The Single Greatest Value for an Effective New Year
Six years ago this week (2010), Dana and I were driving home from my chemotherapy appointment, listening to Christmas music. We were still recalibrating our lives and emotions to the seeming “invasion” of life-threatening illness. I was feeling sick, she was being supportive, but generally life was uncertain and gray.
A few seconds later, we pulled the car over, held hands, and cried for a while, as we heard the words to a Christmas song that was “new” to us—”Another Year has Gone By.” The song touched raw emotions that we were both trying hard to keep buried deep inside. It spoke of loving and being loved through the ups and downs that a year can bring. In those moments, we didn’t know how many more years we would have together. Would this be one of our last?
One year later (2011), the same thing happened, but this time cancer was in the rear-view mirror—treatments worked, prayers answered—and the year of sickness was giving way to a year that appeared to be one of recovery. This time the tears were different—love for one another, joy, gratitude, and something deeper and more indescribable. Little did we know, the year ahead of us would be even more disruptive than the year behind us.
One year later (2012), we were celebrating Christmas in a new state, decorating a different home, acclimating to a new climate, and establishing new relationships in our new Christian family at Emmanuel Baptist. This time, the emotions were related to life transitions, feelings of displacement, and the challenges of hoping that God would restore His church. Once again the words to the song provoked tears and hugs amidst feelings of uncertainty.
In the last five years, two things have happened—every single year. First, almost none of my actual plans really came to pass. Second, God surprised me with events, circumstances, challenges, and blessings that I could have never foreseen—bigger plans. Dare I say, better plans! So much for the idea of “personal planning.” So much for wrapping my identity in “my goals” and “what I can accomplish.”
Where does this leave me? What did all of these “gone by” years teach me? What would be the single greatest take-away? Indulge me as I back into the answer to that question…
We all love the idea of control—the idea that “our plans” actually give us some measure of autonomy, which in a spiritual way, tempts us with the temporal feeling of significance, value, and personal purpose. Personally, I thrive on being productive—at some points in my life, too much.
There is a line somewhere between healthy productivity, and presumptuous driven-ness. The former is obedience, the latter is slavery. In other words, productivity makes a great personal goal from a state of surrender to Jesus’ Lordship, but productivity alone makes an oppressive lord.
Can I speak transparently?
I look back and wonder, how often have my plans been my attempt to get Jesus to follow me?
In truth, planning a new year is not about Jesus following me, it’s about me following Him! Do my plans say, “Jesus—FOLLOW ME this year!” Or do my plans say, “Jesus, help me FOLLOW YOU this year!”
Throughout my life, I have read and written much about planning and living “productively.” I still do. But the last five years had added a dimension of understanding to those values. There’s a new layer to it all.
Over the last five years, God has led me into a revealing study of my own weakness, and it’s been recalibrating. It’s been a humbling and weakening experience.
Too many times in my life I’ve been trying to prove to God my strength, when all the while He’s been trying to prove to me my weakness!
Isn’t the very essence of the gospel that we are weaker than we could ever imagine, but God is stronger than we ever dreamed? Doesn’t this gospel hold much more than my eternal salvation? Doesn’t it hold me together at every level, for every second, of every day?
The last five years have tempered, refined, and reshaped my productivity values through the lens of my weakness and His strength. These values haven’t disappeared, but they have been reshaped in a way that desires to see God strong in my weakness, rather than trying to prove to Him my “strong-ness.”
So, how does a weak vessel following a strong Saviour actually go about planning a new year? How does a yielded servant make plans “for” his sovereign Lord? You get it—he doesn’t. A true servant can only plan to follow his Master’s plans.
Jesus’ little brother said it this way—“Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” (James 4:14, 15)
Weak servants who desire to be productive followers of a strong Saviour—that’s what we are. Weak servants are passionate but also yielded—pressing forward but waiting upon. It’s a paradox, but it’s the reality of being the securely loved children of a sovereign Father who orders every step of our lives and calls us to follow.
The art of living effectively in a new year relates somehow to having a heart so grounded in Jesus that is passionate to press forward for His glory, but also content to rest in Him as Lord.
That heart will be productive in the right ways and restful for the right reasons. It will neither be feverishly panting for personal productivity, nor passively idle and dismissive of life’s purposes. It will neither be over-extended in pride nor under-extended in laziness. It will neither be full of pride nor full of self-abasement. It will make plans, but then follow the Master in every step. It will contentedly accept whatever the Master ordains that wasn’t in ” the plan.” In any state, it will be rejoicing in Jesus and resting in His good ultimate purposes.
Productivity alone is a slave driver that will flatten me, as I scramble to keep up with productivity’s insatiable, ever-increasing demands. Goals are great, but they cannot shape God, and they cannot ultimately fulfill my heart.
Plans for my new year that compel me to follow in grace are good, but God’s script for my year may not include any of my goals! Then who will I be? Where will I be headed? What will hold me together? What if none of my plans or purposes come to pass this year?
So, how did 2010-2012 dramatically change the way I entered the new years of 2013-15, and hence this New Year? What, to me, is the most essential value for an effective new year?
Here it is.
A successful year is a year when I successfully followed Jesus. Full stop.
The most effective year is NOT the year I got the most “done.” It’s the year I most closely followed the Lord of all “doing.” The most effective year is the one where I most carefully followed my Master and let Him unfold His plans day by day.
Therefore, the single most important value for your new year is your private, personal walk with Jesus Christ. Nothing will shape you, strengthen you, and transform you more powerfully than a thriving “inner walk” with Jesus. Nothing will make His guidance more visible, His truth more touchable, and your heart more stable. Nothing will give you a greater sense of security and significance.
What is my “plan” for this year? The plan that trumps all others is simply—to follow Jesus through a personal, private life with Him.
Look at Paul’s prayer for Ephesian Christians:
“That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. 20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:16-21)
What does 2016 hold? Only Jesus knows—and it’s bigger than you could ever ask or think!
I pray that 2016 holds blessed plans, answered prayers, and abundant visible blessings for your life and family. (Mine too!) But this I know for sure…
The New Year probably holds a lot of things I would not choose that fulfill purposes bigger than I can imagine! These are things I can’t foresee, therefore cannot plan. These are things that, short of a strong “inner man” through Jesus, will potentially destabilize me. No amount of planning will prepare me for those things.
A personal walk with Jesus trumps anything and everything that this fallen world could ever throw at me, and it connects me with purposes far bigger and far beyond myself. Allowing Him to strengthen my inner man is THE critical value that will hold me together in hardship, and keep me humble in success!
Following Jesus closely is the only thing that will stabilize me in distress and immunize me from success.
Only He can make me joyful and grateful in it all—no matter what. Only He can help me press when I see the path, and rest when I don’t!
Truly, I hope all of your plans and dreams come true this year. More than that, I pray you will be strengthened in your inner man, that no matter what happens this year, you will know with certainty that you are held by the very strong, high, deep, wide, indestructible love of Jesus Christ
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
No matter where “this year” takes you, you will be OK so long as you can say, “I followed Jesus to this place.”
Happy New Year!
Thank you for allowing me to touch your life through writing!