As the page turned from 2023 to 2024, I found myself in a very different situation than I had ever been before. I woke up in 2024 in an emergency room where my son battled flu symptoms that had ramped up over the previous couple of days. Because of his complex medical needs, we were unable to take care of him at home because we could not keep him hydrated. That meant for the first time I was separated from my wife and other kids as the new year started. As I look back on 2023, I see a year filled with joys and heartaches. We lost a few dear friends and loved ones in 2023. We struggled with changes in nursing care for our son. We celebrated milestones of our oldest graduating high school and our youngest starting preschool. For me, 2024 didn’t start with any exciting parties or ball drops or fireworks.
When people think of a new year, many see it as a chance to start something new in their lives. People use the new year as a time to reset and try to change things in their lives that need to be improved. Some people seek to get into better shape in a new year and spend their money on gym memberships or equipment as they seek to drop pounds gained over the last year. Some people seek to learn more in the new year and set out to read more books and study more in a the new year. As followers of Christ, we can use this time to evaluate our relationship with God and renew our commitment to Him. Paul encourages us in his letter to the church at Rome:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2)
If we are wanting to change something in our relationship with Jesus, it starts with detaching from this world. I believe that many Christians today are stuck living by the standards of the world. They are driven by the things the world says brings happiness. They are bogged down by the hurt that the world brings. The world wants us to fit into the mold that it has laid out for us. However, that is not what Jesus wants for us. He desires us to live in the world but not be of the world. Jesus encourages us:
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you…I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. (John 15:18-19; 17:14-15)
But it’s not enough that we detach from the world. We also have to change our way of thinking. While detaching from the world is an outward action, the inward action of renewing our minds brings about the inner transformation that Jesus desires. We cannot let our thoughts dwell on earthly things that steal our attention away from God. The world is constantly bombarding us to look away from God and focus on our selfish desires. That’s why Paul says we need to be willing to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. We have to give ourselves fully to God as an act of worship. After all, Jesus did that for us. He left the comfort of heaven and willingly chose to give His life for us. Without His sacrifice we would not have the opportunity to even have a relationship with God. But Jesus’ sacrifice ushered in a new era for God’s people. We now are able to have a personal relationship with God – not a religion based on rules and regulations we have to follow, but a relationship with Him.
A new year, how about a new way of living! Paul invites us to give ourselves to God so we can experience a new way of living – a life in which we can discern through the Holy Spirit living in us what God’s will is for our lives. We no longer have to guess what God wants for us. We can live in a relationship with the Creator of the universe and know what His will is. I hope this year you would join me on the journey of growing in a deeper relationship with Jesus. As we seek to know Him more deeply, we begin to see what He desires us to be doing with our lives.