I’ve just hung a new calendar on the wall and cracked open my new day-planner so I can start penciling in some key dates for the new year. I love the holidays. But there’s a unique, unmatched energy that comes with flipping over to a new calendar and starting a brand new year.
Many people kick off the New Year by setting goals or resolutions. I used to start there too, jotting down lists of what I wanted to accomplish, where I wanted to see change, what new places I wanted to visit, etc. I still do that, but it’s not my first step. A few years ago I made a slight shift and instead started by first listening to what the Lord was saying prophetically. It changed everything! It’s added so much richness to what I give my energy and time to. Now, I can be sure that any accomplishments, objectives and goals I set are in alignment with what God is already saying and what He wants to do. It helps me focus on what’s truly important, and allows me to hold loosely to the things I may want to do, but are maybe not quite as important in the big picture of things.
Over the next few days, I’m going to be sharing some insight as to what this process looks like for me. How do I hear God prophetically for the New Year? Where do I start? What does this look like practically and how does it affect my planning and strategies? If this is something that interests you, I invite you to come along for the journey!
Today, I’m going to share the first step in the process. The one I’m taking time to do today:
Reflection is a discipline for me. I’m much more of a forward-thinker. Always thinking about the future, focused on where I’m going and what I’m doing to keep moving forward. But several years ago, the Lord took me through a process that trained me in this area. Through that process, I came to understand the spiritual significance, value, and necessity of reflection.
It happened at the end of what I considered a very difficult year and what I was hoping was the end of a very difficult season. And it was. Set before me was the prospect of a new challenge but I could sense that the favor and doors I had walked through previously had shut (somewhat loudly) behind me. Things hadn’t turned out quite as I had thought they would. None of it really made much sense to me, but I was ready to leave it behind me and just move on. What I didn’t realize was that I was trying to move on from it far too quickly. There was a process that needed to take place. One that would allow me to transition properly between what was and what would be.
I remember being in prayer one morning and with pencil and paper in hand I was asking God about what was next. I was ready for my new assignment. Give me my marching orders! I even said something along the lines of “I’m not sure what that last season was all about, but I trust You with it, and I’m just ready to move on.” But God, in His wisdom, tenderness and patience, reached for my hand, had me put my pencil down and instead tilted the light to shine onto that little area, alllll the way in the back of my heart. That tiny little place where this small, but nagging feeling was taking up residence. The one I was trying to ignore. It was the thought (the lie, really) that was secretly trying to whisper to me that the years I had just spent serving in that particular capacity and role had been a total and complete waste.
You see, in the natural, I felt as though I’d come to the end of that year (and that season) not really having much to show for. I was used to the corporate world, where we’d pull out charts, graphs and spreadsheets to highlight and celebrate our progress. We’d talk about where we started and how we’d moved forward in “this” area and moved the bar up the scale in “that” area. How our teams had grown and improved and how our reach as an organization had expanded. It was all very…measurable. Facts. Charts. Data. Progress.
Yet now, I felt like I’d come to the end of a year and was walking away somewhat empty handed. I knew I’d been faithful with what I was given to do, but in the natural, I couldn’t account for how I, personally, had moved forward in that space of time. It was frustrating, but I also knew there was nothing I could do to change it. I couldn’t go back in time. So the best thing to do, in my opinion, was to “count my losses”, and just move on.
But God wouldn’t let me.
Through that time in prayer, as He shined that light on that area I was trying so desperately to ignore, it was like a movie scene opened up to me in the theatre of my mind. He gave me a vision. One in which He wanted to show me the spiritual perspective of what that season had really been all about.
In this scene, I saw a field. A large massive field. And as I looked more closely, I saw dead bodies strewn all over it. Though I never saw the faces, these bodies were covered in armor of different types and colors. The figures varied in size and appearance. There were also weapons scattered all over the field. It was obvious a war had just taken place there.
As I continued waiting for God to reveal to me what it meant, He made it clear – that war was what I had just waged spiritually. That year – that season – the one I was getting ready to write off as “ineffective” or “unproductive”, was more about what I had accomplished spiritually than what I had accomplished in the natural. As I considered that, it made perfect sense. Because the greatest challenges of that season had less to do with performance and had more to do with issues of the heart. It was a season that above all, put my faith to the test, and sharpened and refined my character.
Guarding my heart. Keeping my heart pure. Walking in integrity – no matter what. Seeking God for wisdom. Having patience. Exercising restraint when necessary. Having pure motives and not doing things from a place of self-promotion or self-preservation. Forgiving. Forgiving again. Operating and walking in forgiveness. Having grace. Serving with a sincere heart. Being obedient in secret. Not misusing information or access for my own personal advantage. Being faithful with the littlest of things – even when no one was looking. For all those things, God was saying to me, “Well done.” And He needed me to see things the way He saw them so that I could properly receive what He would show me was next.
I share this because maybe, like me, you’ve never taken time to consider the spiritual significance behind the year you’ve just been through. Whenever I come to the start of a new year or can sense a shift in seasons approaching, I make this one of my top priorities. Because how we define and close out one season will determine how we start the next. It also has a direct impact on how we interpret the greater narrative of our life journey. Years have a way of communicating headlines in our story. If we don’t understand them properly, or are not viewing them through the proper filter, we can end up thinking “Oh well”, when God is actually saying, “Well done.”
Practically speaking, there are three things I now use to help me through this reflective process. Having these available just help trigger my memory:
1.) My previous year’s calendar or planner. This is just so I can remember where I’ve been and what I’ve done.
2.) My journal(s). So I can recall what God drew my attention to and what He said along the way. This includes my dream journal as well.
3.) The photo album in my phone. Because pictures paint a thousand words and have the ability to take us right back to certain places and times.
Once I have these together, I take some time to go month by month and prayerfully, I re-tell the story of my year back to myself. I express thanks for God’s faithfulness along the way and make a choice to lay any disappointments down at His feet. I ask Him to show me where I may have missed the work or the Presence of the Holy Spirit. And I ask Him to point out any areas where my narrative doesn’t line up with His. Once I’ve done this, I zoom out, encapsulating it all in a “nutshell” headline and I present my year as an offering once again unto Him.
Before you start setting goals and/or resolutions for the New Year, my question to you is, how will you close out this present year? If there were a headline over your year, what would it read? And are you certain that’s what it reads in heaven too? Because how you define this year – spiritually speaking – will directly impact how and what you put your hand to in the New Year. And in my experience, God’s perspective is always so much higher and gracious and full of life than what we tend to communicate to ourselves.
“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him and bless His name.” Psalm 100:4 NKJV