Who is Jesus to you?
As we celebrate Christmas 2020, this question should be on our minds. Dr. Bruce Hartman’s new one-year devotional, Spend a Year With Jesus: A Christian Devotional for 2021: Finding Jesus and a New Life, begins with this profound and arresting question. Individuals and history itself have wrestled with this question for two thousand years now. Hartman asks this question to get the reader’s attention and focus them on spending time in the coming year considering it. He opens his new devotional asking readers to write out a couple of paragraphs describing who Jesus is, in their own words and in their own opinion. This, he argues, will set the stage for getting to know Jesus through weekly prayer and Scripture readings.
The devotionals themselves are as simple as can be. Each begins with a verse; the first one begins with John 1:1, defining Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This is one of the most philosophical, profound, and profoundly challenging verses in the New Testament. It unequivocally states who Jesus is — God’s Word, and God himself. Hartman follows the verse with a very brief summary of the verse’s meaning, followed by three questions. He challenges the reader to honestly answer each of the three questions, and then after each week’s devotional, go back and look again at the answer the reader wrote responding to the big question: Who is Jesus to you?
In the Prologue, Hartman advises readers to keep a running journal throughout the year as the weeks and devotionals go by. “Whatever you write is never wrong,” he says, “it is part of your journey. Over time it is important to review what you wrote. Not to measure if you have gotten better at writing, but to see where you have grown closer to our Lord, Jesus the Christ.”
Or to see how your faith may have been challenged and strengthened or weakened in the journey through this fallen, broken world.
Hartman suggests readers should approach the devotionals each Sunday to start every week. Pray simply, with thanks and a petition, and read the verse and his brief summaries. He suggests starting with the Lord’s Prayer if you’re not used to praying. Then write out answers to the three questions he poses. During the week, as life and work move through the days with their victories and setbacks, review your answers, and pray more.
Hartman keeps things simple and consistent throughout. He focuses first on Scripture, then on interpretation, then on the questions posed to the reader — questions meant to focus the reader on meaning and application.
2020 was a difficult year for millions. The coronavirus pandemic challenged our nation, took many lives, disrupted families and livelihoods, and pushed many churches to have to battle state and local governments to assert their fundamental right to gather and worship. 2021 shows little sign of improvement over the first few months as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage people and our economy.
Faith is hard work. Spend a Year With Jesus may be the best way to start the new year and keep focused on the deeper things. It can help you focus throughout the year to answer the greatest question of all: Who is Jesus, to you?