I always look forward to the New Year, not for the party or celebrations (I’m usually in bed by 10) but for the opportunity to make a fresh start. No matter how well I begin the year, I seem to accumulate along life’s way habits and practices that turn out to be unhelpful – for myself and others. I don’t go looking for them; I just pick them up (like a dog picks up fleas.) The beginning of a New Year is a good opportunity to shed them.
Earlier this month I came across a post called “Nine Questions to Ask Yourself to Prepare for 2018” by Scott Slayton. In the introduction he writes:
“What I started doing a couple of years ago was to abandon the idea of New Year’s resolutions and instead start thinking about what I wanted to focus on for the next year in early December. Then I started implementing changes that would make progress on my goals before the new year begins. What this allowed me to do was to get out of the habit of thinking the new year would magically change me into a new person.”
Well needless to say, this got my immediate attention. This was part of my problem: I was starting too late. And I wasn’t doing any review of what didn’t go so well the year before. The author then went on to list nine questions to help me think through what I needed to change, what I needed to refocus on and what I needed to plan. I found it tremendously helpful – so much so in fact, that I led my church staff team through it over the lead up to Christmas. It prompted some great discussion and sharing of ideas.
Here are the 9 questions, with my responses:
1. What are My Roles?
Our roles lead to our goals. If you are a Christian, your first role is a follower of Jesus. If you are married, your next role is husband or wife and then father or mother etc. My roles, in order of priority are
- Follower of Jesus
- Brother (my wider family)
- Brother in Christ (the family of God)
- Friend of Sinners
That’s quite a list isn’t it? What a complex life I live! But you see, by carefully considering this, I already know my priorities for 2018. It is to fulfil my responsibility to God, my wife and family, my wider family, the relationships within my church (and then by extension, the wider church), and then to those in my circles who don’t know Christ. At any time in the year I can pause and re-evaluate each of these.
2. What Two Changes Will Make the Biggest Difference?
“I enjoy asking myself this question because it helps me clarify the main things I need to work on for the foreseeable future. When you think about what things would help you the most, picture your life as a series of dominos. What are those few things in your life, that if you were able to change them, it would affect multiple areas of your life?”
He then gives the common examples of debt and losing weight. Getting out of debt frees up money for saving and giving. Losing weight helps us to feel better, having more energy and saving money on doctor visits.
By my mind was going elsewhere. Over two years ago we moved from a bustling city of over 1.5 million to a town of 30,000. I expected life to slow down and be less busy. But my life is busier, my role as Lead Pastor more complex and harder. So, what is going on? Something needs to change, but what? I haven’t come up with an obvious solution yet. But I’m still working on it.
3. What Two Things Do I Need to Stop Doing?
What is taking up too much time in your life or causing you too much stress? It might be too much time on screens or your phone or time wasted on Netflix or internet shopping. Or it could be doing tasks in your job you don’t need to be doing. My mentor often asks this question of me: “What are you currently doing that someone else could do?” That’s a tough one for me because there’s a lot I do that is important and needs to get done. There’s just no two ways about it. But do I have to be the one doing it? Again, I don’t have a quick answer for that… yet.
4. How am I Going to Grow in God’s Word?
Now this is a great question – for us all. The author talks about growing in two ways – deep and wide. We need to grasp the entirety of Scripture (wide) as well as experiencing the transforming power of individual verses (deep).
Last year I followed the Gospel Project Bible Reading Plan which took me all through the OT and into the NT. The problem was, I wasn’t in the New Testament until half way through the year, which I think is too late. And although I was getting the wide-sweep of God’s plan in large portions, I wasn’t delving deep into one or two verses, where often the nuggets of gold are found.
This coming year I want to remedy that. I am going to delve deep into a few verses during my morning devotion and prayer time and then cover the bigger sections of Scripture in another part of the day (or after devotions, which means getting up earlier). That’s one of my New Year resolutions.
5. What Relationships Do I Need to Prioritize?
This ties directly in with number 1: What are my Roles? I looked over my roles and turned the question around: what relationships have I been neglecting? The answer for me was my wider family and non-Christians. So those two are going to get more attention in 2018.
6. What Books Am I Going to Read?
Early in my ministry someone gave me a book called Preaching with Freshness. There was a chapter in called “The Six-Fold Path of Reading.” Instead of reading one book at a time, you choose five books in five different categories – such as novels, history, biographies, poetry, leadership, TIME magazines etc., plus another of your choice. I didn’t forget this and have tried implementing it ever since. It isn’t always easy, especially if you are a one-task-at-a-time man like me, but it’s worth pursuing if you are an educator, pastor or bible-teacher. You usually are never short of stories, interesting facts or illustrations.
If you find it hard to stay motivated or on track, try Goodreads. It is a helpful tool. It’s free to join and you can track the books you’ve read and also have a “want to read” list on hand. You can even set yourself a target for the year and it will track your progress.
7. What Will I Wish I Had Done When 2019 Begins?
What a great question! I never would have thought of it. I know for me what stands out is getting out of my office and spending time with non-Christians, staying in touch weekly with my three adult children at University, and meeting my reading target.
8. When Am I Going to Take a Break?
My staff team laughed at me when I read this one. And yes, I mean laughed at me. They know me too well. I saw the humour, but I also sensed an alert in my conscience which I believe was by the Holy Spirit. God values rest. God values margin and time for recuperation and refreshment of mind, body, soul and spirit. Pastoral Ministry is relentless and requires more than writing sermons, visiting people and ticking off tasks. At the start of 2017 I decided to take off one paid day a month for reading, prayer and reflection. But I didn’t act on it. So, in 2018 I’ll plan one day every three months. If I can’t keep to that there really is something wrong with me!
9. How Should I Adjust My Daily Rhythms?
Sometimes big goals can’t be accomplished in one day (or even one month). What is needed is small adjustments that are made on a regular basis every week or every day. So, for example, one of my big goals is to spend more time non-Christians. That means being intentional and marking out time each week to do that. Another one of my big goals is to reat 40 books for the year. Well that means planning small segments each day – to read!
I hope this has been helpful for you as it was for me. My only regret is I should have posted this earlier, so you had more time to process it like I did. But you still have January, and starting one month late is better than not starting at all. In Ephesians 5:16 Paul calls us to make the most of the time (literally, “redeem the time”) because these days are evil. In a day where distractions and temptations abound, let us press on for God, making the most of the opportunities for godliness and growth he has given us.