Since we have hopes & dreams for what 2018 might bring, we may hesitate to mention that hard times may also come. Last year as I was looking forward to 2017, I didn’t realize that it would be one of the most difficult years of my adult life. Although there were extremely difficult family issues and surprising job situations, God still brought great good in the midst of it all. Externally, God had in store for me two new ministries: helping people in a practical way through a new job & having the privilege of helping start the new church in Lebanon. Internally, God grew in me an ever-deepening sense of trust in his strong and enduring presence. But how do we go about actually trusting God in the midst of challenging times?
One way is to practice gratefulness. Plan now for 2018 to be a year of thankfulness, both in good times and bad. Practice thanking God each day for three things he has done for you. Jesus said in John 5:17 “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” Since God is always at work around you, there must be at least three additional things to be thankful for each day. Practicing gratefulness lifts your emotions above the circumstances and helps your heart to reach out for God more consistently. It makes you aware of God’s constancy in your life.
As Christians, this should be obvious but it’s often not: Spend time reading and meditating on God’s Word every day. Don’t skip a day, if at all possible. Read your Bible to see what God is saying and talk to God about what you’re reading. This is a conversation that deepens your relationship and centers your mind on Christ. Take steps to protect this time. For example, go to bed earlier the night before so that you will have sufficient time in the morning. Just as spending time communicating with your spouse strengthens your marriage, spending time with God strengthens your relationship with Him. It also provides protection and guidance for your heart and mind that prepares you for the coming day.
Another important practice that increases your trust in God is to tell your story to someone about what God has done. This is more than just recounting your blessings. It is telling the story of how you first came to faith in Jesus Christ. Pray for opportunities to tell your story and ask God to speak through you. Here are some important elements to include:
-First, briefly tell the person what your life was like before you were a Christian. If you grew up in church and were too young to remember exactly when you placed your faith in Christ, then tell about the awareness that arose within you when you came to the realization that you were a sinner. Use Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” to explain that every single person in this world is separated from God because of sin, except for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21).
-Second, tell as part of your story that you came to believe that Jesus died on the cross and came back to life. This is the most important component of your story. Including this helps the person walk away from your conversation knowing the way to be saved: they must place their faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection (John 3:16, Matthew 28:6-7, Romans 10:9-10). [Side note: Always include at least one verse of Scripture in your story. We have a promise from God in Isaiah 55:10-11 that when we share His Word with someone, it will accomplish something valuable: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish... so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”]
-Third, tell what your life has been like since you’ve asked Jesus to become the Lord of your life. Who taught you the Bible after you placed your faith in Jesus? In what aspects of your life have you grown since then? How has your view of God changed? What is your relationship with God like now? How has your faith deepened?
-Fourth, invite the person to believe in Jesus, placing their faith in him as well. They can pray with you or they can pray on their own. Trust God to lead them to faith when they are ready. And pray for them! They may just come back to you asking to hear your story and the story of Christ again. It is a privilege to be invited into God’s work in someone’s life by telling the story over again until they finally come to believe. In the process, both of you will end up experiencing Jesus Christ in real ways you never would have expected.
Developing these spiritual habits helps prepare us to trust God in both good and challenging times. As you place your hopes and dreams in Jesus for the coming year, cultivate gratefulness by telling God what you are thankful for each day. Spend valuable time in relationship with Him each morning by choosing a time and place to read the Bible and pray. Ask God to present opportunities to you to tell the story of how you first came to faith in Jesus Christ, inviting your lost friend to accept Jesus as well. Engaging in these habits makes a difference in the kingdom of God as well as opens you up to truly trusting and being guided by God during 2018!