(Ready to Review?)
: Yes, I've been known to be introspective. But hopefully not overly so. Yet Socrates was right in saying "The unexamined life is not worth living" (Apology 38a). On and around my birthday I've developed the habit of allowing introspection, review and planning a little extra time. Sometimes I've set apart a morning, earlier in my life I would frequently try to schedule a one or two day retreat for prayer and listening.
Whether you take a day at home, or a smaller amount of time to start, allow me to share a little of the steps and elements of an annual process I've come to find invaluable...
specific foci, goals and priorities for the year. The prayer of the child Samuel is ever in my heart: "Speak Lord, your servant hears" (I Samuel 3:10). Each year I feel challenged and stretched by how I sense the Lord directing. Each year I can only say, "Yes, Lord, and any steps towards fruitfulness or success in what You've called me to can come only from Your strength, provision and grace. Without You I fail."
God's Goodness: First I want to reflect on God's goodness in the year past. Whether the year has been a triumph or a challenge there is much for which to give thanks, and the discipline of itemizing these mentally, or better, putting them to paper, is a heart-expanding exercise. To avoid limiting thanksgiving to special days, I would commend writing a list of "100 things for which I am thankful." Even if you only get to 10 today, come back to it from time to time to add a few more. Then on difficult days you can read it, add a few more, and be refreshed.
Life's Purpose: On my birthday, I also like to reflect on the larger context of my life's purpose. Life is a gift with a purpose. I commend to you taking the time on your birthday, or some other occasion, to write or revise a personal expression of your life mission statement. At one level of course all who have given their lives in abandonment to Christ have a common life's purpose. Yet each of us has different education, personality strengths, life experience leading to specific learnings that makes reflection on how we fit into God's redemptive purpose for the world eminently worthwhile.
Life-verse (or verse for the year): There is some danger in choosing a single verse in that a singular focus may cause us to overlook other verses of equal value in shaping our lives. This danger however is not as great as not choosing a life's verse or a verse for the year. My life's verse has been Philippians 3:14 in the context of verses 7-14. In various years the Lord has drawn me to meditate deeply on other verses also as a focus for that year in an area the Lord has wanted to shape me.
Character Goals: Another area of reflection regards my character within that larger context. Where do I need to grow? All of us have character weaknesses and want to address them under God's grace. During my season of review I confess to God those areas, and identify where I believe God most wants me to grow. I'm speaking here not of specific behaviours to confess (though there is a place for that) but themes. The list should not be long if it is to be useful. For example next year I want particularly to focus on:
1. Not taking rejection of my convictions or wishes personally or withdrawing emotionally when rejected,
2. Being careful to be accurate in descriptions, not overstating things I believe to be important, and
3. Looking for opportunities to serve in interruptions, even when the interruption is, in my view, undesirable.
Ministry Goals: By reflecting on ministry goals for the year ahead I don't just mean goals in vocational ministry, though I'm grateful for that privilege, but more broadly that which we do for others in the name of Christ regardless of vocation. Here's how I go about this part of my birthday review:
First, I find a place to be still, perhaps in an extended quiet time, and ask the Lord a question based on full surrender: "Father, what is the most You can envision doing with the package of strengths and weaknesses that is me for the Your Kingdom this year?" It's the same question I've asked for many years and I put no limits on any answer the Lord may give. He is God and can do anything He chooses through me if I remain surrendered and obedient.
Then I listen to what the Lord puts into my heart and mind regarding
Thirdly - and this step is never complete on the day of my birthday review, I begin to write out steps which will need to be taken in the direction I believe the Lord has called me to in the next year of my life. Elsewhere on this site I've written something of the process I've found useful in this regard, which includes a regular review of focus on the goal and the steps to be taken today towards it.
I recognize some may feel all this is "a little much" for one's birthday! It is, true, but it's true also that it's the only life we have.