Happy New Year! By the time you read this, almost 10% of 2024 will already be in the rear-view mirror. I always enjoy each new year as I treat it as a time for new beginnings, a fresh start where I look for opportunities to grow and new challenges to explore.
“This is what the Lord says: Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls…”Jeremiah 6:16 (NLT)
Crossroads Of A New Year
In some respects, I treat this time as a crossroads where I take time to think about where I’ve been and where I’m heading to help me decide how to approach the new year and determine what new things to undertake. Before being saved, my thoughts and subsequent plans for the year revolved around what remote lakes to fish, what golf courses to play, what landscape projects to undertake, what photography skills to learn, and other self-centered personal or family goals I may wish to pursue. Spiritual growth and serving the Lord did not play any part in my yearly planning. Frankly, there was little room for Jesus as God was on the fringes of my life, only to be brought out when it was convenient for me. It didn’t mean I never tried to do some worthwhile or less selfish projects once in a while. But to do things for the glory of God just never entered the equation. And I was one of your go-to-church-every-Sunday kind of people. My annual planning, which I learned in the military, and how I approached a new year served me well in my career and early retirement as I became a master gardener, a respected photographer, and a valued contributor in various organizations, among other things. Plus, I made sure I got to fish some amazing bodies of water each year. Life was good…so I thought.
As time went on, I realized something was missing. My life felt empty and meaningless. Fortunately, a couple friends got me involved in some Bible studies. I resisted initially but eventually relented and attended, which was one of the best things I ever did. I believe God steered me down this new path to show me that I was lost and that there was a more important purpose to my life, serving Him. After more Bible study and prayer, He led me to my most important crossroads experience: the foot of the cross. Here, I came face-to-face with the most life-changing choice I had ever experienced: accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior and follow His path, or continue my empty, self-centered, worldly existence. I wanted so much to change my dead-end life, so it was an easy choice to make room for Jesus, even though I had no idea what that would mean. I can tell you that committing my life to Him and getting saved changed everything. I honestly believe making room for Jesus “gave me a new heart and put a new spirit within me” (See Ezekiel 36:26), and with Christ, I became a “new creation, old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.” (My translation of 2 Corinthians 5:17.) I look back at my “cross” road commitment and am still amazed how quickly God steered me in a totally new direction. He promised He would (John 3:16). I learned quickly that He keeps His promises. Always has and always will.
If you follow my testimonies, you will know that my first priorities are now serving the Lord and following His commands. While I still enjoy fishing, gardening, and capturing God’s glory with my camera, today, “serving others for Jesus” has become my top priority. Jesus tells us, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to SERVE” (Mark 19:43-45 NIV). When I got saved, He didn’t say welcome to the club; your membership card, ball cap, and tee shirt are in the mail. Go on with your life, and be sure to show your card and wear your cap and shirt now and then so people will know you are mine. He told me as He tells everyone He calls, “Follow Me,” and “Be a light in the world,” meaning show others you are My disciple by how you love one another. Once saved, you quickly learn it’s not about me anymore; it’s all about Him. For it to be about Him, you also realize, as I did, that Jesus cannot be on the fringes of your life! You must make total room for Him if He’s going to transform you and guide you in your daily walk. If we do, we have the Apostle Paul’s assurance “that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 NKJV). To me, it doesn’t get any better than that, and for that to happen, I must keep Him at the center of my life where people can clearly see His light in me. If He’s in the fringes, He won’t be seen.
So here I sit at another crossroads in early 2024 with another year to make more room for Jesus. This time of year, I often read devotionals about “making intimacy with God or Jesus” as one’s goal for the year. The concept of intimacy is nice but seems to require more explanation. Instead, I latched on to the idea of “making room for Jesus” as it speaks more clearly to me. As I stressed above, if Jesus was going to come into my life and guide me, I realized I needed to make room for Him, a lot more room! My relationship with Him can’t be a casual, now and then, association; it must be all the way. The concept of “making room” reminded me of an old TV sitcom in the 1950s-60s called Make Room for Daddy starring Danny Thomas. The show started when I first moved to the U.S. from England in 1954 and in the fourth season was renamed The Danny Thomas Show. It was a favorite of mine and revolved around Danny, a nightclub singer, and the challenges he faced trying to make room to become a better father, husband, and provider for his wife (Margaret) and three children (Rusty, Terry, and Linda). It was a huge hit, running eleven seasons, making it the longest-running sitcom until Cheers came along. It spawned several successful spin-offs, including The Andy Griffith Show and the Dick Van Dyke Show. As I think about this article, there seems to be a nice fit with the concept of “making room for.” It applies to many situations in one’s life. We always make room for what is important to us.
When we “make room for” something new, our family and friends will notice our new things, usually resulting from a decision made at a crossroads, e.g., a new job, major relationship, house, etc. It can even be a new pet. We tend to make a big deal of our new furry friends as they become family members. For example, when we get a new dog, we make sure to play with him or her and begin taking it on walks. We also love to post/share photos with those close to us, which we will continue to do at various anniversaries, trips, or even illnesses that we experience. When we make room for a new pet, we fall in love with it and end up with a new family member. It doesn’t take long for our family and friends to know all about Fido, Kitty, etc.
Similarly, we make room for hobbies, part-time jobs, new relationships, even clubs, civic organizations, etc. And, of course, there are the grandchildren when they come along. They can often become game changers in our lives, taking center stage, and again, everyone we know will learn that. The point is that when you make room for something in your life, your daily routine changes, and others will notice that about you, i.e., they will see the change brought about by making room for something new.
For me, making room for Jesus has not been difficult. Early in my new walk eleven years ago (I was 70 when I was saved), Peter’s scripture (2 Peter 3:18) about “growing in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ” spoke to me and guided me in those early years. In many respects, it still does as I strive to mature spiritually, which should be the goal of all Christians per Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (4:13). Other questions I have asked myself in some form or fashion since being saved are “Where does God fit in?” and “How do I make Christ the center or foundation of my life?” Over time, I’ve added, “Am I drawing closer to Jesus?” and “Am I pleasing God?” While these are all great crossroads questions, I find the last two worth asking much more frequently. If I’m not pleasing God, I haven’t made room for Him, nor have I drawn closer to Him, and God forbid, meaning He is still on the fringes of my life.
It is important to reflect on your past at least once a year, and the new year affords an excellent opportunity to do that. It’s something I have done for a long time and has served my walk with Jesus well. Why reflect on our spiritual past? Paul is very clear: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you…” (2 Corinthians 13:5 NIV). I love Paul’s directness here as it highlights the importance of his command. He tells us to examine our faith according to God’s truth. When we do that, we will quickly know if we have made room for Jesus to be the center of our life.
Looking back at 2023, I am incredibly thankful for God’s amazing faithfulness. His grace and favor allowed me to stand firm in serving Him and trying to draw closer to Him. My significant challenges were poor health and the loss of a dear niece who was as close as any of my five siblings. She was, in many ways, my little sister. The pain and grief of losing her to cancer was eased by knowing she had tremendous faith and loved the Lord. Healthwise, I’ve had to deal with three major upper respiratory illnesses, each requiring extended recovery periods. These kept me from worship, group Bible studies, and missed opportunities to help others. These all are crucial in helping me draw closer to Jesus. I did my best to maintain my Bible reading and studies to keep me in the word, and I found ways to help others where I could. I love how God reveals where we can help when you ask Him to do so.
In September, I faced a major crossroads decision when I was getting over a rough bout of COVID-19. Satan whispered about not leading our Band of Brothers’ Help Us Help Kids campaign again this year. You’re not well, you’re too old, take some time for yourself for a change, etc. He loves to put doubt in your life and keep you from obeying God’s will. It didn’t work. Once I learned how huge the need was for helping families and children this past Christmas, I knew I had to take it on. Yes, I did have my doubts that I had the strength to endure a draining three-to-four-month project again. I prayed for God’s help and endurance and trusted Him even when I began to tire. I kept leaning forward, and with the help of my “brothers” and several other friends who volunteered to help, we shattered our goal of $45,000, raising almost $54,000. God always amazes me how He always steers us to exceed our goals, proving again, with God, nothing is impossible. Once again, thousands of less fortunate people locally, in surrounding counties, state-wide, and in some of the world’s poorer countries were assisted through our support to various missionaries. Everyone, including us, was blessed through the ministry and the kindness of people. We give God all the glory for what He does and are humbled to be His servants.
We had just finished our project a couple days before Christmas when I came down with an awful virus on Christmas Eve that lasted into the New Year. I am just now recovering as I begin my 2024 planning. At this juncture, I feel like I am at more of a crossroads than in past years. I feel exhausted and, in some sense, vulnerable to the myriad of illnesses going around. I’ll be 82 in August as the aging process rolls on. I recognize how super blessed it is to be as well off as I have been. But I am realistic as I understand the limitations that advancing age brings. As I plan, I’ll take those limitations in mind. My personal Bible reading and associated study is well underway. For the past few years, I’ve enjoyed reading the whole Bible. This year, I am focusing on the New Testament in the first six months and Psalms and Proverbs in the latter half. I have three new devotionals that I am enjoying. Plus, I look forward to our Band of Brothers’ Fellowship Friday’s Bible studies as I find those studies and discussions helpful in understanding God’s word. I will try to make a conscious effort to get stronger and healthier to explore new, less tiring ways to serve Him. I have great trust that “He who has begun a good work in (me) will complete it” (Philippians 1:6), and He will reveal where He wants my focus to be this year.
I don’t want my faith to be static as in past years. I want it to reflect how I live or, better said, how I love. I believe the more you live loving, the more you will experience God’s presence. The more you experience His presence, the more you will draw closer to Him. The more you draw closer to Him, the more room you will make for Him, and “the brighter His light will shine through you.” That’s my goal for 2024, making more room for Jesus to keep me on the right path and allow His glory to shine more brightly through me.
What are your goals for 2024? Is this the year you need to make room for Jesus? Is He at the center of your life, or is He on the fringes? If He’s on the fringes, maybe you are at a crossroads, and it would be a good time for you to do as Paul tells all Christians: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith!” If you choose to do that, I hope and pray you will want to find more room for Jesus! It will be one of the most pleasing things you can do for God the Father.