We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
My friend’s father, a longtime educator, says he would often begin each new semester by holding up his gradebook to show the class that it was empty. Of course, this motivational tactic drew attention to the uncharted territory of the semester ahead, the empty gradebook representative of each student’s fresh start. In essence, my friend’s Dad was asking his students, “Where do you want to go this semester?” Whether you were an “A” student or a “D” student, the blank gradebook was both a new opportunity and gospel microcosm. The old was gone; the new had come.
Today we embark on a fresh journey into a new year. It is the season for resolutions and goals and people posting about their “word for 2018.” And buried within each of these is gospel hope, the hope of true transformation, expressed by Paul as “newness of life” in his letter to the Romans (Rom. 6:4). This is the universal human hope for saints and sinners, losers and winners. No matter our station, we all want one thing: new life.
That’s why this is one of my favorite times of the year. Are you grateful for a fresh start? Were you glad to see 2017 slip away? Did you embrace 2018 with open arms and a glad heart? Even if last year was a banner year for you, you’re likely inspired by the fresh opportunity the new year represents. Whether it’s an empty gradebook or a new calendar, this is the season for imagining the uncharted territory for the year ahead. Where do you want to go in 2018?
Let me make an appeal for including some spiritual intentionality as you plan for the year ahead. What is your spiritual direction for 2018? How can you maximize your Kingdom impact over these next twelve months? Is there one Word — a Christian virtue? an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit? — that you’d like to be written upon your soul this year? Perhaps these kinds of questions could lead us into the new life for which we all seem to be yearning.
Here are a few simple suggestions for walking in newness of spiritual life in the year ahead:
- Choose a new translation for your daily Bible reading. Most of my Bible reading over the years has come from one of two translations: the NIV and the ESV. And you probably have a preferred version as well. But preferences can breed unhelpful familiarity, at least when it comes to hearing a fresh word from God. I have a friend who chooses to read the entire Bible each year, with an important twist: each year, he chooses a different translation. One year, he’s reading the New American Standard; the next, he reads the Good News Translation. According to him, this is an invaluable practice for spiritual growth. Rather than glazing over the more familiar passages in his “preferred” translation, reading from a different translation allows the text to “speak” to him in a new way each year. And I’ve found this to be true in my own devotional life as well. If you tend toward a word-for-word translation (like the NASB or the ESV), try a more idiomatic rendering like the NLT or a paraphrase translation like The Message. Conversely, if you prefer the more contemporary translations like the NCB or the CEV, you’ll probably discover new treasures in the “regal” tones of the King James Version or the New Revised Standard Version. This year, I’ll be reading from The Complete Jewish Bible during my devotional time, a translation I’ve grown to appreciate in the last year or so.
- Mix up your Bible reading. Let me say this up front: if you’re fired up about your chronological daily Bible reading, just move on to the next bullet point. Because I don’t want to do anything to discourage you. But I also know that more people have read the book of Genesis in the month of January than any other time of year…and likewise, most of those same people abandon their daily Bible reading somewhere in February as they try to slog through Exodus and Leviticus. So if you’ve read this far, let me propose that you begin your 2018 Bible reading not with Genesis, but with one of the Gospels. There are four Gospels for a reason; I suggest reading one each season. After you finish reading through one of the Gospels, then go back and read an Old Testament text. Try reading Exodus and Hebrews simultaneously. Read Psalms 96-98 and Daniel before reading Revelation. Spend a month working your way through the wisdom literature of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and James. The point is…mix it up a little.
- Commit to regular prayer journaling. A friend of mine convinced me of the importance of journaling a few years ago and in retrospect, I wish I’d started sooner. For starters, it helps me remember to pray. I’m much more likely to pray about things once I write them in my Moleskine, particularly the things other people ask me to be praying about. But the act of putting pen to paper is also an important part of the benefit in journaling. In our culture of busyness, physically writing in a journal is impossibly impractical. It’d be so much easier to just open up a digital file and type away, but that’s part of the point. Writing in a prayer journal is my daily act of resistance, my way of saying no to a culture that always demands more movement, more frenetic activity. Writing — not typing — forces me to slow down, to be still, and to recognize the limitations of my own mortality. This is the gift of journaling.
- Commune with God holistically, wholeheartedly. What I mean is…don’t limit your spiritual life to Bible reading and bow-your-head-and-close-your-eyes praying. Get up and go for a walk and look for God. One of my favorite authors, Eugene Peterson, says, “We need the ‘Emmaus walks’ where our eyes can become opened,” (Luke 24:31). We are more than rational beings, so our commitment to God must include much more than Bible study. And we are more than simply relational beings, so our commitment to God must include much more than reciting to Him our prayer requests. Make time to meet God in the movement of your days, not simply in the more quiet, reflective moments. As we used to sing, our God, He is alive. So get up and get moving and spend time walking with the living God (Rom. 6:4).
These are just a few suggestions for experiencing “newness of life” in 2018. May the next twelve months bring us closer to God and closer to one another.