In the past, I’ve often thought of the new year in terms of tangible goals in specific life categories. But this year I’m thinking a bit differently about the new year. I’m thinking in terms of investments. New year’s goals tend to last only for the year, if they last at all. But the very point of an investment is its longevity. So in no particular order, here are some wise investments I want to make in 2017.
There are many good things I could do this year. But there are only a few things that I can do better than most other people. You’re likely built the same way. With most activities, we’re average, or below; the true Renaissance man is rare. But God’s gifted each of us with inborn traits and skills that he means for us to discover, hone, and use (or use, discover, and hone). In 2017, I want to steward my God-given talents well, and invest in them far more than I invest in other good opportunities.
The mind is a dazzling feature of a human person. It is a precious gift and an indescribable instrument. Yet how much of my mind do I simply waste, misuse, and let rot? It’s unthinkable when I pause to think about it. Who burns cash in the fireplace? Who plays bumper cars with a Lamborghini? Yet so often we neglect or misuse our minds and barely notice. Investing in the mind is one of the wisest investments we can make each day this next year.
I wrote last year that reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture was the most important thing we could do in 2016. I finished reading through the Bible in early December, and I’ve loved having extra time over the holidays to get a pre-start on 2017. I was recently blown away by Numbers, I’m now in Deuteronomy, and I can’t wait to finish and start all over again. Reading large portions of Scripture at once, and sticking with the plan, has given me a renewed zeal for knowing and understanding the whole Bible. Truly his Word is sweeter than honey and more desirable than gold (Psalm 19:10).
My Wife and Kids
There are five people in my life who receive the most investment from me, whether I’m thoughtful about it or not: my wife and our four kids. When I’m most aware, I sense this opportunity. But so often I get caught up in my own little world and neglect the countless small ways that I could invest in my family and bring them (and me) joy and stability and growth, not to mention the unpredictable yet exponential fruits that multiply into a mighty harvest when we love one another well over the long haul. This year, I don’t want to neglect to invest happily and wisely in my family.
Words are such a precious and powerful commodity, yet so easily wasted and misused. Every day I waste opportunities to wield words wisely — I stay silent when I should speak. Every day I misuse opportunities to wield words wisely — I speak in ways that do nothing, or do little, or do harm. Every day I speak in ways that are careless, thoughtless, aimless, or graceless. I misuse words with my wife, my sons, my daughters, my students, my colleagues, and my fellow church members. Even when I don’t sin grievously with my words, I often simply waste them. But if words wield such power, and if they’re always available to invest, I want to invest them much more carefully in 2017.
As I age, I’m sobered by the inexorable march of time. Never will you feel this relentless march more than when you pause for one minute to watch the long hand of a traditional clock tick its way through 60 seconds. How much time do we waste? If we could calculate it, we would no doubt mourn. But it’s difficult to calculate, because time isn’t always or mainly wasted in big ways, but in such small ways. How many wasted moments grow into wasted minutes? How many wasted minutes pile up as wasted hours? How many wasted hours heap up into wasted days and weeks? And how many weeks mount into months and years that we bemoan in those moments of sanity when we finally recognize the preciousness of what we’ve wasted? As this new year arrives, I am eager to harness time well and wisely, investing it for worthwhile purposes that honor God and cherish friends and promote flourishing and earn a return in eternity.
If I live through 2017, there is one reality so inescapable that it’s not really a goal. It’s simply a fact: I will sleep for 25-30% of 2017. For 6-8 hours every night, I will go unconscious as my body, mind, and soul rest and recharge. But despite the inevitability of this daily act, I am eager to make it a better investment. After years of inconsistency, living on a late-night college ministry schedule and working multiple jobs and grinding out masters and doctoral degrees, I want to sleep for one-third of 2017: at least 8 hours a night. It’s hard for me to choose sleep, because I have a lot of goals and anxieties and I get geared up as the kids go to bed and the world goes quiet and the creative juices flow. But I have learned that regular, consistent sleep is one of the most important investments I can make in 2017. It’s an investment which will bring a return in all other areas of life. Think of it: When appropriately rested, humbly receiving this means of grace from God, I am far more likely to make better investments with my gifts, my mind, my Bible, my wife and kids, my words, and my time. Now, I’ve lived and parented and ministered long enough to know that consistent sleep is not always possible. But I’ve also lived and parented and ministered long enough to know that inconsistent sleep is most often my own fault, and not due to uncontrollable circumstances. Consistent sleep is no silver bullet against sin, nor is it a golden promise for better desires and behaviors. It shouldn’t be made into an idol. But I know myself, and I know what kind of worthy investment good sleep would be. Physical rest is a gift from God and a humbling necessity for his creatures, so I want to take his design seriously this year, and invest well in sleep.
Finally, I believe that the church of Jesus Christ is the dawn of the new creation, the new people whom God is creating to inhabit his future world. Until that new world itself dawns, God’s people stand as the pillar and support of the truth — the lighthouse upholding God’s light which shines into a dark harbor, welcoming in ships from the storm. Thus, investing in the people of God means investing in God’s current mission and God’s future world. It also means investing in the glory of God, as he displays his glory through the church (Ephesians 3:21). So investing in my local church — with my time, energy, gifts, finances, and whatever else God calls me to invest — is no short-lived or low-return investment. It’s an investment that will echo through eternity.
Ultimately, none of these gifts are mine — they all belong to the Lord who bought me. So I say my (gifts and mind and Bible and family and words and time and sleep and church) not as the my of ownership but the my of stewardship. And because I am a steward of what belongs to another, how much more should I invest well what I will soon be called upon to return?