Three keys for writing a new story for a New Year

typewriterBy Joe LaGuardia

Every year I set out to keep some much-needed resolutions.  These resolutions have to do with change: I’d like to eat less, exercise more, pray without ceasing.  The usual New Year’s stuff.

Since I rarely keep these resolutions beyond the second or third week, however, I wonder if perhaps I’ve been going about this all wrong.  And, if you’ve had trouble keeping your resolutions in years past, maybe you’ve gotten it wrong too.

It’s not that we have to change our life so much as we may have to change the way we see our life.  Whenever I’ve changed how I see my life in the past, a change in my behavior, values, and habits followed.

One of the ways is to view life as a story that is slowly unfolding, one in which you can sense a series of beginnings, middles, and endings.

Call them chapters if you will.  Each chapter tells a different side of the main character–you!–and when one chapter ends, a new one begins.

So what if you had a bad habit in the past?  That chapter has ended, and a new chapter can begin.

Maybe you came out of an abusive relationship.  This is a good opportunity to write a new chapter beyond the abuse that has shaped your life all too often.

So, with that in mind, here are three keys to consider when writing your new 2015 story.

1.  Your story is what God says it is, not what others say it is.  God has created you in God’s own image and you are a child of God.  Don’t let others tell you how your story should either unfold or end.

If you were to write your story this year with your Heavenly Father in mind, how would it be different?  What authenticity and vulnerability might empower you to change for the better?

2.  God has a purpose for your life, so your story should have a purpose too.

Have you ever read a story or watched a movie that didn’t have a purpose?  A story with no purpose has no direction; it just stumbles along.

purposeI know that we stumble along in life sometimes.  We lose a job or our hearts get broken, and we can only go from day to day like a person meandering in the dark.

Some seasons in life are like that; and, overall, our story has a purpose because God has a purpose for us.

The Bible labels this purpose a “call” that God gives us.  We are all called to be a part of God’s story.

The second letter of Peter says, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10).

3.  Your story won’t be complete without recognizing how others play a part in it.

On the internet, you will find what are called “internet trolls.”  These are people who go from status update to status update. blog to blog, article to article, and post to post only to criticize, leave negative feedback, and simply publish bad advice or mean comments in general.

Trolls have encouraged more than one suicide, and they are ruthless in their backbiting and baiting.

These are not people that make up your story or should be a part of your story.

Characters that are a part of your story should be positive and help you fulfill God’s purpose in your life.

I recommend building a circle of friends made up of mentors, cheerleaders, teachers, and friends that make for an effective support system.  Do not neglect this part of your story, even if it means distancing yourself from the trolls in your life.

As you look forward to the new year ahead, I hope that you will put an imaginary pen to paper and write something new.  I hope that it will be God-inspired and that you will be the very person God has made you to be, for without God, your words will be fleeting and ever failing.

God speaks; we must respond

revivalLike so many churches in the South, our church still has a time of invitation after the sermon every Sunday.  It usually consists of an altar call or some call to reflect on the service along with a moving song, “Trust and Obey” and the like.

Although the time of invitation seems a bit antiquated–a hold-over from a simpler, revivalist tradition of yesteryear–it still holds a meaningful place in the midst of our worship to God.  It is, at its basic level, a time to respond to God and reflect on the challenge that God may have for the new week ahead.

I realized long ago that Trinity is too small a church to give an altar call every week.  I’m not one of those preachers who makes the pianist play the hymn over and over again until someone comes forward, so over the years I’ve had to expand my invitation to include other call of responses as well.  I now include the challenge to come forward if prayer is needed; I also encourage churchgoers to pray for one another even if it means moving over a few rows.

It is a reminder that there are many ways to respond to God aside from an altar call, decision for baptism, and prayer with the preacher.  In fact, all of us–no matter where we are in our faith–should realize that an invitation is a time to follow God’s leading at all costs.

God is in the business of calling us to action, obedience, surrender, and missions.  We are certainly obligated to respond if we claim to believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

One way we can respond to God’s leading is by committing to a life of praise and song.  I don’t envy the Christian who only hears or sings praises to God for only one or two hours a week.  Ours is a life of song, and we can sing and recite hymns or choruses wherever we are, no matter the day or the hour.

The Bible is full of praises that serve as responses to God.  “How good it is to sing praises to our God,” Psalm 147 states, “for God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting” (NRSV).

Another way to respond to God’s call is to do something for the Lord each and every week.  This action can be as simple as writing a card to a friend in need or a church member who is struggling, or it can be more demanding such as “paying it forward” for a stranger’s groceries at the store.

You may also choose to do something based on the sermon from week to week.  I’m sure your preacher’s sermons are like mine in that they include at least one challenge for the week ahead.  When your pastor gives a challenge or sermon application that is fitting, write it down so you don’t forget.  Then publish your commitment on some social media website to have people hold you accountable.

A last way to respond to God is to live a “life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).  I realize that people are called to do different things in life: one is called to be a teacher, while another is called to be a missionary.

All of us, however, fit under the umbrella of the one calling all Christians are obligated to fulfill, which is to practice the Great Commission and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  It is also a calling to “live a life worthy”; that is, live life with holy integrity and obedience to God’s empowering Spirit, to walk in righteousness and advocate for justice and grace.

Sure, some churches have done away with the traditional invitation.  Not every church will sing “I Surrender All” every now and then; but all of us, whether in a church with revivalist leanings or contemporary praise, bear the weight of responding to a God who calls, seeks, knocks, and commissions with relentless passion.