Here is what I wrote in Godlier Than Last Year:
“I used to hate the month of January. I’m not a fan of cold weather, so I would say that January and February are the worst two months of the year. If I can just get to March, then I’ll be happy again, I told myself. I think the post-holiday blues had something to do with this as well. But something changed in my thinking in the last few years. Suddenly, I began to have a different perspective. Instead of seeing January as a month to dread because of the cold, I began to love January because it signifies a new beginning and the perfect time to make goals and personal life adjustments.”
I still feel the same way. Of course, God’s plans and ours are not always the same, but a little common sense and a quick look at the book of Proverbs teaches that making a broad plan for your life is closer to the side of prudence than faithlessness. As John Piper says: “The fact that the Lord is ultimately in control of the future does not mean we shouldn’t plan. It means we should commit our work to the Lord and trust him to establish our plans according to his loving purposes.”
Decide right now to make a plan to start your new year off right. If you wait until January 1st, it’s too late.
Making a plan is worthless if you don’t follow through, but it’s easier to follow through if you have a plan. Removing friction for productivity is half the battle.
With that in mind, let me encourage you to start the new year off right by doing the following before the new year begins:
We best not neglect our thankfulness to our great God and King who, despite any ailments and afflictions we may have faced this past year, is worthy of ceaseless thanks and gratitude. So thank God for who he is and what he did in your life in 2021. Reflect on the year and make a list, whether mental or physical or digital and spend time thanking God for the ways he blessed you. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about being a Christian over the past couple of years — both from my personal experience and from my study of Scripture as a pastor and as a writer— is the indisputable importance that thankfulness plays in the Christian life.
I had a lot of confusing, weird things happen to me in 2021. Although I believe in a Reformed view of God’s providence with all my heart, I am merely human, and I, too, have my questions and struggles. Like the Psalmists, I, too, need to cry out to God in lament. It’s important to deal with the hard events you faced in 2021 so that all possible removable baggage will be gone in 2022. Of course, life in a fallen world means that there are some blows we experience that cannot be healed this side of heaven. But learning to lament helps us cope with pain.
In How to Lament I borrow from Mark Vroegop’s book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament which teaches you how to do this. In short, you lament by turning to God, cry out to Him in your pain, using specific language as you do, and then trust God with the results.
You might also find it helpful to journal your thoughts, to speak with trusted Christian friends, or even a professional counselor. Either way, we want to start off 2022 as best as possible, and dealing with our emotional pain now helps toward that goal.
What you read in December affects how you live in January (and beyond). For December, especially the last two weeks, be intentional about what you read. Consuming the right material will inspire you to start the year right.
I’ll recommend two books:
Book Recommendation #1: Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals (or a book on time management, productivity, habits, or goal-setting)
This is the best material on goal-setting I’ve seen (Fun fact: I was on the book launch team to help promote this volume). I read it for the book launch team, but just recently re-read it on Kindle. Once again, I left inspired to set big goals for myself.
Goal-setting is powerful. The way I see it, your calling determines your goals, and your goals determine your tasks. Calling, goals, and tasks are interconnected. Having goals gives you something to aim for, determines what you should do, and provides a guide to see if you are drifting or moving in the right direction.
Additionally, a regular review of your goals sparks motivation to complete those tasks with a vigor that you cannot experience had you not set the goal.
You might find goal-setting crippling because of a poor past experience. I get it.
But . . . even if you’ve had a bad experience in the past, gaining knowledge about the subject (through reading a book) may redeem your view of goals.
Give it a shot. Your view may change. I’ve found that some of the things I thought were dumb five years ago were just a result of my life experience or me doing something wrong.
Book Recommendation #2: Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David Murray (or a book on rest)
This book is tailored toward men (But Murray’s wife, Shona, has written a similar book for women entitled Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands.) I recommend this book at the end of the year because it will help you reset, recover, and practice better self-care. It will make you more aware of the areas of your life where you are going too fast and need to slow down.
So a book on goal-setting (getting you amped up), and a book on resetting (slowing you down) is a good balance for the end of the year. Far from a contradiction, it’s a paradox that reveals the beauty of the Christian life which is a mixture of resting in God’s sovereign care and working hard toward accomplishing good works.
OK, you’ve read a book on goal-setting and rest (or functional equivalents). Now it’s time to plan.
Spiritual Growth: Are you going to use a Bible reading plan? How will you pray? What Christian books are you going to read? How can you serve your church?
For those in Christ, the glorious doctrine of progressive sanctification means that you will inevitably grow in Christ, but this doctrine must be combined with your personal grace-driven effort, and part of this effort looks like you planning how you want to grow, and then asking for God’s blessing on your plan.
Goals: Hyatt (in the book mentioned above) will walk you through this. Hyatt recommends setting goals in the following areas: spiritual, intellectual, emotional, physical, marital, parental, social, vocational, avocational, and financial.
And whatever else comes to mind. Make a plan for what you want to accomplish.
You want to start the next year feeling refreshed, which often means ending the previous year resting. If possible, consider taking the last week or the last few days of the year off. If you are committed to rising early for a morning routine, then think twice about staying up too late on New Year’s Eve as you want to gain momentum on the very first day.
So, this is how you plan for a new year: pray and thank God for the good that was, lament to God for the sorrow and trials, consume literature to stimulate your mind, and rest.
I love this quote from John Calvin: “Each year, month, and day is governed by a new, a special, providence of God.” Indeed. God’s sovereign will is immutable, but somehow, in a way our finite minds cannot grasp, God ordains that the actions we commit get woven into the plan God has for our life. You cannot control everything that happens to you, but by God’s grace, making a plan for a new year just might help you to enjoy the providences that you hope God will send.
You may also like: