Examine the past year before moving forward
Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
John Piper followed up and said, “Well, the examined life is not worth living either if the examination produces no resolutions. What examination and experience teach us is that the unplanned life settles into fruitless routine.”
The modern world in which we live places such a high standard on activity, productivity, and the like that we can easily settle into a “fruitless routine.”
So before jumping into the New Year, let us not miss the opportunity and beauty of pausing.
Let us pause to reflect. Pause to examine. Pause to ask probing questions about life, relationships, work, habits and more.
Below is a 5-step framework to use as a guideline followed by relevant questions to ask.
1. Start with prayer
Before you begin, find a quiet place (preferably where you can’t be interrupted) and spend time in prayer. Ask God to open the eyes of your heart (Ephesians 1:18) & give you the discerning mind He promised (Psalm 119:169). Take time in this place allowing your heart and mind to be settled before moving on.
Reflect on the past year and remember God’s goodness. Start by praising God purely for who He is and then remember all that He has given you. Don’t forget to grab a pen and paper.
- Break up the year by quarter or by month. This makes it easier to see the seasons He has walked you through.
- Reflect on the life you’ve lived with your family, friends, church members, work colleagues, etc.
- What new experiences did God provide you with? What about accomplishments in work or in Church? Vacations and memories? How about the small, daily interactions of life that were actually huge blessings?
- If you used your Daily Kairos journal, look back at all the prayers that God answered.
- As God reminds you of the above and more, give Him the praise that He deserves.
In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul tells the Corinthians to “examine themselves” to see whether they are in the faith. In other words, Paul is asking them to test themselves to determine if they are really Christians.
This verse isn’t intended to cause us to doubt the assurance of our salvation but rather to ensure we aren’t mere lip-professing Christians who are deceived into a false assurance of faith. It’s not hard to see how easily we can be deceived when we look into the Bible.
We know that “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9), Satan deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9), that there are men who are “false apostles, deceitful workers, distinguishing themselves as apostles of Christ” and that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Even Christ himself said “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’” (Matthew 7:22)
Before beginning, let us pray with the same earnestness as David in Psalm 139:23-24: "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
5 Questions to truthfully consider:
- What is the foundation of our hope? Are we depending on Christ, and His finished work alone, for salvation? Or are we depending on something that we’ve done or can do? 1 John 5:10
- Is Jesus really our Lord? Do we submit our will to His and seek Him in and above all things? 1 Corinthians 12:3
- Do the things of the Spirit attract you more than the things of the world? Are we hungry for His Word & fellowship or is that unattractive compared to other things? 1 Peter 2:2
- Do we no longer see God as a judge waiting to condemn us but a loving Father who is concerned about us and loves us? Do you cry out, “Abba, Father!”? Romans 8:15
- Do we use our talents, influence and gifts for God or for self? Romans 14:7-9
Additional questions to consider from Charles Spurgeon:
- Do you live without thoughts of God?
- Do you live without prayer, without searching the Scriptures?
- Have you wept over your lost condition before God?
- Have you ever tried to save yourself and found it a failure, driving you to rely simply, wholly and entirely on Christ?
- Can you say with truth that your desire is after his ways, that you feel the influence of His Spirit over you life, and seek every day to experience the fellowship of the Holy Spirit more and more?
One final note: The work of the Spirit is progressive.
There are seasons when our we are jumping for joy, rejoicing in our salvation and there are seasons when we may be covered with a cloud and scarcely have one evidence left. Let us not forget, “from glory to glory.”
After passing the examination section we move onto repenting and asking God for forgiveness for all the times we chose our ways over His. Reflect on times when you felt furthest from Him and see if that was due to a sinful act.
Where did you experience the opposite of the Fruits of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:19-21? Did you fall into any desires of your sinful nature such as: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures selfish ambition, outbursts of anger or more?
Is there someone you may not have forgiven? Is there someone whom you hurt and you have yet to ask forgiveness?
If married, do you live to please yourself first? Are you honoring the covenant of marriage by cultivating a relationship with your spouse?
As hard as it may be to look at all the ways we’ve fallen short over the year, let us remember that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9.
Let us enter the New Year with a clear conscience before our Creator!
5. Moving Forward
With a clear mind and the hard stuff out of the way, let us present our requests before the Lord! Before jumping off and rattling off goals and resolutions, invite the Holy Spirit to lead you.
What has God been saying over the last year? What are some obvious struggles that you still need help with? Where is the Holy Spirit calling you to grow?
Share your hopes and desires with the Lord and ask Him to reveal His hopes and dreams for you.
Don Whitney wrote an article a few years back titled, “10 Questions for a New Year” and they were so on point that I included 5 of them below:
- What is the most important thing you could do to improve your family life?
- What is the single biggest time waster in your life? What can you do next year to redeem that time?
- One thing you can do to enjoy God more this year?
- What’s an impossible prayer you can pray?
- What single thing can you plan to do this year that will matter most in 10 years? In eternity?
I pray this brings us all clarity on what the Lord has done, is doing and will continue to do in and through us. May we close with praise and gratitude for His mercy, goodness and the wonderful promises given to all of us who believe.