Here we are, in the heat of the "I'm on fire for these New Year's resolutions" stage of the year. This is when everyone is in the gym, everyone eats more salad and everyone spends way too much time focusing on all the wrong things. Because of this, I like to think of January as the self improvement month.
The only issue is that actual self improvement cannot be accomplished by being solely focused on yourself. Colossians 3 gives us a great perspective as to how we can improve our lives by turning our focus towards others. After reading the chapter for the millionth time (hint: it's my absolute favorite), I picked out some life lessons that I think we could keep in mind for not only the next 12 months, but for the rest of our lives.
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace, and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts for God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism."
Isn't it just great? Here's a few (a lot) of lessons and tips taken from that passage that I strive to live my life by:
1. "Your life is now hidden with Christ in God"
Our life here on Earth does not even compare to our life after Earth (in terms of both length and quality, of course).
2. "When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will also appear with him in glory."
Focusing on God and His plan makes the struggles of our world a lot more bearable. Life gets pretty stressful and overwhelming until you remember that there is a greater good happening, and your life and your struggles are playing a part in it.
3. "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature."
Don't get caught up in the idolatries (sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed) that society pressures us with and clouds our thoughts with. These things are just Satan trying to shut us down and turn us away from the Lord.
4. "Now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips."
The anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language that Colossians 3 says to rid yourselves of does nothing but bring you and others down. Don't carry all of that negativity around on your shoulders, and definitely don't cast it off onto other people's shoulders every time you get aggravated.
5. "Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices..."
Stop lying—to others and to yourself. Being honest with yourself and with those around you helps you avoid troubles down the road, not to mention it keeps you from feeling constantly guilty or in denial of anything. Keep an open, honest policy in all of your relationships with others and yourself.
6. "...and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator."
You belong to Jesus Christ, so act like it.
7. "Christ is all, and is in all."
Let those words sink in and always remember them. He created each and every one of us in his image, which means there is a piece of him in all of us. He created us all to play an equally important role in the functioning world. In addition to that, he is the breath of life that put this whole world into motion. That being said, treat everyone with respect and be thankful for everyone and everything God gave you.
8. "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved..."
You are loved and you are important. He believes in you and he is rooting for you.
9. "...clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."
Be compassionate. Be kind. Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. You'd be amazed at how much good you can do for the world and for yourself when you set your pride and selfishness aside and just be nice for a change. Be good to others.
10. "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another."
Forgive the people that hurt you. Whether it's a fight with your boyfriend or angry remark from a friend, losing that relationship is just not worth it. Grudges are parasitic. They hurt you slowly and secretively until you eventually reach your breaking point. It's better to forgive whoever hurt you on the front end of things than to live with the underlying anger that will eventually destroy you.
11. "Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
When you're finding it hard to forgive someone, remember the one who forgave you in the beginning. Before you or I or anyone here even existed yet, Jesus died on the cross for all of our sins. He paid the price in advance for all of us, meaning forgiveness for all of God's children.
12. "And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
Love is everything. I don't just mean that ooey-gooey, honeymoon phase love. Love is what makes being kind possible. Love is what makes forgiveness easy. Love is why God created us. Love is what brings people together. Love is the same patient, kind, humble and gentle that Colossians 3 commands us to be, and we can also see this in 1 Corinthians 13.
13. "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace."
Find inner peace through God. He doesn't like when you're anxious and stressed just as much you don't like when you're anxious and stressed. Let him be your escape, your sanity and your peace.
14. "And be thankful."
Be thankful for absolutely everything. When you're praying, don't just thank God for the food on the table or for the great people in your life. You should also be giving thanks to him for the obstacles you've overcome and the hardships that made you a stronger person. Be thankful for all of the good in your life, but also be thankful for the reasons why that good exists.
15. "Teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God."
Spread his word and praise his holy name! What better way to celebrate this wonderful life God has given you than to worship our Savior and spread his love across the entire globe? His name should be shouted from the mountaintops and his mercy and forgiveness should be overflowing in every person's life. Don't let circumstances or your pride get in the way of worshipping our Lord and spreading his word.
16. "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
Once again, you belong to Jesus Christ. Everything you do should be to glorify him.
17. "Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord."
Wives, respect your husbands. Girlfriends, respect your boyfriends. Fiancés, respect your soon-to-be husbands. Men translate respect into love, so don't catch yourself belittling them, discouraging them, or doing anything that inhibits them from fulfilling his duties as the men of the house and the protector of his family.
18. "Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them."
Husbands, boyfriends, and fiancés: do not lay a finger on her. It's your job to love her with everything you have, to hold her when she feels like she's falling apart, to provide for her, to protect her and to be her rock. She needs your love and she needs to know that she has your love. (And this should go without saying, but hurting her mentally or physically is not a way to show her your love).
19. "Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord."
Kids, even though it can be ridiculously hard, obey your parents. They've been your age before, so you should consider taking their advice. They often see things from a different angle, so just do what they say. Also, they put the food on the table for you and put a roof over your head, so you owe it to them to at least take out the garbage when they ask.
20. "Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged."
Dads (and really moms, too) respect goes two ways. If you want your children to grow up into reasonable people, spend less time criticizing them and knocking them down, and spend more time encouraging them and building them up. If you want them to come to you for help, and if you want to ever meet your own grandkids, I would suggest you start respecting them in the developmental years of their lives, when your love and support is vital.
21. "Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything."
There will aways be someone to answer to, so just go ahead and accept it. Your teachers and professors hold your hopes of getting good grades, but they also hold your fate of failing classes. Your managers and bosses hold your hopes of getting a promotion or a raise, but they also hold your fate of getting fired or demoted. Your landlords can cut you a deal on rent, but they can also evict you. Oh, and the law (which will always preside over you) can either lock you up for the rest of your life or let you be the free person you want to be.
22. "Do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord."
Don't just do good things for good publicity and the good reputation. Do good things because you have God's light inside you that you're so eager to shine in every way possible. Set yourself aside and start working for the good of those around you, not just to advance your own agenda.
23. "It is the Lord you are serving."
By surrendering yourself to serve others, you are serving the Lord. Help other people, love other people, forgive other people, work hard, glorify God, and let your light shine.
That was a lot to write, so I'm sure that's a lot to swallow. Colossians 3 has some great guardrails for us, as children of God, to guide our lives by, though, so keep them stored in your heart to carry with you throughout this new year and on into eternity.