In the latter years of my son’s teenage days, I began a year-end tradition. We’d go on an overnight retreat in December (or January), stay in a cabin, build a fire and reflect on the finished year’s achievements and losses. We’d go over the goals from our last retreat that we’d hoped to achieve and check off those that succeeded. We then wrote down goals for the New Year—spiritual, physical, relational, work-wise—and commit them to God. For most years, since, we’ve maintained that tradition.
I’m a firm believer in not renting space in my mind to past failures and lost opportunities. But remembering them enough to acknowledge my need for God’s help is where they become useful. Our failings can serve as guideposts for going forward. Where did I miss the way? Where did I make plans apart from God’s leading? When did I rely upon my natural abilities and fall below the mark of his ability to achieve the greater thing? When did I anxiously react to fix something that God was tearing apart—so that I might run to him for wisdom?
These insights I bank in the depository of future decisions, for I will face them again. They’ll remind me of my daily need for God’s strength and wisdom, rather than foolishly attempt to help God in his timing for a better outcome than mine. I can’t afford to forget that I’ve been around that mountain before and, therefore, must look backward to go forward.
When the children of Israel obeyed God’s unusual strategy to take down the walls of Jericho, they won a great victory that day. Following their success, they assumed Ai would be as easy as Jericho—apart from God’s tailor-fit strategy for that specific city. In their own strength—and haste—they sent a fraction of the army God used at Jericho. They not only lost the battle, and many lives, but an opportunity for a victory they could’ve had with God’s input. This failure served to make them look within, root out the problem, and shape future battles in the land they went on to conquer. They looked backward to go forward.
To reflect upon my failings this year serves to shape future successes. From my failings, I learn to see where God wasn’t included; from my successes, I see where he was included, and thank him for it.
To lay out goals for the coming year is the easy part. I can see them, I can dream about them, I can write them down, and hope they’ll happen—Lord willing. But their success, effect, and impact is determined by daily discerning God’s instructions for each step in the goal. If I understand this process, then I can move forward in the Lord’s strategy—as it evolves—in strength and wisdom beyond my own.
This removes anxiety and stress on my part to “make” it all happen. Leaders lead best when they’re led by God. Make your goals for the year, then lay them at his feet. He’ll pick up the ones he agrees with, while the others remain on the table—perhaps for a better time. Lead yourself into his presence and leave the strategy to him. By this time next year, you’ll see what he breathed into—the goals that surpassed your natural abilities—versus the ones you picked up in your own strength that failed. Learn from the ones that failed, glorify him for the ones that succeeded—and walk in peace.