship, are the primary ways in which God himself has promised to communicate Christ to you in the year to come. If you are looking to other means for your primary spiritual growth, you are looking in the wrong place! It really is that simple.
The reality is that each of us will either make the decision to attend Sunday worship once (i.e. we will decide once to always be in worship), or we’ll decide every single week whether we will attend worship based on how we’re feeling, how busy our schedule is, what other options/responsibilities we might have, etc. I would strongly encourage you now to make the decision once to attend Sunday morning worship every Sunday in 2020 – rather than leaving that decision to Saturday night or Sunday morning each week. Worshiping with God’s people when you are out of town is also a crucial means of grace.
Will there be times that you (or your children) are seriously ill and must miss Sunday worship? Of course. But I would encourage you now to decide that unless you providentially hindered by illness or some other serious matter, you will make participation in the weekly worship of the church (and the means of grace offered there) a non-negotiable commitment in 2020 – even if you are out of town. For me to speak so strongly about weekly gathered worship is not legalism. It’s what God commands of us. It’s also common sense and a genuine desire on my part to submit to the rule and reign of Christ, who is the one, of course, who ordained these means of grace for his Church in the first place.
2) The next most important thing you can do to grow spiritually is to pursue a life of daily Bible reading and prayer. In addition to the Daily Worship Devotions we publish each week, in 2020 we will have another option from The Daily Prayer Project. There is nothing more important in our day than deliberate time alone with God in his Word and prayer. Listening to sermons or Podcasts is good – but they are not a substitute for time alone in God’s Word and in prayer.
3) Lastly, the 3rd most important way in which you can avail yourself of the means of grace is by meeting regularly with God’s people to study his Word, and to pray together. Our church offers a whole host of opportunities for you to do this. The most important is probably our School of Discipleship on Sunday mornings from 9:00-10:15AM. We also offer regular Small Groups throughout the week and are always open to start more. I would encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities in the year to come!
I look forward to walking together with you in 2020 and I am excited to see what God will do among us.
Yours in Christ,