Christmas is a river. Specifically, the St. Lawerence River. Every year, the day after Thanksgiving, I climb in my little Christmas barrel and swing into the current. Home decorating, gift shopping, cooking and baking, company coming, reaching out to those who need it—I ride the accelerating flow of Christmas, occasionally slowing in an eddy of candle light, advent reflection or quiet carols, then back out into the whitewater of mailing gifts, sending cards, airport pick-ups, faster and faster until it’s Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Niagra Falls and we’re over the edge, down the drop…and then…about now…I pop up downstream and think…ok, where was I before Christmas swept me away? Where was I and where do I want to go?
Christmas takes me into the most micro story of all—God Most High becomes Mary-overshadowed small. Deeply intimate. A transcendent mystery became oh so personal—this girl, this stable, this baby, these magi standing by their camels. And I feel like I barely stay afloat in a river of micro to-do’s—this exact gift for this person, this cup of Christmas tea with this particular friend, this message on this card. Lists and lists of all the ways we want to celebrate until finally the lists disappear into the spray of the falls and we just hang on as our barrel plunges.
If Christmas feels micro then New Years feels macro. Time to climb out of the barrel and take stock. Gather up the dropped balls. Look up-river where we’ve been, look down-river and chart a new course. Or recommit to the dropped balls. (Or let some of them float away.) New Years affords us the natural opportunity to reflect and evaluate. Where again is true north…and is my life moving in that direction?
Sometimes the greatest challenge to living our God-given purpose is the failure to reflect on what it is or how to grab hold of it. Here are two ways this New Year’s week can change your year:
One: Discover or re-focus on what God says about your purpose. Then reflect and pray over it. God’s word has much to say about true north. And with today’s apps and search capabilities it’s so easy to access what he tells us about “purpose.” Here is a glimpse of what I’m finding:
Notes from Psalm 57:1-3 and Psalm 138:8 “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.”
- God has a good and loving purpose for me, a purpose motivated by his steadfast, forever love.
- God will fulfill his purpose for me. And protect it by his deliverance. David boldly affirmed that God would fulfill his purpose for him. And Acts 13:36 confirms: David indeed "served the purpose of God in his own generation."
- God’s purpose for me is shaped by where he has placed me—in this generation. In this family. In this this nation. In this church. In this community. In this company of colleagues and friends.
- If we want to intimately know God and his purpose, we humble ourselves before his purpose. (“Be merciful,” “he regards the lowly”)
- His purpose motivates and shapes our prayers. We pray claiming his promise and purpose for us.
- Do I really believe God’s purpose for the story of my life is good and loving?
- Do I really believe God will protect his purpose for me by his unfailing deliverance?
- What do I learn about my purpose from the generation (family, community, church, colleagues and friends) in which God has placed me?
- Am I humbly trying to align my purpose with his or asking God to fulfill my purposes for my life?
Notes from Ephesians 1:3-12: God’s purpose for me-
- To be holy and blameless before him.
- To be intimate with him—his adopted daughter through Jesus.
- That my life is and will be a story of praise of his glorious grace, in response to his grace given to me in his beloved community. Lived out redemption, forgiveness and insight, especially the revelation of his will and purpose set forth in Christ.
- That I would be part of all things united in Christ to the praise of his glory—an inclination toward kindness and unity rather than condemnation, judgment and separation.
- How do my thoughts about my purpose line up with God’s?
- How am I ordering my time and resources toward these purposes?
- How am I valuing and living out my purpose in the community of the beloved?
- How might I live out more redemption, forgiveness and insight?
Notes from 2 Timothy 1:8-12:
- Fulfilling our purpose means living in unity with Christ and his gospel, which bring life and immortality. Also suffering.
- If we suffer for fulfilling God’s purpose we should never be ashamed. Paul was in prison, unashamed.
- In what ways is God helping me fulfill his purpose through pouring his life into me? Through allowing suffering?
- In what ways might I be actually ashamed of how I may be suffering for living out his purpose in my life?
Second thing you can do this week: Take the true grit test.
We like the good feelings of newness and change. But research tells us that the chemistry of feeling good about the new typically lasts about two years. In year three an inordinate amount of marriages, friendships, church and job commitments fall apart.
Research also tells us about what it takes to endure when newness wears off. Researcher Angela Duckworth studied which West Point cadets were likely to endure and graduate. She found that that the greatest predictor of retention was not IQ, high school rank, or even talent – the best predictor of those would stay at West Point was their score on a simple 12 question grit scale. Grit is characterized by passion and commitment toward a long-term objective.
My results on the grit scale sobered me. In fact, just looking at the questions sobered me. My creative right brain is continually distracted by the “new.” So my prayer for the New Year is that God would set before me the same joy that helped Jesus endure the cross, despising the shame and accomplishing God’s purpose—my redemption, life and immortality. May he add to my creativity the true grit of endurance. And yours too.