Most people say they hate Mondays, but I’ll be honest, I love them. Mondays give me an opportunity to start the new week with a blank slate. If last week went poorly, I have the chance to start over and refocus. This is also the reason I love the first day of the month. So, as you can imagine, like most people, I love the turn of the page that signifies a new year. It’s a chance to step back, take stock, look at things I want to change, and refocus on what matters the most.
Unfortunately, we often stumble out of the blocks on our “New Year’s resolutions,” don’t we. The problem is that we get started on New Year’s Day. You may have stayed up too late and therefore slept late on the first day of the year. I live in Alabama, so our New Year’s Day is devoted not to work, but to college football. Most of us have goals related to weight loss and there is no worse way to get started than snacking while watching football all day.
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.
To help me think about what I need to focus on in 2018, I sat down last week and I wrote a list of questions I needed to think through. Walking through these questions helped me to think about what needs to change, what I need to refocus on, and what I need to plan. (I picked up a few of these questions from others, though I cannot remember where, and others came from personal experience.)
Here are 9 questions I am asking myself heading into 2018.
What are My Roles?
Before I can start planning my year or thinking about what I need to work on, I need to clarify what my roles and callings are. My roles lead to my goals. For any person who follows Jesus, our first role is Christian. If you are married, your next role is husband or wife. I have four kids, so next, I need to think about my role as a father. Only after these big rocks do we start thinking about our vocations and other outside responsibilities.
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?
I think the two that come up the most for people looking at these kinds of dominos are weight and debt. We tend towards self-indulgence, and our bank accounts and waistlines show it. Losing excess weight helps us to feel better, have more energy, save money on doctor visits and prescriptions, and fit into more affordable clothing. Dropping debt frees up more money for saving and giving. We can better take advantage of opportunities that come our way. Plus, carrying less debt relieves stress while helping us rest better at night. These are just two examples of things you can focus on that will create a ripple effect of change in your life.
What Two Things Do I Need to Stop Doing?
I cannot remember how many different books, podcasts, and blog posts contain some form of the advice, “your not-to-do list is as important as your to-do list.” (I most recently ran across it in Tim Ferriss’s Tribe of Mentors.) What is taking up too much time in your life or causing too much stress? If at all possible, cut it out.
Let’s start with the most obvious, if you are spending massive amounts of time on your phone or social media, you need to find ways to curb this. Too much time on your phone increases stress, makes you more unhappy, fills your mind with needless anxiety, destroys your capacity for deep work, and takes valuable hours away from God’s word, your family, and your neighbors. So, what can you do to spend less time staring at a screen? In the last few months, I have added two apps to my phone and computer that helped me immensely. Moment shows how much time I have spent on my phone and how many times I have picked it up. Freedom allows you to block certain apps and websites for a specified amount of time. (Just a few minutes ago, I got hung up writing a paragraph and mindlessly opened Chrome so I could check Twitter. I was in the middle of a Freedom session and could not get to Twitter, so I came back a finished the paragraph.)
How am I Going to Grow in God’s Word?
I recently heard Jen Wilkin comment that we are in a biblical literacy crisis in the American church. Who could argue with her? We spend little time reading our Bibles and even less time thinking about how we are going to grow in our knowledge of the Scriptures. We cannot remedy this problem overnight, so we need to think about how we are going to engage in God’s word every single day.
As you start to look at how you are going to grow in God’s word, think about it in two categories– deep and wide. By this, I mean that you need a plan for growing in your grasp of the entirety of Scripture and for drilling deeper into individual Biblical passages. To do this, pick a plan for reading the whole Bible over the next year or year and a half. Also, decide on one book or section of a book that you will read in more detail or memorize. In this way, you’ll grow in knowing what is in the whole Bible while also experiencing the transforming power of individual verses. (If you are looking for a good reading plan, check out the Bible Eater Plan, Navigators Plan, or Robert Murray Mc’Cheyne’s plan. If you want to know where to start memorizing Scripture, look at this list of 15 verses or this list of 8 longer passages.)
What Relationships Do I Need to Prioritize?On Thanksgiving Day, I stepped foot in my hometown for the first time since February. This may not sound like a big deal, but my mom, two brothers, and some aunts and uncles live there. For most of 2017, I neglected to spend time with my family because I could not “find” the time to get down there. So, for 2018, I’m going to look at when I will make the time to see my family.
This doesn’t just affect time with our families. Maybe there are neighbors you need to get to know or friendships that you have ignored. What do you need to do to nurture these friendships? When are you going to set aside the time to call them and make time to get together? Friendships and familial relationships are worth the effort, but since they don’t have an alarm or a set deadline, we don’t give them the time they need.
What Books Am I Going to Read?
Every person, especially followers of Jesus, should commit to being lifelong learners. We want to grow in our knowledge of the Scriptures, theology, and church life. We should work to understand changes in our culture. We also need to grow in our knowledge of history and philosophy so we know how we got to where we are today.
While there is a great benefit to reading whatever you feel like reading, we do need to have some kind of plan in mind for our reading. In what areas of theology do you need to grow? Has someone recently asked you a tough question that you struggled to answer? Is there a current debate you need to better understand? Is there a book everyone talks about that you have never read? These questions will help you start deciding what to read. Pick a few books now for next year and you’ll have an answer when someone wants to know what you want for Christmas.
What Will I Wish I Had Done When 2019 Begins?
In some ways, this is my least favorite question. It is hard to look a year out and know what you should have done. At the same time, there’s probably something you wanted to commit to at the beginning of this year and you are kicking yourself because you did not do it.
I have another set of questions I ask myself throughout the day, and this one creeps in sometimes. I ask what the best thing is I can be doing right now. I ask what is the hard thing to do right now and what is the easy way out. (I ask this to keep challenging myself.) I reflect on what would be the wise or foolish thing to do in the moment. Throughout the day, though, I will stop to ask what I will wish I had done at the end of the day, at the end of the week, on my birthday, or at the end of the year. While this is hard to answer, it keeps me focused on my big goals.
When Am I Going to Take a Break?
I have become convinced over the last several years that I have not been intentional enough about planning time off. Due to the nature of the ministry, it can take as much of your time as you allow it to. There is always a reason to not take a day off and it seems as if there is never a good time to take a vacation. I doubt that my vocation is much different than most because we are a tired, overworked people.
Start planning at the beginning of the year when you will step away from work to relax and enjoy life. Go ahead and mark the week you would like to go on vacation. Plan your days off. If it is Saturday, what are the things you need to do during the week so that work does not bleed into your day off? Sit down and plan this.
How Should I Adjust My Daily Rhythms?
Sometimes, when we focus on a big project like “I want to read the whole Bible this year” or “I want to lose 50 pounds” we forget that big goals cannot be accomplished in one day. Instead, following through on these things is usually a matter of the small decisions that you make throughout the day. So, look at your big goals and ask what you need to do each day to plug away at them. Then, make them part of your daily rhythm.
For example, if you need to get out of debt, maybe you need to get into a routine of making coffee at home and fixing yourself lunch to take to the office so you don’t eat out. If you want to read the Bible through this year, look at when you are going to read Scripture each day and how many chapters you need to read. When committing to Scripture memory, what is going to be your rhythm for learning new verses and reviewing old ones?
These are just a few suggestions for questions you could ask yourself to jumpstart progress for next year. Growth matters because Peter called us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,” In addition, God commands us to be stewards of what he has given us and to glorify him with our bodies. We want to continue to make an impact on those around us for his Kingdom. Therefore, doesn’t it follow that we need to give careful thought to how we are going to grow so that we can bring glory to God in every aspect of this life he has entrusted to us?
“Four Bible Reading Strategies for Reading Plan Quitters“
For Further Reading:
Reset by David Murray
What’s Best Next by Matt Perman