Old Truths for the New Year – Westminster Shorter Catechism Q & A 1-3


As we begin a new year, we often have high hopes and expectations. For some reason, the start of a new year – not a new week or new month – really seems to excite us and give us optimism. Yet, we also know that nothing magical happens when we turn the page on the calendar to January; it really is just the start of a new month and we have the same problems and challenges that existed at the end of the previous year. However, there is hope in that a new year represents a new beginning and can give us a mental reset. But instead of thinking about new things as we move into this new year, I thought about how some old writings might help remind us of the perspective to carry into the new year and inform our hopes and goals for this year. One particular writing was Westminster Shorter Catechism, which was written in the 1600’s to help explain and teach the heart of the Christian faith to us. The first three questions and answers  are important things that I think we need to keep in mind as we approach the same problems with new focus and new energy in the new year. 

Question 1 – What’s your goal this year?

The first question of this Catechism looks at the ultimate question that we ask in life: “What is this all for?” In other words, “What is the chief end of man?” or ”Why do I exist?” The answer is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” We have been made to glorify God and to reflect His purposes in this world. However, there is more to it than just doing what God designed and commands us to do — we are to ENJOY Him! Stop for a moment and let that soak in. God created us so that we might know and enjoy Him. We are to have joy and pleasure in this world, and ultimately, that comes from knowing God and seeing all that He has made for us. Your resolutions (if you made them for the new year) or goals for this next season should be asking yourself the question, “How can I glorify God?” and this will lead you to enjoy Him more and more. But how do we learn what He expects us to do and how to find this joy? That leads us to question 2…

Question 2 – What directs how you achieve this goal?

The second question asks us how we can discover what God wants for us: “What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him?” The answer given is, “The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.” Just as in a romantic comedy where the girl is continuously looking for love and then discovers it has been right in front of her the whole time — in the form of her male friend (at least that seems like a common plot to me!), the way to find meaning and purpose in this world is not in the latest and greatest podcast or book, but in the book that is likely sitting on your shelf (maybe even in multiple translations!). God’s Word, both in the Old and New Testament, gives us guidance to live. This past year has been filled with more questions than answers,  but we do have answers — we have guidance given by God to us for all times and places. It is right in front of us — we just need to look to it. But you might say, “How in the world can I figure out what the Bible says? It is so big and confusing.” I’m glad you asked, as that leads us to question 3…

Question 3 – What’s the Bible All About?

The third question asks, “What do the Scriptures principally teach?” That is, what is the heart of the message of the Bible? I love the answer given – “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” There are many other things taught in the Bible, but at its root. you should ask whenever you read it, “What does this teach me about God?” and “What do I then doin light of that?” May those questions guide us in the new year as we look at the Bible, knowing it is the place to guide us for meaning in life.

Concluding Thoughts

While our circumstances are, by definition, unique each year – no one has ever been in this exact moment before – there is a sense in which the questions we ask are not usual. We have ancient documents like the Westminster Shorter Catechism to look to for guidance. In turn, we are led back to the Bible for answers and instruction on how to live. In the midst of all the talk about what our “new normal” will look like, let us not overlook the great resources of the past and above all, the Word of God. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). 

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