Pressing On; Pressing In

If I can be honest for a moment, 2022 has been an exhausting year. Between ministry-related setbacks, personal struggles, and raising a less-than-one-year-old, I’m exhausted as 2023 starts. Additionally, given those three categories, I feel as though my goals for 2022 went almost entirely unaccomplished (but I guess we’ll find out for sure in a few moments). The quote I’d like to keep in mind as I move into 2023 is from the Apostle Paul:

But as for you, be serious about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time for my departure is close. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

2 Timothy 4:5-7

This is convicting in light of some of my most intimate thoughts this past year; “Give up on Christianity; they’ve given up on you; you can justify walking away too.” But it is also encouraging given the coming year. I want those thoughts to die. I want to keep the faith. I want to finish the race. I want to fight the good fight. I want to fulfill my ministry. I want to do the work of an evangelist. I want to endure hardship better. I want to be more sober-minded in my life.

We will come back to this idea before the post concludes.

First, my annual “spiritual”:
When I look back at my goals for 2022, how did I do?

Let’s start with accomplishments. I finished reading through the Bible (66 books). I grew in love for my wife and son this year (I was initially worried my son wasn’t fond of me, but now I can see that he adores me). I read the whole Qur’an during Ramadan (and started a blog series on this interesting book).

Now for partial accomplishments. I wrote 41 of 50 hoped-for blog posts, though this was 3 more than I wrote last year, and my word count was lower than last year’s (this is an accomplishment because it means I’m growing as a writer: saying more in fewer words). I wanted to grow in love for the Church, which I definitely did, though I was repeatedly kicked in the process (a huge goal moving forward though). I’ve sort of grown as an evangelist (though my focus in 2022 was mainly on discerning exactly what my view on evangelism is, focusing especially on building relationships that could become gospel conversations in the future). I completely restarted my Stranded sequel, and I feel very happy about where it is going now, though I definitely failed to finish a draft. Additionally, I found a job in Kansas City, Missouri this past summer, but I was unable to secure a new living situation out there, so I was forced to turn down the job.

Now for failed goals. I failed to read through the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs with my family. I failed to regularly journal through Psalms this year. I failed to read the Book of Mormon this year. I failed to finish drafts of Switched and Stronger than Sin this year. I failed to release any music this year. I failed to finish any short stories.

While two of the three goals I completely accomplished this year were very important goals, I can at least sort of rejoice that my partially-accomplished list was longer than the failed-to-accomplish list. (Technically, both Switched and Stronger than Sin were worked on this year, though neither had as much progress as I ultimately hoped.) With the painful part out of the way, I can be hopeful for 2023. Here are my goals:

Most importantly, I need to focus on Jesus.

Keep your attention on Jesus Christ as risen from the dead and descended from David. This is according to my gospel.

2 Timothy 2:8

Jesus is my example. Obviously, He is a whole lot more than my example, but He is the one I want to model my life after. He was the most humble, most gentle, most righteous, most pure, most merciful, most peacemaking, and most patient sufferer to ever walk this earth, and if I can emulate His life by even a fraction, I will be pleased to be bringing glory and honor to His name by so doing. (And that list is only an explanation of eight verses from Matthew 5; Jesus is so much more as well!)

The more I see how Jesus lived His life, the better I can follow His example, and the more of a witness my life will be for the truth of the gospel. This is my ultimate desire–I want people to see Jesus when they see me (1 John 4:15-17 teaches a similar truth).

Jesus, please help me to focus on You, and not simply in an academic sense. I want to know You so intimately that when I act it is actually You acting. Help me to faithfully follow You and faithfully imitate You. I need You!

Secondly, I need to get outside of my own mind.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

If you check out this section of this post from last year, you’ll note that my hope for 2022 was 24 fiction and 24 non-fiction books over the course of the year. I read 51 non-fiction and 17 fiction, so in a sense, I did accomplish this goal, but it was skewed toward non-fiction. I intend a similar goal for 2023, though preferably with more fiction being read.

However, the fact of the matter is that my mind is atrocious on its own. I’m my own worst critic. I condemn myself far too easily. And while Scripture can contribute to this as well, its goal is not condemnation for the sake of condemnation (cf. Romans 15:4). Paul explains in the quotation above that Scripture’s profit is for the full equipping of the Christian. And not just mentally–but for every good work. It’s not enough for me to stop sinful practices as a Christian. The Bible is crystal clear that we are called to active good works (which goes far beyond decrying evil works). My focus in 2023 is on becoming more like Jesus in deed (if this means suffering more, then so be it), because the Bible is full of lists of good deeds Christians are supposed to practice. This outward focus on others will do much to get me out of my own mind.

Jesus, please help me to dedicate myself completely to You over this coming year. I want my mind, my heart, my hands, and my emotions to be Yours, to do with as You please. I need You so desperately! Guide and direct me to showcase You to the world, always remembering I can do nothing apart from You!

Thirdly, I need to embrace suffering this year.

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 2:3

As I read through Genesis repeatedly this past year, I was made aware of a theme that often goes unnoticed: the suffering and trials of the Patriarchs. Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph all get a lot of screen time due especially to the challenges they faced throughout their lives (this is further proven by the fact that the primary story about Isaac is one in which he was dealing with pressure from other people). This makes sense given that Moses wrote these books during the Exodus-Numbers period. As such, these books–Genesis in particular–intend to encourage God’s people as they are struggling through life.

2022 was a huge year of struggle for me, and having the Patriarchs as traveling companions was a godsend. I don’t know what my focus on Deuteronomy in 2023 will show me, but I want to jump into this new year with the insights I gained from my Bible reading in 2022. If I’m suffering as a Christian, I’m in good company (cf. Hebrews 11:25-26 and surrounding context), so I want to make sure I suffer well.

Jesus, I won’t pray that you keep me from trials in 2023. But I do pray that You increase my faith and my dependence on You. I grew a lot in 2022 in prayer, but I did not grow anywhere’s near enough in this critical discipline. I need You, Lord. When I fail to pray regularly, I betray that I don’t really need You. Help me go to You in prayer daily. I won’t be able to persevere without this discipline. I’ll react to suffering wrongly if I fail to be in regular prayer with You this year. Help me!

Finally, I need to be productive this year.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15

I will keep this short.

There is much I want to accomplish this year. However, instead of listing all of my goals for 2023–most of which will end up forgotten–I want to only give myself a handful of goals that line up with with the verse quoted above:

  • Read through the whole Bible once, focusing especially on Deuteronomy
    • Live in Deuteronomy and Psalms
    • Continue journaling Psalms until finished
  • Pray daily
  • Consistently blog and post to social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) about Scriptural applications
  • grow in love for others: especially my wife and son
    • Better love the Church
    • Better love the lost by actually being an evangelist (beyond the pages of my blog)
  • Rework my 5-year plan to supplement income via writing
    • Finish another draft of Switched
    • Finish another draft of Stronger than Sin
    • Finish rough draft of Stranded sequel
  • Find a new job
  • Move out of California
  • Only purchase one new book (valued at $15) per month, excluding textbooks

Jesus, help me to promote Your truth and Your Church and Your Kingdom this year. I need You. Don’t let me fall into temptation or evil. Help me to bring You nothing but glory and honor this year!

What do you hope to get out of your 2023?

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus
Pro Ecclesia

Thanks for reading.