In his article in The Weekend Australian (Dec 23-24), ‘2017: West Challenged in a Spinning World’, political commentator Paul Kelly observes, ‘People now assert their rights against established norms and institutions. They seek more control. Their distrust of institutions has escalated’.
He notes the Gallup poll in the USA in June 2016, “confidence in institutions”. The poll revealed that in the 30 years from 1985 to 2016, ‘confidence in big business fell from 32 to 18 percent, in newspapers from 32 to 18 percent, … in banks from 51 to 27 percent, in the church and organized religion from 66 to 41 percent, and in the Congress from 39 to 9 percent.’
Kelly sums up, ‘In short, the Western establishment is being eroded from within due to lack of confidence and respect in the ability of leaders and institutions to discharge their responsibilities to the wider community. The causes are complex, multifaceted and not easily resolved…’
He further notes ‘the rise of a cult of individualism that threatens to entrench unhappiness at the heart of the democratic project… Rules and norms,’ he observes, ‘must be modified to meet the latest claims of individual rights and self-realization. The needs of the individual are being enshrined as paramount, and this recognition becomes the new morality.’
As we conclude one calendar year, what New Year resolutions might we adopt? Let me depart this week from my 7 Coffee Conversations with some suggestions for the New Year.
Changed hearts. Too often our lives reflect the narcissism of the culture. Like lost sheep, we go astray, following the devices and desires of our hearts rather than heeding the voice of God. We fail to be ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’. Let’s plan to confess our sins to God daily with truly repentant hearts and, knowing the Lord’s forgiveness, resolve by his grace to press on in the new life he has given us. “Father, forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”
Heartfelt prayer. Too often we go soft, thinking that, apart from the Neros, the Hitlers and the Stalins of the world, God will welcome everyone. Not so. In Acts 17:30f we read: While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.
C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘It’s probably truer to say that God invented both prayer and work for that purpose. God gave us, small creatures that we are, the dignity of being able to contribute to the course of events in two different ways’.
Revival is always accompanied by bold, persistent prayer. If we have a passion for the lost, we will pray that God whose nature is to be merciful will, through his Spirit, open blind eyes, unstop deaf ears and soften hard hearts – turning hearts towards their true home in the Lord.
New Lifestyle. Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time (Colossians 4:5). All of us are called upon to act wisely and graciously towards people we live and work with.
It’s important to recall the world in which Christianity was born. 1 Peter is addressed to people who were experiencing intolerable oppression. They had no opportunities in life. Yet in 1 Peter 2:11-12 we read: Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Though Peter speaks of his readers, both slaves and free, as ‘resident aliens’ in this world, their lifestyle can draw others to God’s truth.
Abstain from the sinful desires which wage war against your soul, he writes. This is a reference to the desires of our hearts that are out of step with the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount – lies, false-witness, anger, greed, theft, the lustful look, the adulterous relationship – anything that stands against the mind of God.
Words. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone, we read in Colossians 4: 6.
Paul expects us to cultivate conversations that are kind and gracious but seasoned with salt – a metaphor for sparkling and interesting conversations that trigger questions about life. It’s worth working on ways to use news items, opinion columns, and films to spark such conversations.
In our changing world, let’s resolve, by God’s grace, to play our part in his unfinished task of searching for and rescuing the lost.
In the New Year the Anglican Connection is planning half-day meetings for ministers, church leaders and members to explore ways to promote more effective gospel outreach.
May the Lord richly bless you in the New Year!