The new year is always an opportunity to reset and refocus.
I was a competitive inline speed skater. I still enjoy keeping myself conditioned, although I’m not as fast as I once was.
As a natural sprinter, my favorite race at meets was short track. The key to winning was not just sheer speed and reflex, but also form, and especially how you start at the line. You’ve probably heard the words, “ready, set, go.” Each skater comes to the line. At “set,” you assume your start position (there are three dominant variations). At the gun, you sprint off the line. If you can get to lead position by the first cone, there’s a stronger chance you will cross the finish line first. Your form in the start position, how you “set” your body, is important.
Now the spiritual life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. But how do we “set” ourselves to start the new year well?
One way is to set a spiritual intention.
Every year for the past decade Jill (my wife and copastor) and I prayerfully choose a theme word that we set as an intention for our spiritual growth in the coming year. It’s a simple spiritual practice that can bear significant fruit.
A theme word provides focus for our spiritual growth. It sets an intention for how we live. It helps us cut through the noise and focus in a world full of distractions and critics.
Most importantly it invites God to set the intention for our growth.
How do we set a spiritual intention?
It starts with prayer. We literally ask God to give us a word or phrase. As one year comes to a close, Jill and I start having conversation about what the next year’s word will be. We search the Scriptures and pray individually and together. Sometimes we receive the same word, and other years we have different ones.
In addition to prayer and Bible study, we listen deeply in conversations, and pay attention to things we are reading. Does a word keep popping up? Does it align with something God said to us? That might be the one.
2022 – A Year of Convergence
At the close of 2021, I was in a conversation with my soul friend and he used the word “convergence.” In one week that word came up randomly in several different conversations and in a book I was reading. If you’re like me you probably had to Google that word! Convergence it means the act of converging and especially moving toward union and it’s the opposite of divergence which is about deviation and drawing apart.
I shared the word with Jill and she said “Yes, I feel that! Now what does it mean?”
If you’re wondering, the word “convergence” is not in the Bible! But it is a deeply Biblical concept, this became our Scriptural grounding for 2022:
“Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him
and will make a path for his steps.”
Now that’s convergence right!? We designed a framing question to help us align our thinking and actions with the spiritual theme:
Does this opportunity or challenge converge with our identity and calling, or diverge?
When things didn’t seem in alignment, or were divergent or distracting, we didn’t give them time and energy.
This became the spiritual theme of 2022, and it was a year of convergence!
- In our marriage and our ministry we have learned to work together more effectively as a team.
- In our family we have seen acceptance, healing, and restored relationships.
- In ministry, we have been brought back full circle, serving as pastors our home congregation which nurtured us in the faith. We are bringing all our skills and wisdom from five revitalizations to the congregation that birthed us.
- The relationships within the Ocala community, and the seeds of recovery ministry we planted over a decade ago, are now bearing massive kingdom fruit.
- Publishing my spiritual autobiography #paintingwithashes, not just a typical church book, but a convergence of my own life and ministry. A book that has found its way into churches, recovery fellowships, jails, and prisons across the country.
- My years of learning and writing converging also in a seminary setting where our Fresh Expressions House of Study is contributing to reversing a lengthy spiral of declining enrollment.
- I was appointed as Director of Fresh Expressions Florida, a movement I’ve been involved in cultivating for ten years.
- Local, regional, and international work with Fresh Expressions converging in my denominational agency role as Director of Fresh Expressions UM, to gift my denomination with a movement that may one day help it really live again.
In the closing months of 2022, a final convergence. My biological mother who has been absent for the majority of my life, suddenly resurfaced. She is up in New York beginning the fragile journey of recovery. She has struggled with addiction for over 40 years. We have been communicating frequently for the first time. All of that convergence is now coming together in a long-broken relationship. Perhaps the final form of convergence, the rejoining of a lost long-lost mother and child, that might heal us both in deeper ways.
2023 – Cherished
It was actually through a text conversation with my mom that the 2023 word emerged.
She texted me, “never for a second believe that I don’t cherish you.” It was the first time a parent has ever spoken that over me, and it caused a convulsion in my soul.
For some of you who know me or have read Painting with Ashes you know what a huge deal this is. Frequently, I’m trying to send her encouraging messages that she is loved, forgiven, and valuable. She wants to circle back to shame and guilt, and I just keep telling her how proud I am of her. We are exchanging pictures and she is seeing some of her grandkids and great grandkids for the first time. I’m negotiating a speaking engagement in NY and if it goes through Jill, our daughter Angel, and I will visit her in 2023.
The word that we have chosen to be our 2023 spiritual theme, comes from the lips of my biological mother—cherished. I had a vision of an archway with this word written over it, through which our family is being invited to walk onto a beautiful path of new creation. The 2023 Scripture passage that speaks to our core identity as cherished ones is Psalm 16:5…
“Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a treasured inheritance.”
Jill and I worked out three questions as we try to live into our 2023 focus word.
- Am I thinking, speaking, and acting from a place of knowing I’m cherished by God?
- Am I thinking, speaking, and acting from an unhealthy place, attempting to be cherished by others?
- Do the people around us know that we cherish them?
Hope this helps you start fresh in 2023!
Jump to part two here!