A Closer Walk

Jeremiah 29:11-13 

Another year has passed. They seem to pick up speed like a semi coming out of Eisenhower tunnel down to Silverthorne without its brakes. But in spite of the speed with which the days and weeks seem to fly by, God gives each of us enough time to take care of the most important things. I began last year by asking you a question: “When December 31 rolls around, will you be closer to the Lord or more distant than you are today?” Now that we’ve arrived, what is your answer? Have your intentions borne fruit or did they play out and grind to a halt somewhere back in February?

That’s the nature of New Year’s resolutions. We begin with the best of intentions, but life seems to get in the way. And so we find ourselves going along, intending to make our spiritual lives a priority, but never really seeing any progress.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I preached that sermon on faith back in November. (See, you thought I didn’t listen to my own sermons!) When we talk about faith, we think of it as something we possess, and either we’ve got a lot or a little, or somewhere in between, but it never seems we have enough.

But it struck me that faith is more like love than anything else. You’ve heard the sermons that say love is a verb not a noun, that love can best be described in terms of what it does – only in action does it have any real meaning.

And I believe faith is much the same. Faith can best be defined in terms of what it does. Paul talks about living by faith, not by sight. What does he mean? I believe he means that faith describes the way we react and interact with life. When we are faced with a set of circumstances, is our reaction one that reflects our trust in God, or do we fall back on trusting our own resources?

James gave an illustration of faith-full living. When you meet someone without the basic essentials of life – food, clothing, a place to live – do you wish them well and walk away or do you do something about it? James says, “faith without action is dead.” So, faith-full living means you respond in a way that reflects God living in your life.

So, faith isn’t just what you believe about God, it is how closely you walk with God and let him live through you.

I said back in November that one of the ways you can grow your faith is to start doing the things a faithful person would do. And you’re thinking, “well, duh!” But you would be surprised how often we know what faith looks like but don’t do what faith does. I always say I preach a lot better than I live. It’s easy to talk about faith, it’s quite another to live by faith.

That’s our challenge for this coming year – to walk closer to God – that’s the heart of what it means to live by faith. And so, in the coming months I want to focus our attention on letting God have center stage in our life – not relegated to a supporting role or an extra that walks through the scenes without speaking. I want God to be the Lord of my life, and prioritize my life around his agenda for me.

But I can’t really know what his agenda is without spending time with him. I can’t really recognize his voice unless I take time to listen. I can’t walk with him unless I know where his footsteps are to follow in them.

I find myself drawn again and again to Psalm 23. It is a beautiful and beloved psalm. But I’m not sure we really read it as it was intended.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside quiet waters,

He restores my soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Sometimes scriptures intend to comfort the afflicted and other times they mean to afflict the comfortable. This is one of those scriptures. It comforts us in difficult times, but it also gives us a kick in the pants when we’re too comfortable and complacent.

Did you listen to the verbs? He makes me, leads me, restores me, guides me. Do we really want a God who tells us what to do and where to go? Like a shepherd who has to make his sheep go where the food and water are, who leads them where they’re too dumb to go on their own, who guides them in right paths, because they’ll choose the wrong ones if left to themselves. Do you really want to know what God wants for your life? Because it may not look anything like what you think it should.

When I say, I want to walk closer to God, I might have one thing in mind, while God has quite another. I might just mean, I intend to read the Bible a little more often, while God wants to change my life with his word. I might think a few minutes of prayer every day will do me good, while God might think what I really need is to submit my will to his.

You see, I might only be talking about investing a few more minutes a day in spiritual activities, while God wants my heart, soul, mind and strength. The question is, am I willing to follow where God leads me?

Jeremiah wrote: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:11-13)

I hope one of your goals for this year is to seek God with all your heart. I don’t think you could have a more important or significant goal than that. But what are you going to do to make it a reality? What steps are you going to take to see it through to completion? How will you know what it looks like when you arrive?

Now, I realize there are only so many hours in the day, and every one of us is busy and our schedules are full. In fact, most of us excuse ourselves from any significant involvement with God, because we wouldn’t know where to fit him into our already busy life.

So I guess the place to begin is a decision that our relationship with God is important enough to devote time to strengthening it. I assume that’s why you’re here this morning – you want God to have a place and a voice in your life. You realize the importance of worship and you come hoping to hear a word from God for your life. And this time is important. It’s not just important for what you get out of it, but what you bring with you to give to God.

But this can’t be the sum of it. Your relationship with God is bigger than one hour a week. You can’t leave God here in the pew when you head out the door, you have to invite him to come with you and be involved in your life throughout the week.

Some of you are daily Bible readers, and that’s a wonderful habit to develop. It’s one of the most important places to begin in listening to God and walking with him. But you can’t let it become a lifeless routine, where you read some scriptures in order to check a box to fulfill a requirement. The Word of God has to have a living place in your life. That word that you read must be allowed to speak and guide and challenge and convict. God’s Word means to change your life through his Word.

The Hebrews writer tells us: For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb. 4:12)

I want to encourage you to read the Word daily, but I also want to encourage you to lay that Word up in your heart and let it have a voice as you go about your day. Reflect on what you have read and make it your companion.

David wrote: How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.  (Ps 119:9-11)

The difference between reading the Bible and letting the Word of God dwell in you is the difference between a water fountain and a waterfall.

When God invites us into prayer with him, it’s not for a little meaningless chit-chat and a recitation of some favorite phrases, but a heart to heart discussion of what’s going on in your life. When God created Adam and Eve, the book of Genesis tells us that they walked together in the cool of the garden. There was a closeness and an intimacy between God and Adam and Eve that he wants to reclaim with us. Two other men in Genesis, Enoch and Noah were said to have walked with God. He calls us to walk beside him and share with him and to experience that closeness for ourselves.

And this year, I want us to spend more time thinking about and talking about the Holy Spirit whom God has sent and who lives within every believer. One reason we fail so frequently in walking closer to God is that we neglect and ignore the power of the Spirit. But the promises God makes are contingent upon our reliance upon that power. And so, I want us to focus our attention on this third member of the Godhead, God’s Holy Spirit.

Paul writes in Romans 8:13-14, For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

This morning I’m inviting you to join me in a closer walk with God and with each other. We’ll read the Word together and pray together every day through the year. I’ll share some daily scriptures and give you some tools to help you on the journey.

Every week, you’ll find a new sheet out in the foyer with the next week’s daily reading schedule on it and a key verse highlighting a theme for that week – I’d like for you to think about that scripture through the day and lay up that scripture on your heart.

On the other side of the sheet, you’ll find a place to write down the names of people you want to encourage and people you need to pray for. There will be a place to write down things you want to work on for the Lord and thoughts you want to remember from the sermon and the scriptures you will be reading.  It is the right size to fit in your Bible and be accessible throughout the week.

If you will join me in this walk and spend the time in God’s Word and in prayer and in relationship building, at the end of 2016, you will be closer to God and experience what Jesus calls “abundant life.”