This post has been running through my head for weeks, but it took awhile to actually carve out time to transfer content from my head to my laptop. For those of you who’ve followed this blog for more than a year, you know that every fall, I issue the same challenge:
“Begin seeking God for what your spiritual focus should be next year.” I offer that challenge in the fall, so you have time to pray and seek God to confirm what direction of study and spiritual growth He has for you in the coming year.
Now let me add, any study of the Word is profitable and good, and I’m not suggesting that by having a “spiritual focus for growth” it limits you to one word, phrase, or area of study.
You don’t have to adopt a “spiritual focus” for the year in order to pursue God or cultivate a more intimate relationship with Him, but it helps to have a map that guides you toward a worthy goal. The yearly Scripture passage becomes my map and provides me with a general course for the year, and I’ve found it helpful in my personal walk with God.
Setting the heart toward a certain destination will produce greater results than wandering aimlessly. The reason I encourage you to have a spiritual focus for the year is because an intentional pursuit of God brings the joy of knowing Him more intimately. And there is nothing better than that.
As I look back over the focus God led me to the past two years, it testifies to the fact of His loving care in preparing me for what was coming in the last half of 2017.
In 2016, there was a word (and action) that stayed on my heart throughout the year: surrender. 2016 was to be the year of the yielded heart, surrendering all to Him. Living the “Not my will, but Yours” life—moment by moment. Not that I mastered that in 2016 (not at all), but God led me through some serious lessons to prepare my heart for greater degrees of surrender than I’d yet walked.
Looking back, this was 2016’s Scripture:
[box]So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16–18).[/box]
This passage was the foundation for my spiritual focus for 2016. Day in and day out, each morning of that year started with inscribing this passage on a fresh day’s journal page—while also engraving it on my heart. As these words poured out on paper, I voiced prayers for those who’ve been living this passage: For moms and wives who’ve released a loved one to the “unseen and eternal” but are left waiting for that day when they will be reunited. For those of us who need a “sight readjustment” to see beyond the temporary, and for loved ones who are bodily wasting away, while needing that inner renewal.
This passage challenged me to look to the unseen, the eternal, rather than staying fixated on the transient. And I was pressed, at times, to step into that area of faith that involves mystery: where I trust God’s character and know that He is good and all powerful—even when witnessing horrific events.
What I didn’t know in 2016 was that God was using this passage and Scripture focus, all year long, to prepare me for what He knew was coming in August of 2017.
Then, in the fall of 2016, He led me to what would be 2017’s Scripture Passage:
[box]Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart (2 Corinthians 3:17–4:1).[/box]
Did you notice the phrase that opens 2016’s Scripture, and the one that closes 2017’s? Four incredible words are etched deeply in my soul: “Do not lose heart.”
It’s interesting to me that the same phrase is found in both 2016 and 17’s focus passage. It is not by coincidence, or accident (God never does anything on accident. And “coincidence” is just a convenient and secular way to dodge admitting His providence.). More than sharing the similarity of phrasing, there is an intimate connection between these two companion passages. Both are describing the transformation that occurs as we experience affliction—if we are beholding the Lord and surrendering to His gracious work in that affliction. As we behold His glory, by His mercy, we do not lose heart while enduring the affliction.
As 2017 came to a close, I said good-bye to a challenging but wonderful year—filled with loss, joys, pain, laughter, sorrows, grace, the birth of a precious little one, unexpected surprises and disappointments—this year held the most difficult season we’ve ever walked. And through the last weeks of 2017, I struggled with “losing heart.” I felt overwhelmed as larger needs surrounded me than the capacity to meet them. Since August, I’ve been bone-dead weary and felt much older than my years. As I began praying for God to confirm my focus for 2018, I was anxious to see what He would lead me to adopt.
And there it was again. He never ceases to amaze me.
“. . . do not lose heart.”
I didn’t plan it. It wasn’t orchestrated (by me, at least). I didn’t even notice it at first because it wasn’t worded that way in the version I was reading at the time. But it’s there again. Look at what God put on my heart, early in September, to adopt as my focus for the year:
[box]Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin . . .” (Hebrews 12:1–4 NASB)[/box]
There in verse three, you’ll find the admonition again to not “lose heart.” For those who know me well, you know that this Scripture passage is what I’ve referred to, for years, as my “life passage.” It’s the passage I adopted as a young woman, hoping to follow its instructions, using it to focus on Jesus’ suffering and the gospel message embodied here, and letting it challenge me when self-pity threatens, reminding myself that I’ve never shed blood in pursuit of God’s glory.
And although we’re in the final days of our first month of the year, and you’ve probably read many posts listing new resolutions and goals, or posts criticizing setting goals and making resolutions, so many that by the second week of January you’re already defeated by the new year pressure . . . but if you’ll permit me, I’m still going to share with you (as I do every year):
My Goals, Prayers, and Perspective for 2018 ~
Goal: Glorifying God in the course He has set for me in this season
I don’t want to just “endure” and plod along the course He has set for me, but to run with endurance that is purposeful and joy-filled. May His goodness be seen by those who watch the race that we’re running.
Perspective: Viewing my life through the lens of who Christ is
This year’s Scripture focus instructs me to fix my eyes on Christ; to consider Him who laid down His life for me. It is to be an all-consuming focus; a perspective that shapes every motive, action, and response.
The key to not losing heart, according to this passage, is to fix my eyes on Christ, to consider His work on the cross—His willingness to lay down His life as a sacrifice to redeem sinners. He is to fill my sight, mind, and heart. Focusing on His attributes and becoming more intimately acquainted with Him transforms my perspective.
Does that sound silly? When I sing a worship song of praise, not for anyone else, not in the presence of anyone but just to my Savior . . . it fills me with strength and endurance. As I sing love songs to Him, as I use voice and melody to lift worship, He upholds me in the most frightening moments.
He assures me that I’m held in His gracious hand.
This assignment challenges me to move beyond what I feel or sense, beyond the fears, beyond the parched desert of barren days, and make a spring of refreshment by literally singing praise to the living God (I wrote about this here).
Spiritual Growth Focus: Running with Endurance
The Greek word translated “endurance” and “endured” in this passage means literally: properly remaining under. It is steadfastness, cheerful or hopeful endurance. It requires patient continuance. It is the same word that we find in James 1 when we’re challenged to “Count it all joy” when meeting various kinds of trials. Why? Because this testing of the faith results in endurance (James 1:3–4 same Greek word) or steadfastness, which will result in spiritual maturity. And isn’t spiritual maturity what will bring God great glory? (Don’t equate spiritual maturity with decrepit or silver haired, “Depends-wearing” Christianity.)
Spiritual maturity delights the heart of God, because it means we are growing up into His Son’s image!
“Thou art all my good in times of peace, my only support in days of trouble, my one sufficiency when life shall end. Help me to see how good thy will is in all, and even when it crosses mine teach me to be pleased with it. Grant me to feel thee in fire, and food and every providence, and to see that thy many gifts and creatures are but thy hands and fingers taking hold of me.
Thou bottomless fountain of all good, I give myself to thee out of love, for all I have or own is thine, my goods, family, church, self, to do with as thou wilt, to honour thyself by me, and by all mine.
If it be consistent with thy eternal counsels, the purpose of thy grace, and the great ends of thy glory, then bestow upon me the blessings of thy comforts; If not, let me resign myself to thy wiser determinations.” (Valley of Vision)
Hoping your 2018 began with a fresh desire to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Do you have a spiritual focus for the year? I’d love for you to share with me below!
And for you faithful prayer warriors, this update: We’re still waiting for treatment to begin. We are eternally grateful for your intercession.
Photo by Karsten Wurth on Unsplash