When you read this column it will already be 2015. New Year’s resolutions are traditional in many cultures. They started in ancient times as Babylonians, and later Romans, adopted the new year as a time for making resolutions. Later on, Christians began adopting the practice with emphasis on desired Christian traits and practices. This is an appropriate time for Christians to make resolutions regarding their spiritual lives as well. Here are five great ways to incorporate them into your life.
Read the Bible
Earlier in 2014, I devoted a column to the significant lack of Bible study by Christians in Alaska. Based on the American Bible Society/Barna Group study for 2014, only 19 percent of Christians are engaged with the Bible. For many, the only exposure to the Bible is that which they receive in church when they attend. Why not resolve to actively study the Bible daily this year? There are many excellent reading plans. YouVersion.com offers some innovative ways to read the Bible, including a January 21-day challenge and many plans to read the entire Bible in a year, reading only 15 minutes a day. I have YouVersion’s app on my iPhone and frequently refer to it. They offer dozens of Bibles which can be read or played online or offline. Olive Tree offers 36 downloadable Bibles for computers and smartphones. Daily Bible study enriches the mind, increases biblical wisdom and gives strength for the journey. The Apostle Paul wrote, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
Many people, Christians included, have unhealthy practices in their lives. Negativity, excessive drinking, smoking, unhealthy dietary practices and lack of sleep and exercise have been documented to bring ill health and lead to shorter lives. The Bible is rich with helpful advice for healthier living. Often Christians don’t understand that God requests we do all we can to maintain the wonderful gift of life he has given us, even blaming him when sickness and disease come. Churches, too, should take a look at practices that discourage healthy living. Many of the church suppers and potlucks I’ve had in years past were extremely unhealthy — high in fat and carbohydrates. Yet in the past 10 years I only heard one pastor deliver a practical sermon encouraging his parishioners to live healthily, in all aspects.
Attend church regularly
In a February 2014 column, “Churchgoing is good for the body as well as the spirit,” I noted the significant body of research connecting churchgoing with improved measures of health, including better blood pressure, longer and healthier lives, happiness and reduced rates of divorce. The focus of my research and writing for many years has been on finding churches that provide warm greetings, genuine Christian hospitality, great biblical messages and music that is not purely entertainment. Our faith community does provide some great examples of such churches and I regularly report on them. Unfortunately, Alaska ranks at or near the bottom of many surveys of church attendance or membership. If you are already a regular church attendee, that’s great. If not, why not resolve to start attending regularly in 2015?
A popular Christian aphorism is to “Pray more, worry less.” Surveys show that many of us neglect prayer to the detriment of peace and true contentment. It’s difficult to pray unless you intend to do so. The Apostle Paul counseled the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing.” Daniel prayed three times a day. Pew Forum surveys reveal 58 percent of U.S. adults report praying at least once a day, while 31 percent report praying and receiving an answer to prayer at least once a month. A University of Rochester study showed more than 85 percent of people facing a major illness prayed. Prayer and meditation is an important part of a healthy living regime including diet and exercise. It invokes the relaxation response, which is very healthy. Prayer can be done any time and any place and does not require any particular posture to perform.
Share your faith naturally
If you are experiencing a Christian life that is satisfying and providing many benefits, why not share? I often hear people excitedly exude glowing information about hobbies, recreational pursuits, books being read and so forth. What I rarely hear is people actually sharing their joy about their Christian walk. When someone shares something of extreme interest to them that is providing huge benefits to their life, it can be exciting and possibly inspire others to take a deeper look. I’ve often noted in my column that I do not get invited to visit the churches of people I come into contact with, or to take a look at their religion. (This, of course, does not apply to those who write to me or comment on my columns saying I should investigate or write about their church or religion.) National research consistently shows the only reason people do not go to church or visit another’s church is that they have never been asked! Yet it is so easy to do. If you’ve found power in prayer, tell someone. If you find your church helps you in unique ways, share it. If healthy living has given you a new lease on life, share the wealth. Too often we forget to share the good news.
2015, like preceding years, will come with its share of challenges; it’s a given. But adopting some of the practices I’ve enumerated can add new dimensions to your life, and to those around you. Happy New Year and may God bless your life in the coming months.
Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits, at adn.com/churchvisits.