Here's something I wrote for our congregational newsletter.
Pretty soon you’ll be hanging up a new calendar on whatever hook or nail you use in your home. A new year is around the corner and when that comes some people start talking about New Year’s Resolutions. The statistics are pretty grim for those kinds of resolutions. The majority of resolutions undertaken on January 1 of any year don’t seem to last very long. I wonder if there’s a spike in memberships at fitness clubs or sales of various diet books at this time of year.
I was reading something recently that I’d like to suggest to everyone as New Year’s Resolutions this year. Michael Foss’ book, Real Faith for Real Life (Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2004) identifies the following marks of discipleship:
+ Daily prayer,
+ Daily scripture reading,
+ Weekly worship,
+ Growth in giving to the tithe and beyond,
+ Serving others in Jesus’ name,
+ Sharing the faith story with the unchurched.
These marks of discipleship are all a part of being in relationship with Jesus and growing in relationship with Jesus. As Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are disciples. We are living in relationship with Jesus and these marks of discipleship help us to grow in that relationship. Consider each of these marks. They’re not just rules to follow, tasks to complete, drudgery that you have to include in or add to your day and week. These marks of discipleship lead to a fuller and deeper relationship with Jesus and a richer and more fulfilling life.
+ Daily prayer, whenever and however you plan it into your day, focuses what you do and who you are on something more than just you. In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther gives suggestions for simply prayers to say when you get up in the morning, when you go to bed at night, and when you sit down to eat and rise from eating. That’s a simple way to start.
+ Daily scripture reading is a way to gain a deeper understanding of God and yourself, and to enrich your faith. In The Lutheran Course we heard that the key thing to reading and studying the Bible is to "just start." You may read a lot at a time or just a little, but "just start."
+ Weekly worship brings you into contact with a whole community of disciples like you. It’s a time where praying and scripture reading happen. It’s a time when you hear the Good News of God’s love through Jesus Christ. It’s a time when Christ comes to you in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion.
+ Growth in giving to the tithe and beyond is so often a touchy subject in the church but it shouldn’t be. Jesus says "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Lk 12:34). If this is true (and who are we to disagree with Jesus?), then we can say that as we grow in our giving to Christ’s church, we will grow in our relationship with Jesus. When you do your taxes it’s simple enough to calculate ‘Charitable Donations’ divided by ‘Income’ times 100 to come up with the percentage of your donations. Can you increase that percentage a bit in the next year, moving toward the tithe (10%) or beyond?
+ Serving others in Jesus’ name is following Jesus by doing what Jesus did. He said that he came "not to be served but to serve" (Mt 20:28). In loving and serving our neighbour, we love and serve the very ones our Lord loves.
+ Finally, sharing the faith story with the unchurched is our calling. Jesus’ parting words were for his disciples to "go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them ... and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Mt 28:19-20). Our lives have been changed by the love of God that we know in faith. We ought to be sharing that Good News with others so that they can know that love too.
Now, as I said at the beginning. New Year’s Resolutions are notorious for being broken. You might start out all gung-ho intending to keep some or all of these marks of discipleship and then a week, a month, or a few months later you might find yourself slipping and you’re not doing them anymore. That’s okay. God forgives. And you can start over. Nobody’s perfect. We all slip and fall sometimes. But we can get back up and get going again. Try these things. They’ll lead to a fuller and deeper relationship with Jesus. Just start.