Wondering what to do instead of a New Year’s resolution? Why not consider a spiritual focus, something to guide your Christian studies and reflections as you enter the New Year? Here’s a little more about this tradition I’ve started for myself and a few suggestions of where to start.
Although fewer and fewer people are setting New Year’s resolutions, we have probably all at one point experienced one. Either from pressure or optimism, we determine that the new calendar year will reveal a better us. Unlike every other flip of the calendar page, somehow “January” is magically different.
But it is nice to have a fresh start, and I admit to being one such person who loves the newness of January as I flip a calendar page, which is now only in my mind rather than on my wall. Rather than having New Year’s resolutions for the past few years, I’ve accidentally stumbled upon setting spiritual focuses for myself.
The difference between a “resolution” and a “Spiritual focus”
With New Year’s resolutions we typically think of an area where we need improvement and set goals to improve ourselves. For me, something about December makes me recognize how spiritually depleted I am, how much I want more of God, and He opens my eyes to some specific truth that I want to more fully understand. And so since 2019, each year has had a spiritual focus that guides my reading, study and prayer.
Unlike a resolution, with a spiritual focus I have no goals to check off or really an end in sight. And unlike a New Year’s resolution, I don’t necessarily begin on January 1st, just whenever I feel like God gives me a guiding word-for-the-year. Sometimes, I’ve started in January, this year it’s December, and once it was April. But when I’m choosing spiritual food, I tend to veer toward things aligning with the year’s spiritual focus because I want a better working knowledge of that spiritual concept.
Finding my focus
My spiritual focus word for 2022 came to me just the other day as I was driving and praying. Influenced by a book I’ve been reading called “Sent” by Heather and Ashley Holleman, I was praying for someone else, that they would understand their calling and walk more fully in it. I stopped and realized that I myself don’t understand or fully walk in my calling as a “sent” one! I decided to pray the prayer for myself. The word “calling” really resonated with me. Realizing my deficit in walking as one sent to the world to represent Christ, it struck me that this might need to be my new spiritual focus.
Considering the word calling, my first thought unconnected to anything else is a “vocation” or purposeful activity. It makes me think of jumping out of bed and running in a frenzy, honestly. And I know that I’ve done that before spiritually. I’ve gotten some notion into my head about how I can serve or please God, and I’ve run out of steam trying to “work for God” without actually listening to him. I fizzle out, discouraged, the way some of us do with New Year’s resolutions. I don’t want my year to repeat that!
But then I thought about the word “calling” as a verb. In my “calling” (as a noun) I need to hear the “calling” (verb) of God. There’s a hearing and there’s a responding part of this word. This way of looking at “calling”, as hearing and responding, reminds me of my spiritual focus for 2020 which was “Abide”. Centering my life on Christ means hearing and obeying. And surprisingly, all of my past spiritual focuses have led me up to my focus for this year.
2019 Only Believe
“But when Jesus overheard what was said, He told the synagogue leader, ‘Don’t be afraid. Only believe.” Mark 5:36 (HCSB)
“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.’” Mark 9:24.
Even as Christians, it’s easy to walk around with a lot of unbelief. In 2018, I realized that I was trying to live holding both faith and doubt which was robbing my peace. “It’s incredibly easy to say we’re Christians and say we believe the Bible, but live completely for ourselves contrary to what the Bible commands.” (quote from Jan. 7, 2019 post, LifeOverLunch) One resource that really helped me with this spiritual focus was the beautiful book “Beholding and Becoming” by Ruth Chou Simons.
“Abide in me (Jesus) as I abide in you.” John 15:4 (NRSV)
“Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them.’” John 14:23 (NIV)
“I think part of being a Believer is living like God is continually with you. When I remember to live life with God, acknowledging him, speaking to him, I’m allowing the reality of His presence to permeate my day. But when I carry on with my day and just let God tag along, ignoring and neglecting Him, I sort of scratch my head at the end and wonder why I’m feeling unsettled. I miss Jesus.” (quote from June 17, 2019 post, LifeOverLunch) “With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God” by Skye Jethani in another book I think is a must-read for anyone serious about living Christian faith.
“Remain in my love.” John 15:9b (NLT)
“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” John 15:12(NLT)
As I began 2021 and as I looked over the themes of my blog posts on my previous website Life Over Lunch, I found that I wrote about many spiritual themes and fruit of the Spirit but was noticeably silent about one of the most basic Christian virtues – Love. Realizing that I need to be strongly anchored in Christ’s love for me and that true obedience is my act of love in return, I’ve been making this my study recently and am currently reading “Love Does” by Bob Goff.
“For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.” Romans 8:29-30 (NLT)
I’m amazed at how each of these concepts build upon each other in such a way to launch me into “calling”. They are building blocks really. First, I really needed to choose to believe and trust what the Bible tells me about Jesus. Then, just like John talks about in his example of Jesus as the vine and us as branches (John 15:5), I needed to stay engaging with God and listening to His Holy Spirit as a constant fellowship with Him. Even as I studied “Love”, an emotion of God that I had previously brushed past, I recognized that eventually understanding God’s love will lead me to loving others better.
But referring back to the book “Sent”, I’ve always struggled to recognize and fully embrace what the authors call “God’s Titles and Job Descriptions for Your Life”. These are the area where I need to better understand a calling that is shared with every believer. I’ve struggled with a nagging disconnect with the Great Commission. This book makes the titles and job descriptions more accessible to me and I just want to soak in them for a while until they permeate the way I live. What are these titles and job descriptions? Heather and Ashley Holleman point us to the Word of God where these four are spelled out: farmer, fisherman, ambassador and royal priest.
What spiritual truths do you need to soak in this year? Believe? Abide? Love? Or maybe, like me, you need to seek the Lord about how to walk in your calling as a “sent” one. So if you’re looking for something to kick-start your New Year, I’d love to hear from you and learn whether any of these spiritual focuses will be your resolution alternative. Blessings, friends!