This is my favourite week of the year.
We had a really enjoyable Christmas day, except for the moment when it appeared that our little dog might be a casualty of the Christmas dinner.
My son Josh put together a documentary of the day, including the last minute dash to the vet, which he would be very pleased for you to check out. (I’m not sure how I feel being on youtube in my dressing gown…)
It is a week to catch up on the movies you have always wanted to watch or to relax in front of the Boxing Day test (thank goodness for internet streaming!)
It is also a week to let the dust of the year settle and to allow myself to stop and ask, “What have I learned?”
The pace of most of our lives means it is easy to just be carried away by the unresolved questions in front of us, never taking the time to integrate the learning that is behind us. In his final recorded speech, Socrates was recorded by Plato as saying:
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Examining your life requires time and this is the one week a year when many of us find ourselves with unallocated hours. I know it’s tempting to fill the hours with those movies or sporting events, or even with social activists or a good book. This week is great for all of that, however if that is all it is we will find ourselves waking up on New Years Day facing another trip around the sun without the foundation of what we have learned on the previous voyage.
Without reflecting on the ups and downs, the joys and the pains of the year just gone we are in danger of getting stuck in a never changing rut. We are in danger of doing what Robin S. Sharma warned us about when he wrote:
“Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.”
For me Sharma’s warning carries extra weight this year because one of the things I have learned is that there is part of me that likes to navigate myself towards “business as usual.” I identify with the anonymous author of the bicycle poem I published on this blog six years ago when he wrote:
“When I had control, I know the way. It was rather boring, but predicable…….It was the shortest distance between two points.”
As I have been reflecting on the year I been reminded of a moment this year when a pattern in my life, and particularly in my history of leadership, came to my attention in a new way. I was preparing to give a series of sermons on Ecclesiastes. It was comfortable ground for me because it was a book I had enjoyed teaching in the Fusion training and I felt confident I would do a good job. As I thought about the series I felt confident, but a little bit lifeless. It was like I would be treading over well-worn ground. It was a familiar feeling. A feeling of safety but almost boredom.
My friend Jeremy taught me a lesson that shaped my response to this moment. Two years earlier we had been fairly set in what we would be speaking about for the year, however, he turned up at a meeting and said, “I have been praying about it and I’m pretty sure we need to be talking about heaven in this semester.” I remember immediately thinking “This is crazy, how can heaven be relevant for people today?” I was smart enough to shut up and that sermon series ended up being one of the most significant we have done a the church. (If you are interested you can check it out here.) I remember being challenged because what was clearly the right decision was not the obvious or easy decision. Jeremy had to take the time to stop and reflect and listen to the part of him that was unsettled with the course we had set.
I am not saying that I don’t do new things, in fact, many people who work with me let me know that my new ideas can be a bit much at times, however as I reflected on the Ecclesiastes sermon series I found that the feeling I had was a familiar one. I realized that there have been times in my leadership where I was travelling along a set of train tracks that I had done the work to construct in previous months or years, that were o.k. but not life-giving, and ultimately resulted in a loss of momentum.
I ended up listening to my sense of lifelessness about the Ecclesiastes sermon series, and instead decided to take two months to teach through only one chapter of the bible: Ephesians 4. It turned out to be very clearly the right move, painting a picture of the radical vision of church that drove the Apostle Paul and is what the world is longing for now. (You can check this series out here.)
What I learned in a new way this year is that I have to watch the part of me that stops asking what is right and starts to go with the flow. God is always doing a new thing, but sometimes we miss it because we are comfortable with how things are.
This morning I was struck by John 7:18
Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.
There is a real temptation to do life according to your own agenda and understanding, for your own glory. This approach to life organizes things (including sermon series) around the things you know will work. This approach leads to living the same year 75 times.
Reflecting, learning and listening to that part of you ready for the new adventure that God lays before you today is the only way to having a full life.