What is on the Father's heart?
As I start 2021, I realize I need to spend more time talking with the Father and hearing from him about what he desires for us. I need to pray more. I always feel the need to pray more but I am so easily distracted by the busyness of life and entertainment. What should I pray about? Well, Jesus told us how we should pray in Matthew 6:9-14.
The Lord's Prayer
I notice that the first things I should pray about are things God cares about. His name (reputation) being lifted up (may your name be kept holy Matthew 6:9), his kingdom coming soon (revival and the spread of the gospel), and his will being done on earth as it is in heaven (obeying his commands. Matthew 6:10). Then pray about the things which come so naturally to us… what we need. But first pray about what God wants.
What is God's Will?
Jesus said the most important things was to love God with all your heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37) and the second most important thing was to love those around you (your neighbors) as you would want to be loved (Matthew 22:39). I keep seeing the theme of what God is saying here… seek me first and I will take care of everything else (Matthew 6:33).
How do we love God with all our heart?
We are first loved by God (he promises to take care of all our needs and work all things for our good Romans 8:28). We remain in his love when we believe (trust) he will give us all that we need (our daily bread Matthew 6:11, John 15:9). I experienced this in 2020 when I was out of work, but I chose to trust God and he provided far more than I thought was possible. I had to make a choice at the beginning of last year… I believed God loved me and was going to take care of me even though I had been out of work for 4 months and hadn't gotten a job offer in spite of many interviews. (God did provide freelance work during that time). But I believed God would be faithful and two weeks into the new year I got a contract making 40% more than the job I lost in September 2019. That contract provided abundantly for my family for the next 8 months until I got a full time job in September 2020 (with a higher salary than the job I lost in 2019).
The Path to Joy in 2021
Jesus explains what is on his heart and the way we can have joy in 2021. “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you." John 15:9-12
What does Jesus command?
That we love one another like he loves us. I have been learning that real love is grace. Grace gives other people what they desperately need but do not deserve. Real love does what is best for someone else even when they are not treating you the way you deserve… even when they are not holding up their part of the bargain (do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you. Luke 6:27-28). God desires unity (oneness John 17:21) where our culture values rugged individualism and fighting for our rights. Jesus said that they would know we are Christians by our love (John 13:33-34). His kind of love goes far beyond the casual friendships of convenience with those we share common interests with, it is a love that creates unselfish community where everyone's needs are met (Acts 4:32-34) and there is great joy (Acts 2:46). Father, help us to love like you do and be filled with your Spirit (and love) in 2021.
Practical Priorities for 2021
Jesus defines remaining in his love as obeying his commands (John 15:10). First, you need to remain in the Fathers love. You do this when you believe Jesus in in you and with you to help you with everything you need (John 14:20, Matthew 28:20). And that you believe that because God loves you, all his commands are meant to guide you to what is best for you. But obedience is meant to be done with God in you helping you to live in a way that doesn't come naturally. You can't do this in your own strength (John 15:5). Learn to walk in the power of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) by learning how to daily apply the gospel. If you don't know how to do that, I have written a book and Bible study called Lose to Win which explains what the Holy Spirit does for us. You can only obey God joyfully when you experience His promises to give you everything you need.
Setting Goals and Following Up
Second, you have to know his commands in order to obey them. That means reading the Bible daily so you know what God says is best. Third, once you know his commands, you will need to set practical goals of how you will do what he commands. Good intentions rarely go anywhere without a plan. Michael Hyatt's Full Focus Planner is a great tool if you need help with goal setting and planning. It also helps to have a couple close friends who will follow-up to pray for you and encourage you to follow through on your goals. We are too easily discouraged when things get hard or distracted (Luke 8:13-14) and don't reap the harvest that comes from hearing God's word and doing what it says (Joshua 1:8-9). If you don't have two or three friends who will help you to study the Bible to obey all that Jesus commands, make that a priority this year so that you can experience God's best this year.
Your Kingdom Come
If you are already studying the Bible with close friends who encourage you to obey Jesus, then you are (or will soon be) experiencing the blessings of God's best. Sometimes the seed of God's word takes time to grow into the full fruit of the Spirit's goodness (it takes time to change old patterns and experience the goodness of God's ways). You will probably also be experiencing the attacks of the enemy and persecution from sinful people that Jesus warned about (John 15:20). Keep meeting to pray and encourage one another. God's kingdom comes as people obey God's commands to love others. The more people who obey God and love one another, the more the world around them changes as people serve one another instead of fight with one another over their selfish desires.
The final priority to consider for 2021 is Jesus last command, "Go make disciples… teaching them to obey all the commands I have given you." Matthew 28:19-20. To obey this command (make disciples… plural meaning more than one), ask God to give you at least two people who you will invite to study the Bible with you in 2021 to help them understand how much God loves them, will forgive them and take care of them, help them understand why God's commands are good and teach them how to obey in the power of the Spirit so they can experience God's best in 2021.
I look forward to what the Father will do in our lives this year. I am praying for your joy and blessing in the New Year. Here are some good goals for 2021 to prayerfully consider.
Are these priorities that the Father wants me to focus on this year?
- Remain in the Father's love. "I am with you always" Matthew 28:20, John 15:9
- Be a disciple. Read the Bible to obey what Jesus commands with at least two or three close friends. Matthew 28:19, John 15:10
- Make Disciples. Invite at least two more people to study the Bible in 2021 to become disciples who experience Gods love and become fruitful by obeying. Matthew 28:19, John 15:27