The new year is a natural time to think about a new beginning, a fresh start. And if we don’t naturally lean into that idea on our own, we find our culture pressing those buttons for us. We’re bombarded from all sides. New Year’s resolutions. Goals. New Year, new you! A word of the year. We line up to start the diet and exercise routines that will take off the last ten Christmases of weight gain. We vow to finally slow down, spend more time with the people we love, learn to knit, sleep more, play more, work less. A few of us write down goals. More of us set a whole lot of intentions and expectations that won’t last more than the next week or so. It’s exhausting, no matter how much energy you enter the new year with. And, it’s depressing each year as we look at the things we meant to achieve and didn’t. Christian planning for the new year should be different.
I’m done with entering the new year like that. Over it. Not that I won’t make goals and plans. I’m a natural planner. I believe wholeheartedly in introspection, self-improvement, and goal-setting. But, I won’t do it the way I used to. I won’t do it the way the experts tell us to. Christian planning for the new year shouldn’t look like the world’s. It shouldn’t be a cleaned up, holier-than-thou version either. It should be a whole different process with a completely different purpose.
Planning the World’s Way
I’ve spent much of my adult life setting aside time to plan and reflect at the end of the year. I created a system that sifted what I loved most from all the various methods I’ve studied. I’d spend a few days thinking and planning and I’d ask God for his help making it happen.
Every year I wound up with a wonderful monument to what I wanted out of life. I’m a Christ-follower, so nothing in those plans was truly horrible. I wasn’t setting out to kidnap and abuse kittens or anything. But, I’m fairly certain, my plans weren’t God’s best for me.
How do I know? Because what I was unintentionally doing was asking God to bless what I wanted out of life, rather than asking and allowing him to direct my steps. My system wasn’t bad—it’s quite good actually. But, it was happening in the wrong sequence and springing from misguided motives.
Living your Whole life with God
I began last year by reading a book that has set me on a journey I’ve still only scratched the surface of. Brother Lawrence wrote The Practice of the Presence of God in the 1600s and as I read it I highlighted almost every line on every page. That sort of defeats the purpose of highlighting, but I couldn’t help myself. I’m not sure why God used that book to create such a shift in my approach to life, but he did. Since then, the word “with” has been ringing through my soul. I want to live life with God. Not life on my own, checking in with God when appropriate, like at church on Sunday, morning prayer times, or bible study.
If you’re truly living all your life with God, it changes more than Christian planning for the new year. Before I tell you what it’s changed about my planning, though, let me explain what I mean by living your whole life with God.
Here’s what I don’t mean: succeeding at Christian activities. I don’t mean going to church every Sunday, keeping a detailed, color-coordinated prayer journal up to date, or reading your bible every day. I don’t mean tithing, volunteering, or social activism. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but that’s not what I mean by living your whole life with God. It’s possible to be doing all the right things, all the ministry work, personal spiritual disciplines, and serving others completely without God. That should be a really frightening thought for all of us.
Here’s what I do mean by living your whole life with God. I mean every day walking hand in hand wherever God wants to go. I mean seeking Christ with everything you’ve got. I mean caring more about what God thinks of your heart than what your friends, family, co-workers, boss, or spouse thinks about your life. I mean that your schedule, your relationships, your work revolves around your Lord. I mean you and God hanging out together. Talking, Crying. Laughing. I mean that he’s an integral part of all of your moments. All of them. The good ones, bad ones, silly ones, shameful ones, quiet ones, boring ones, perfect ones, and embarrassing ones. I mean doing all of your life with and for God.
Really living life with God (and trust me, I’ve certainly not mastered it) completely changed how I approach a new year.
Three Changes to Christian Planning for the New Year
Living all of life with God changes the urgency of planning. If your daily steps are being directed by God, your yearly path will be God-directed. While a new year is a good reminder to take inventory, the tasks become less urgent as you’re already on the right path.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard
Living all of life with God changes the emphasis from planning and goal-setting to abiding and obeying. Planning and setting goals is still important, but they flow out of a life of abiding in Christ rather than from a self-manufactured dream. Our focus shifts from our own desires to his desires. So, our planning is in service to a different purpose, his.
Living all of life with God builds faith, trust, and spiritual maturity. Instead of a journey of achievement or acquisition, our journey is instead a process of becoming.
If I asked you, “Do you want God to move in your life this year?” I’m willing to guess that you’d say yes. If so, what are you doing to make that possible? What are you doing to prepare yourself for that to happen?
As I talked with God about how to start the new year with my SoulShaper subscribers, God kept whispering, “Prepare”. I thought about how we prepare for the future, for an event, or a trip. I thought about how Jesus prepared for his earthly ministry.
What do you do if you have overnight guests coming for a visit? You clean the house more than you typically do. You stock the kitchen with the food they like. You make adjustments to your schedule or you plan fun things to do. You prepare the environment for their arrival.
What do you do if you want a career as a doctor? You attend school (a lot of school!). You study hard. You do a residency at a medical facility. You take exams to test your knowledge. You learn skills to prepare you for the work you want to do.
How did Jesus prepare for his earthly ministry? He was baptized, he was led into the wilderness to be tempted, he fasted, prayed, dealt with temptation, emerged from the wilderness and gathered his disciples as he began his ministry. At least that’s what I initially thought.
But, as I considered it more, I realized all those things were the action-taking part of his ministry. The preparation came before that. Jesus spent 30 years quietly “becoming” what he needed to be in order to complete the work God had for him. He spent that time walking with God, the human portion of him developing as all the external pieces moved into place. We don’t know a lot of details about that time. The time you spend in preparation might not be very public either.
We tend to think of preparation as the prequel to the good stuff. As something to get through on the way to something better. But, it’s crucial. If we prepare in the right way, we form the environment, skills, and habits needed to allow God’s plan for our life to unfold.
Preparation is becoming what we need to be so that God can move in our lives this year. My SoulShaper crew and I are thinking about what it means to rest, wait, listen, and obey and how those actions create an atmosphere in our lives that invites God to act.
If you’re uncomfortable with typical goal setting or you’re sensing God softly breathe into your heart that there’s a better way, I urge you to pay attention to that soul-whisper.
Instead of hustle, learn to rest in the presence of God.
Instead of starting the year running, practice active waiting.
Instead of reaching for your dreams, listen closely for God’s.
Instead of creating your own path to success, obey what God’s already told all of us and what he’s told you specifically.
Cultivate the practices in your life that will allow you to abide in Christ. Settle into the heart posture that invites his presence. Focus on growing an intimate relationship with God.
And may God move mightily in your life for his glory this year!