At the start of a new year there’s always talk of resolutions, SMART goals, turning over a new leaf, making the new year better than the last. There’s nothing really magical about a date on the calendar. But time does matter. And I’d like to suggest that instead of making goals, you begin this new year by asking these three questions.
It’s not that goals don’t matter. If you don’t know where you’re headed, anywhere is OK. You’ve probably heard the advice, and there’s lots of it; make your goals SMART – Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. Write them down. Take it in small steps. Enlist support from family and friends. Those things are important, and they help.
But none of that is useful if you haven’t wrestled with some of the deeper questions. It’s those matters of the heart that will be the most important factor in moving you toward what you really want.
So consider ditching the resolutions, and contemplate these three questions.
What do you want, really?
What do you want? Jesus often asked that question. (See John 1:38, Matthew 20:32, John 5:6) What your heart longs for matters to Him. And when Jesus asked that question it wasn’t primarily for His own information; it was because He wanted the person to know what was going on in their own soul.
Your “usual” answer might be that you want more money, or to lose weight, or a less contentious marriage, or to find a spouse, or resolution of some pain you’re experiencing, or some new level of influence in ministry. Those might be good things.
But don’t stop there; look at least one level deeper.
And what’s your Why? Why do you really want to lose weight, or make more money, or get involved in ministry? Keep going deeper until you get to the underlying motivation, your true Why. To make a lasting change, your Why will have to be big enough to outweigh the discomfort of going through the difficult change process. If your Why is something like “because I should,” or “because they told me to,” it won’t last.
Looking at these deeper places in your soul may be uncomfortable. Acknowledging what you really long for might open up some places of pain, or elicit a fear of disappointment. While your desires matter to Jesus, there’s no guarantee they will be fulfilled in the way you want them to be – yet. God is not a magician or a heavenly vending machine!
So, what do you want, really?
Lord, What are You Up To?
How many times have you wanted to do something or made some significant plans and then said, “Oh right, we better ask God to bless this.” Your plans might look great, and they might even be for the benefit of others.
However, God is not obligated to “bless” something you come up with. He’s not “fairy dust” you sprinkle on your plans or desires.
But God does make Himself responsible to finish what He starts. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). That principle holds for a business initiative, a marriage, a ministry outreach, or an improvement you want to make in your own life.
So take the time to thoughtfully and prayerfully ask God what He’s up to. When you align with Him and His plans, you have a 100% chance of success. Sometimes it will look different than what you expect. And sometimes it’s hard!
Hearing God’s voice in this way requires you acknowledge your own desires but that you hold them loosely, with open hands. You will need to let your own soul get quiet enough to listen to whatever He may say. Only in the quiet can you truly hear His voice.
How is God Inviting Me to Cooperate with Him?
When you do Experience God in this way, it will likely require a lot of you. There are always things God invites you to do as you join Him. Your faith will be stretched, and you will need to take action.
Cooperating with God is a mindset that even scientific research demonstrates leads to good outcomes. It’s not you simply “trying harder” to make things happen on your own. And it’s not sitting back and expecting God to do it for you. What step is He inviting you to take in working with Him? That’s what Philippians 2:12-13 indicates as well; God works, and we work.
Sometimes those steps are really practical. It might be God asks you to change something in your daily physical lifestyle. It might be doing the hard work to connect with a few others on the journey, or stepping out to do something that feels risky.
And there are times what God invites you to do is more internal. He might stir your heart to learn to forgive, pursue intimacy with Him, or to allow Him to deal with something in your life that is keeping you from what He wants for you.
As you begin this year, you might ditch the resolutions. Take some time to consider, What do you want, really? And then I suggest this two-part prayer as a great way to begin 2024:
- God, what are You up to? What are You doing in and around me that You’re inviting me into?
- God, what next step do You need me to take in working with You?
And I pray 2024 is a year of growth, joy, transformation, and meaning for you.
Your Turn: What do you want, really? What do you sense God is up to in and around you? What step is He inviting you to take in working together with Him this year? Leave a comment below.
Want more? We’re coming to the end of the 12 Days of Christmas, known in some Christian traditions as Christmastide. We’ve been sharing brief (5-minute) videos daily for these 12 days; check out the YouTube playlist.
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- Instead of making resolutions or setting goals, start with asking some probing questions; What do I want, really? What is God up to? How is He inviting me to cooperate with Him in what He’s doing? Tweet that.
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