Check in for your annual spiritual review

Michele Morrison offers some practical ideas to help you learn from the events of the old year and discover what God wants for you in 2008

New Year’s Resolutions, like the plethora of self-help books available, reveal our culture’s conviction that, given enough willpower, we can be whoever we want to be. The annual rite of making resolutions reflects our desire to close the book on the fading year, especially if it was an annus horribilis, and start a new chapter in which we will accomplish at least some of those goals which eluded us last year and we will, in fact, be better people by the end of it.

One year my husband resolved to finish his Michelangelo act round the cornicing in our sitting room – and a year later, as the clock ticked towards midnight, he finally cleaned his brushes for the last time. He sighed with relief, and resolved not to make any more resolutions!

Such goals can be achieved through grim determination, but other resolutions challenge us to change some aspect of our character or behaviour we don’t like: stop swearing, read the Bible more, or be more patient. These laudable goals, though, can be unattainable in our own strength, and our self-esteem is easily undermined if we fail.

Character DIY can leave us in bits. Fear of failure causes many of us to refuse to make resolutions in the first place. As the old adage goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” so why cobble any more miles of our own volition?

Good intentions fail when they are not God’s intentions. His stated intention for our lives is make us more like Jesus. So it’s good to plug in to the Maker for a diagnostic check-up once a year, because he will provide the power to correct any faults and enable us to become the women he has created us to be.

Through David, God instructed his people to “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done ...” (1 Chronicles 16:11–12). When it comes to the wonders God has done in our lives, it is all too easy to suffer from memory loss. Take time to remember. Step aside, take stock, and seek God’s face as he has been reflected throughout the sweep of the year which is passing.

Seek New Year’s Revelations before making New Year’s Resolutions. Build into the rhythm of the season time to prayerfully review the past 12 months. We’re all busy, distracted by the urgent and the noisy, but discipline yourself to jettison something in order to take time with God.
Of course, you could undertake such a review at any time, and in fact you may already have periods of retreat and reflection built into your life. But there is something neat and tidy about drawing breath at the close of one year before turning over the calendar page and starting afresh.

To look back reflectively offers a space of time to discern God’s fingerprints on our lives over the past 12 months and detect a direction. We want to swim with God’s current and not find ourselves battling against it.

The Lord will open opportunities for you to move forward in the path he is calling you into. This past year, I have been blessed by my neighbour’s gardening expertise and companionship as she’s weeded alongside me, helping me to make sense of a chaotic herbaceous border. I’ve been able to share Jesus in natural ways without confrontation or stridency and, as I look back, I see that God’s hand has been in the whole thing. As she’s sown seeds, so has God.

Note down what God tells you and put it in a place where you will be reminded frequently of his game plan, so you can pray it into reality.

Paul speaks of running with perseverance the race that is set before him, of having a clear picture of the goal (Jesus) and going all out for it without being distracted. We can easily become waylaid and this exercise may help us to refocus our energies.
New Year’s Revelations should encourage our faith and help us to make New Year’s Resolutions which we can keep, with God’s help.

May 2008 be a year of blessing, fulfilment, and steady growth as you continue to put down your roots into Christ and bear fruit for the nourishment of others.

Steps to help you look back reflectively

Find a special place

In Exodus 33, Moses met with God in a special tent of meeting. Of course God is everywhere, but there is something very helpful to our own spiritual sensitivity about having a special place for meeting him.

You might find candles or flowers give you a focus or a sense of peace, or soft praise music can be conducive to worship.

Create a trysting place for you to meet with your almighty lover and friend. You want to take note of what God has done with you internally, and then see how that change has expressed itself externally.

See yourself through God’s eyes

Start by taking a good, hard look at yourself through God’s eyes, with ‘Holy Spirit specs’. Can you see where the fruit of the Spirit is more evident in your life now than it was at the end of last year?

Can you glimpse buds where before there was blight? Fruit where before there were only flowers? If not, wait humbly before God, expecting him to reveal new growth. Paul prayed that God would sanctify the Thessalonians through and through, and reminded them that “the one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. The thrill of discovering even the tiniest new growth will swell your heart with joy and thanksgiving, and raise your expectations of what he can do in the next 12 months.

List your lessons and challenges

Next, see how the growth towards the holiness of Christ affected your actions during the year. Look through your wall calendar, computer diary, or a prayer journal. Pause for the Holy Spirit to highlight a lesson, an encouragement, a challenge, a person. Take notes.

Then run your eye down your list with your ear sensitive to God’s whispering analysis and your eyes open to his presence. Is there a pattern? Is it ongoing or has it finished?

Allow God to wash you clean whenever you encounter a sin or failure. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Allow the Spirit to draw out lessons and to challenge you with new ways to walk in Christ.
Consider your new goals

Ask God for his goals for you in the new year. What is his strategy for reaching them? God declares, “I know the plans that I have for you …” (Jeremiah 29:11), How exciting! Don’t you want to know what they are?

No doubt he’ll gently point out areas where you are deficient in spiritual fruit, so you can be prayerfully dependent on him in the coming year. He may be challenging you to step out in faith in some area where fear holds you back. He may instruct you to follow him more closely.