As 2015 disappears over the horizon and yields to the dawning of 2016, many of us are looking into the future, taking inventory of our lives, and identifying areas for self-improvement. Others are creating resolutions that challenge them to implement long overdue changes in exercise regimens, career paths, relationships, diets, and daily routines. Some will even subject their lives to a complete overhaul as they embark on a new venture or decide the time is right to finally pursue a dream they’ve tabled for years. And a few will focus on ridding themselves of some vice or bad habit they embraced long ago, such as smoking or drinking soda.
And while such efforts are all well and good, and may lead to more happiness, healthier lifestyles, and greater satisfaction with life, if you really want to optimize 2016 you ought to consider less traditional changes as well. Here are five things you can do to make 2016 your best year ever.
1] Put God First. This may seem obvious (and require no change) since most Christians insist God is already first in their lives. But take a moment to examine your life for evidence that supports that claim. Does your daily schedule reflect His preeminence or does it expose your assertion as mere hyperbole? If we are honest with ourselves, many of us will have to admit we spend too little time alone with God. We are simply too busy to dedicate substantive amounts of time developing a real and vibrant relationship with Him.
Is that you? If so, maybe 2016 is the year you decide to get serious about aligning your schedule with your contention that God is first in your life. And there is no better way to do that than to carve out regular time with Him each day. Start with fifteen minutes. As that becomes a habit, gradually increase the time until you’re spending thirty minutes alone with God on a daily basis. Use half the time to read (and study) the Bible and the other half to communicate with God in prayer. Share what’s on your heart, ask Him to share what’s on His, and take a few minutes to worship Him.
Don’t allow the distractions of the world to interfere with this time or cause you to skip days. While it may at first feel more like an obligation than a privilege, you will eventually grow to love your time with God and may even find yourself looking to add more and more to it.
2] Serve Others. Identify one opportunity to serve a group in your community on a regular basis, perhaps as often as once a week but no less than once a month. The range of possibilities are broad and include: helping displaced refugees settle into the area, volunteering at an agency that assists victims of domestic violence or human trafficking, serving with the Special Olympics, investing a few hours visiting the elderly at a retirement home, or making meals at a food bank.
Don’t wait for February to arrive before exploring your options. Take time right now to identify a couple opportunities and then reach out to the appropriate agency to learn how you can volunteer. Few things will bring you as much genuine satisfaction in 2016 as serving those less fortunate or undergoing a traumatic experience.
3] Take a Mission Trip. Invest a few days or a couple weeks and go outside your comfort zone to share God’s love with others in another country or a different culture. Opportunities abound and vary from working with kids, to helping with micro-loan programs, to providing basic home repairs, to evangelism. If your local church doesn’t offer a trip that’s a good fit for you, look around. Many churches send out mission teams and you don’t always need to be a member to participate. You may find the ideal opportunity at a neighboring church you’ve never attended.
And remember to go with a loving and humble attitude, which will go a long way in building bridges and creating friendships. Seek to learn and listen more than you teach and speak. And if you go to a different culture (especially to a developing country), prepare to be stretched, challenged, and even convicted – in your faith, your priorities, and your lifestyle. Watch how they worship, the emphasis they place on their relationship with God, and the generosity they extend to strangers despite their meager resources. Most of all prepare to be transformed. You will not come back the same person. I guarantee it!!
4] Eliminate Ongoing Sin. Though we strive to be like Christ and desire to attain perfection, we will never be fully free of sin until God calls us home. In fact, no matter how mature our faith there likely exists some sin that plagues us on an ongoing basis. Perhaps you cannot resist gossiping about others, or boasting about yourself, or consuming pornography, or casting aspersions on others.
What sin have you ignored or allowed to flourish for too long because you didn’t want to make the effort to eradicate it. Commit to making 2016 the year you put it to death. Inform God of your desire to be free from this sin and ask Him to empower you – through the Holy Spirit – to defeat it. Let your friends and family know of your commitment and solicit their help. Ask them to hold you accountable and point out instances when you slip (e.g. when you gossip, boast, or cast an aspersion).
It may help to identify a godly attribute that can replace the sin. For example, instead of casting aspersions, you edify others. Instead of staring at porn, you study Scripture. Rather than brag or gossip, you learn to listen or share the Good News. You won’t win the battle overnight but if you remain diligent to uproot the sin, you will experience victory over time.
5] Love Others. Have you noticed the world seems increasingly dangerous, with escalating levels of anger, hate, and bitterness? At the same time it appears to be growing more callous and cruel, filling people with despair, gloom, and hopelessness. And with these emotions comes an alarming acceleration of destructive and corrosive behaviors that threaten to crush civil society. Jesus once remarked that there would come such a time as this when, “The love of many will grow cold.” I can’t help but wonder if we have reached that time.
Has your love grown cold? Do you find it easier to fire an unkind word when someone mistreats you? Do you allow anger to dictate your behavior when offended? Has a spirit of bitterness or anger taken root in your heart? If so, 2016 may be the time to reignite your love for others, and not just friends and family. Everyone. Strangers. Enemies. The helpless. The hopeless. Those that spite you, ignore you, and disrespect you. Everyone. And extend to them the same unconditional love that God extends to you.
After all, love is the only real antidote to the rising tide of charged and treacherous emotions embroiling the globe. And while love may not immediately overcome the effects and actions of those harboring such sentiments, it will certainly begin reversing the tide. And it will help make 2016 your best year ever.