Each New Year’s Day since 2014, I’ve chosen three words to give me focus and direction for the upcoming year. Coming out of the most troubling year of my lifetime, the pandemic year of 2020, one overarching word that the world needs is hope. We have that hope in the Gospel, but it’s so easy to forget that in the midst of an overwhelming flood of bad news. And many around us have never heard the hope of the Gospel. They don’t know that the Christian message is good news.
So how can I focus my life this year to remind me of the hope that I have and to communicate that hope to others around me? What three words can give me focus for 2021? I have chosen read, cultivate, and compliment for this coming year. But wait a minute, I hear someone say, what does that have to do with bringing hope into the world? Let me explain.
Read – first of all, read the Word of God. All of it. Not just selected parts, but in full. I plan to read it again this coming year. Why? Because in the Bible we find God’s Story, his overarching narrative for his creation. It’s by finding our place in this story that we are reminded of the hope that we have.
I found the best reading plan for me this past year in the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan. Why was it best for me? Reading becomes a burdensome task when I get behind in my Bible reading schedule. But the Discipleship Journal plan has only 25 daily readings per month, meaning that grace days are built into the plan each month. I shared the joy and relief of not being behind almost every month with my wife. Therefore, she now wants us to read through the Bible together in 2021.
What about you? A different Bible reading plan may work best for you. Ligonier Ministries provides a helpful summary of various plans here. You may not be ready to tackle the whole Bible. What about trying a 21-day plan to help you establish the routine of daily reading? Christianity Explored now has a 21-day plan in the YouVersion Bible app. Our YouVersion plan is perfect for inviting others to join with you in reading. It may even provide you with an opportunity to help someone meet Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. Check out our article New Year, New Reading Plan to learn more.
Cultivate – This verb carries connotations to prepare, to work on, to promote, to develop, to make productive, and to improve. What do I mean by choosing this as one of my three words for 2021? Allow me to share an analogy.
I remember the tractor that my father used to cultivate the hard ground, as he developed the soil for the huge backyard vegetable garden he planted every year. In the same way, I don’t have to accept the soil I’m given in our polarized culture. I can make a difference by trying to improve the soil. God calls me to break up the hard ground in a good way, not a destructive way. That means asking questions, making observations, thinking outside the box, and bringing God’s story into our contemporary story. That’s why reading the Word, and also reading broadly in other literature is important. I can’t cultivate if I get stuck in a social media closed loop.
Cultivating is especially important to me in this year of transition when I plan to retire from full time ministry with Christianity Explored USA. God doesn’t intend for me to retire from serving him and serving other people. This is a year to cultivate new opportunities and new ways to bring hope.
Compliment – this is something I have already tried to practice this past year as a byproduct of one of my words for 2020: develop. As I have sought to not only develop myself, but also to develop others, I have looked for things in the lives of people around me that I can compliment. It’s been gratifying to see how people’s faces light up with a well-chosen compliment. One aspect of praise and worship toward God is finding words to compliment him for the excellence of his character and his works. The Bible tells us that we are made in his image. Therefore, we also praise and worship him through recognizing aspects of his image that we see in other people. Expressing this to the person as a compliment can help them see themselves in a new way. Even if just for a moment. That’s a concrete way I can bring hope into this world that so needs it.
So here are the three words I have chosen as a way to focus on being a messenger of hope this year: Read, Cultivate, and Compliment.
What three words would you choose?
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13 ESV