A New Year’s Challenge By R. Scott Rodin
For this New Year’s Challenge – Start 2024 with a Sieve
In 2019, my novel, The Four Gifts of the King, was published. Like most novels, the novel has a meta-narrative – a big story to tell. Every person in the book has a part in telling that story. No one is superfluous. No one is in there by mistake. They are all required for the story to unfold in its fullness.
As the Master Author, God will write His meta-narrative across page 2024. You are an essential part of it. The question is, do you know your part? Do you understand your role? Are you aware of your unique contribution? God’s great story includes you, all 365 days of your life in this new year.
What would it mean to start 2024 believing you are part of that bigger story? It should inspire confidence and an anticipation that God has something great in store. It also means that if you know it, the enemy also knows it. His work is to detach your daily story from God’s grander story. He wants you to lose sight of your place, to forget your role. He wants you on the sidelines, not in the game. How does he accomplish that?
Focus on the Grander Story
Here’s a list for starters:
- Information overload
- Schedule stress
- Meeting expectations
- Pressure to accomplish goals
- Fears and insecurities
- Failure carry-over from 2023
- Time pressure
- Global turmoil
- Election-year madness
Welcome to 2024
Your list may be different. Maybe shorter or longer. But looking out at the prospect of this new year, I’m betting many of these emotions and perspectives are familiar. I admit to struggling with all the vagaries the new year represents. How do we steward these precious days, ensuring we are locked with God in playing out His grand 2024 narrative? How do we cut through the distractions and keep the main thing the main thing this year?
We must start this year by allowing God to sift us through a spiritual sieve. Webster defines sifting as “to separate or separate by or as if by putting through a sieve” and “to go through especially to sort out what is useful or valuable (italics mine).”
Submission and Focus
We must submit ourselves to the Master Sifter to stay focused on the role God has for us in His incredible story of 2024. Sifting begins with raw material. Think of all the inputs that are loaded into our minds every day. They are like spadefuls of dirt dumped into the top of a sieve. The goal in sifting is to screen out all the impurities, the non-essentials, the unhelpful or unusable items, the distractions, and the counterfeits. If pure gold is our goal, everything else must be sifted away for gold to be found. Here’s what it might look like for this sifting to occur in us, like soil working through three screens of a sieve.
The first sieve is usually coarse, its openings large to catch only the oversized items that must be eliminated early in the process. We can think here of Paul’s use of a running metaphor when he challenges us to
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
As we enter 2024, we must seek to let go of what hinders and entangles us. One of the ‘words of the year’ for 2023 is permacrisis. It speaks to the seemingly relentless stream of crises that dominated our world. The new version of 2024 is polycrisis, which reminds us that these crises are coming at us from every direction. We enter 2024 as a world, country, and church facing permanent and pervasive crises, turmoil, and even chaos. If we let it, the reality of polycrisis will overwhelm us, making it impossible to see, much less participate in God’s meta-narrative.
Name the Intruders
This first sifting must catch all the foreboding issues surrounding us and name them intruders. We can acknowledge their presence without giving them a seat at the table in our spirit. Here, we must embrace our call to be stewards, seeking to be faithful where God has called us to engage and entrusting everything else to Him. That entrusting works like a screen to filter out those things that clutter our minds and darken our hearts. There is so much we cannot control about the polycrises of our day. We are set free when we acknowledge that and turn them to God’s sovereign rule. That is the working of this first screen in our sieve.
Pray for Discernment
The second screen is finer; to let it work in us, we must pray for God’s discernment. We can see what is valuable and dross through prayer, devotion to God’s word, and fellowship. These are the more subtle weapons the enemy uses to distract us from the role God has prepared for us to play. These can be the cares and concerns that gnaw at us in the middle of the night. They are closer to home and play on our insecurities, misplaced confidences, and unspoken anxieties. This level requires a more deliberate sifting and careful examination of the distortions and lies of the enemy. If we were looking for pure gold, this sifting identifies the pyrite, the ‘fool’s gold’ that seems so enticing but only distracts and disappoints us. We think here of Paul’s instruction to,
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
2 Corinthians 10:5
The Power of the Holy Spirit
The third sifting may be the hardest. It is the finest work of the Holy Spirit to help us identify those things in our life that may look so holy, appear so kingdom-focused, and present such possibilities for faithful service. These may seem like the last places to find the enemy at work, and that is what makes it so important and dangerous. There will be an unending stream of ways to invest ourselves in God’s work in the new year. With the world imploding around us, should we not embrace every opportunity to pour ourselves out in service? Shouldn’t we be ‘all in’ for the Gospel, fully engaged in kingdom advancement wherever and whenever possible?
That is a most insidious lie of the enemy. It feeds on our pride and fuels our drive to do so much for Jesus that we leave no room for Him to do things in us. It deceives us into believing that God’s role requires us to measure success in what we accomplish for God and ignore all that God seeks to do in us. And it is only when God is at work in us that can He work through us to accomplish His will and way for His glory. The temptation the enemy will continually put before us is to do our work our way, believing that in doing so, we are pleasing God. This path leaves us exhausted and discouraged.
We are reminded of the story of Mary and Martha. It’s worth hearing in full as we consider this final sifting work.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
That ‘one thing that is needed’ is the pure gold only discovered through this final sifting process. It is the unique role God is calling you to play in 2024.
Will you take up the challenge? Will you allow God to guide you through this sifting process, employing the sieve of the Holy Spirit at all three levels to eliminate all that would keep you from discovering His purpose for you in this new year?
May you be so yielded to His sifting work that 2024 will be a focused, rich, and fulfilling year as you play the role He has designed for you in His great New Year’s story.
R. Scott Rodin is the Senior Consultant/Chief Strategy Officer for The Focus Group. Over the past thirty-eight years, Scott Rodin has helped hundreds of organizations improve their effectiveness in leadership, fund development, strategic planning, and board development. His books and articles have been translated into over twenty languages, and he has taught and consulted with ministries across five continents. He also serves as a Senior Fellow of the Association of Biblical Higher Education and as board chair for ChinaSource.
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