Priority. This word will define the person you are and who you desire to become. It will also determine what kind of year you will have.
Many of us set goals for the new year. Or what some would call, resolutions. I suppose I’m more of a goal-setter. One of the gifts God gave me is being an organizer, or planner. But unless God oversees this gift it can become more of a burden rather than a blessing, to myself and often to others.
Distinguishing between the two, a blessing or a burden, depends upon priority. The word priority may seem like such a simple word, but it can become extremely complex as a person wrestles with its meaning. In fact, the personal definition truly defines the person we are or who we desire to become.
Nicholas Herman (1611-1691), better known as Brother Lawrence, found this to be true following his conversion to Christ at the age of eighteen while serving in the military. (To read more about Brother Lawrence, his conversion and life, go to: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/lawrence Serving in menial roles, mostly in a hospital kitchen, Brother Lawrence became known for his quite remarkable and serene faith, and his simple but dynamic experience of “the presence of God*.” Thousands of lay persons and clergy desired to know the secret to his life filled with unquenchable joy, peace, love, and humility.
Happy New Year?
Brother Lawrence gave the same answers to all who sought after these inner virtues. “Stop putting your trust in human rules, devotional exercises, and acts of penance. Instead, exercise a living, obedient faith in God. Live as though he were beside you and with you all the time—as indeed he is. Seek to do what he wants, as and when he commands it, and make his command your joy and chief pleasure. The person who lives like that will be fully human, completely Christian, and genuinely happy.”
More about Brother Lawrence a little later.
As I approach the year 2018 (now 2021), I am particularly aware of a personal need to prioritize my life (once again). For me, this is an ongoing journey, of which I suppose is true for most of us. Being fully human is the easy part. Ha! It’s the other two I seem to struggle with–being completely Christian and genuinely happy. Just being honest here.
Oh, did I mention that I’m a list keeper? Sometimes a gift and other times a burden.
This new year’s list includes (the left side from 2018, the right side this year, 2021): After reflecting on the 2018 list, I decided to be more specific in my goals for 2021 and to be more intentional in my spiritual life.
- Eating healthy and exercising regularly Same
- Plan/have annual Family Legacy Day Same
- Pre-planning funeral arrangements, etc. Order grave marker
- Ministry and Missions Lead a discipleship group
- Medical and dental appointments Take care of physical body
- Retirement (future and ongoing…) Trust in the LORD for future
- Vacation and family outings Same, according to God’s will
- And so much more! Faith to fulfill God’s purpose*
Of course, most if not all these things are important, but they’re not really going to ensure that I have a happy new year, even if I am able to put a checkmark next to each one. (Only the genuine abiding daily presence of God in my life will ensure my true happiness.)
So many “things” and people vie for our time, and as Solomon so eloquently penned, “there’s a time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
The modern world seems to throw everything at us, so to prevent us from living a spiritual life, one that pleases the LORD. Think about all the high-tech machinery replacing hands, computers replacing minds, psychotherapy replacing prayer. And while these things are not bad in themselves, taken together along with the accelerated advances in science, the turbulent rhythm of life, and the external tensions of world events (recently in 2019/2020 with the Coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest which is sadly continuing in 2021), they tend to produce a society that has little time for personal relationships and even less time for God.
How then, can one “practice the presence of God?”
The basic spiritual disciplines remain our core: prayer and Bible study. But how must we compete with a world full of noise? The concept of silence is foreign to much of this generation, with cell phones, Facebook/Instagram/TikTok, tablets, movies on watches, and so on. Then adding to the social media, we find ourselves, as Solomon did, “chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1). Many families find themselves running from one activity to the next, and purchasing things that will only ensure longer work hours or require a second job. And to be quite honest, it’s not only our young families who have fallen prey to “this world’s system,” many older adults are chasing after the wind as well. Thousands of dollars are spent on finer lifestyles, while yearning for retirement days spent listening to the ocean waves rather than the voice of our Creator. Again, there’s nothing wrong in planning for retirement or caring for our personal well-being, but if these things take on a higher priority than God’s design and purpose, then we may need to re-evaluate our goals and or resolutions for the new year. Think about (no, pray about) how you might prioritize your life this year in ways that will help to ensure a happy new year according to the sweet pleasure of our LORD and Savior.
From a letter written by Brother Lawrence:
“We can, in fact, learn a great deal about the love of God from the way we treat our friends (and family). For example, it would be very discourteous to invite a friend to our home and then leave him to sit alone in a corner while we go ahead with our own activities, ignoring him completely. Yet that is what we do with God. We have invited him, in his Son, to enter our hearts and live there—but often we neglect him, almost forgetting that he is there at all, so distracted are we by other things and other people.
The Christian’s biggest, most important job on earth is to live and die with the LORD. He can hardly do that if the slightest diversion drives all thoughts of God out of his mind. It is all a question of priorities, really.
Yours in the LORD,
Laurie (Brother Lawrence)
Two final thoughts recorded from Brother Lawrence’s conversion experience:
“Suddenly I saw what ‘providence’ is all about—it’s simply believing that God has the power and the will to do all things well for us, if we will only submit to his loving, patient rule. And that nothing we can do—beyond trusting him—will speed up his will or make things happen that he isn’t ready to do in us.”
“At that moment, sitting there on the grass, my acts of worship, my attempts at discipline—all the effort I had put into trying to please God—were swallowed up in an enormous sense of love for him. The One who patiently led the trees and the plants through their seasons would also lead me, if I would only submit to his loving and powerful hand.”
The Practice of the Presence of God—the title given to the collection of “conversations” and letters” by Brother Lawrence.
New Year Faith Challenge:
Prayerfully evaluate your life. Look over the past year and take an honest inventory on how you spent the time God blessed you with. After a time of personal reflection, determine to spend more time this year in the presence of God, at home, school, work, on vacation, and definitely “in the kitchen.” If you’re not intentional in prioritizing your life according to living in the presence of God, you will find yourself simply “chasing after the wind.” And think about it, no one ever catches the wind.
Have a very blessed New Year, trusting in God. My personal goal for life.
*”Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.” (Psalm 145:13)