Preparing for a New Beginning with a New Year

potter hands Most of the Biblical writers chose and wrote about an image that was easy to understand to help us fathom the spiritual life. The image of the potter working on the clay is a timeless and powerful description of our lives. The Bible is clear: We are the clay and God is the Potter. Over time and in time, the hands of the Potter work on our clay. This is the story of our spiritual formation.Yet, since we live in modern times and buy our mugs at one store and our bowls at another, we find it challenging to really grasp the meaning of this life-giving process. One aspect of a potter working on clay is appropriate for us to think through as we anticipate the coming of a New Year.The wheel of the potter goes around and around many times in the process of working on the bowl. Every turn is a new opportunity for the bowl to transform. It’s never just one turn or one experience or one touch of the Potter’s hands. There is never just one time or one chance or a single opportunity for the bowl to come out right. No, the wheel of the potter turns round and round—many times—to become the desired object.A New Year is a New Turn on the Potter's Wheel[tweetthis]Every New Year begins the opportunity for us to begin again. What didn’t work this past year now has the chance for transformation[/tweetthis]—our diet, job, a broken relationship, a wound inflicted by a friend, a event we thought was catastrophic—all has a new opportunity in the New Year. This is grace at work in each of us in that the New Year brings another turn of the Potter’s wheel to shape things right.As we prepare for the New Year, I wanted to offer five challenges that you may find helpful to implement.

  1. Read only the “Red Letters of the Gospels.” At the lowest time in my life, I went to a monastery in California for a massive re-working of my clay pot-like life. There I met with Dallas Willard, a very popular author and teacher. I felt flat lined in my work. Gwen and I were very thin in our marriage and there was much inner upheaval happening in me. I wasn’t doing well. I wasn’t well. I felt dead spiritually. There, Dallas offered me words that changed my life. He said, “Steve, to come back to life, read only the red letters—the very words of Jesus—for an entire year. There, I bought a “red letter edition of the Bible”—which I still use today and began to just read the very words of Jesus.   In the New Year, make a commitment to “experiment” with this challenge and read only the Red Letters of Jesus. Stick in the Gospels and read his words, his stories and about his life. It will change you!  I tell about this life-changing conversation with Dallas Willard in The Lazarus Life (now available in Spanish, Portuguese, German, Danish, Norwegian and more!)
  1. Choose to live in Rhythm. From the beginning of time, God has offered us a life-giving way to live. It is to foster a rhythm of life that we engage and then dis-engage. We work for six days. Then, we take a day to cease. The violation of rhythm is the number one reason why people’s lives are in such a state of disarray. We are over-commited and over-extended. Rhythm is the life giving answer for us. In the New Year, choose to cease technology; cease work; cease striving; cease email and voice mail; cease anything that drains you of life. On your Sabbath—do that which will bring you life: walk, hike, read a book, listen to music, worship, meet with life-giving friends for a Sabbath meal and enjoy.Life is fragile and we are such busy people. Sabbath becomes a gift that sustains our joy; insulates us from both outer and inner violence and allows us to thrive—not just survive.In the New Year, plan on living in rhythm and see what changes might happen in you and around you.  I recommend you read The Jesus Life to help you with this concept!
  1. Invest in your life. Everyone who gives MUST be given to! We have so many hoses coming out of us which tend to fill up others around us. We want to fill our spouse. We want to fill our children. We want to fill our colleagues. We want to be responsible citizens. But where is the hose that comes into you which nourishes, feeds and pours life back into you? One of the great ways we can invest in our own life is by taking one day a month as a Personal Soul Care Day. Take one day a month and on that day—do what brings you life: Read a few chapters of a spiritual life giving book; Take a long walk. Sit in quiet and silence for one hour. Listen to some music or a podcast. Exercise rigoursly. Take a nap. Before you know it, the day is filled with all life giving activities. Further, plan on an extended retreat for a weekend or a few days. Take a look at what Potter’s Inn offers or your own church and invest yourself so that you can grow!
  1. Take your body off the shelf and care for yourself.   For far too long, I put my body on “auto-pilot” believing that my body would simply serve me. But I was a hard task master on my body. I neglected the physical care I needed because I did not connect the dot in my heart and mind that body care is soul care. When I care for my body I am doing a very, important spiritual work. In the New Year make some easy-to-do commitments. Choose to walk every day. Choose to eat to live not live to eat. By changing our paradigms of how we look at health, we can really CHANGE ourselves; our outlook on life. Everything is connected and as we take the time to care for our bodies, we are really practicing the care of our own souls. The bottom line here is to choose every day to practice body care. I recommend your read my own awakening into this fascinating aspect of our lives by reading Soul Custody: Choosing to Care for the One and Only You.
  1. Mark Your Time with Rituals. As modern, busy people, one of the effects of living so fast and swift is that all of our time is blurred. We have no markers that define sacred time, family time, work time and relationship time. Everything is blurred. We’re always on and always available. A simple ritual helps to mark time and avoids the collapse of time and space. A ritual is a simple visual "marking" that makes a space; a time; an event as very important---not just like all other times.
    • Mark one day a week as your Sabbath by the lighting of a candle.
    • Mark meal time as sacred time. Don’t talk about work. Light a candle and ask those you are sharing a meal with to share “What’s the beautiful thing that has happened in your day today and What is the brutal thing that has happened in your day.
    • Mark your calendar now for a day a month for the care of your soul. Prioritize this day above all others and don’t cheat yourself by living in the left-over time, simply taking bits and pieces of left-over time.
    • Mark time every day with your spouse or friend to practice what the ancients called the, “Daily Examen.” A simple 5 minute conversation where you review your day outloud looking for the fingerprints of God; looking at specific moments in your way where you experienced the God’s consolation and moments where you felt utterly abandoned (desolation). This simple exercise can help close the gap in a marriage and in working teams.
    • Mark a room or a chair as YOUR space to meet with God.  Set up a place in your home where you can go to be alone or have some quiet. Hang a picture. Place some objects on your desk that become a sort of portal for you to view deeper; into the heart of God.
      • I recommend that you read The Jesus Life as there is an entire chapter devoted to the topics of rituals.

If you're interested in a workbook/Bible study on the Potter and the clay--the process of spiritual formation, please consider Soul Shaping. It's ideal for individual and group use and is our go-to book to help people understand their story of formation and how a person really changes. This is ideal for a church wide or small group study in the New Year.Order Steve's books here through Potter's Inn and help support the ministry of Potter's Inn all around the world!  Here's our bookstore!