“New year, new me”. The well-worn saying is perhaps as ubiquitous as it is precarious. I’m wary of the countless times I’ve made extravagant promises to myself tied to the turn of the year, only to watch with lacklustre concern as each of my resolutions decisively wanes into nothingness before the end of the month is even in sight.
Maybe this is your experience. Maybe you’re already impatiently looking ahead in your new bible-in-a-year reading plan, wondering how on earth you’re ever going to get through the book of Leviticus. Or maybe you’re a little disconcerted by the fact that your mint-condition running shoes seem not to have moved from their position in the hall since the first time you purchased them and expectantly placed them there.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with prayerfully and thoughtfully setting goals to be achieved in the new year (we’ve set a really big one as a church this year if you haven’t already noticed!), I think we can often make things a lot more difficult for ourselves with our grandiose expectations. When we expect the change of year to awaken in us a personal motivation as instantaneous and dramatic as being born again, quite frankly we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment.
I would advocate a more manageable, scaled-down version of resolutions to be made for this year; perhaps a new habit to be formed that’s particularly relevant for you in the year ahead.
For the past few months I’ve been reading and praying through a Psalm a day. For all the blessing this has brought, my resolution for this year is simply to continue doing just that. It seems uneventful and ordinary, but there are a number of reasons why I think it’s a good idea.
Firstly, I’ve found that it is a lot more manageable and flexible than many other devotional methods I have tried. My prayers tend to be a lot more focused when following the contours of the particular psalm I’ve chosen to study; and whenever I’ve missed a day, for whatever reason, I can always pick up where I left off.
The Psalms have also been very formational, in terms of helping me learn how to comprehensively and appropriately express the full range of my emotions to God. My spiritual journey tends to attach itself to the emotional ups and downs of the year, which fits well with the tonally varied nature of the Psalms. The experiences of the psalmists accompany your own as you progress through the seasons; there’s a psalm for virtually every occasion. And furthermore, the recurring themes of hope, God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, and his goodness in difficult times serve as constant reminders of our ability to be sure we can rely on him at all times.
So how is it done and what do you need? Personally speaking, all I need is a decent cup of tea and a good commentary or study bible for the tricky bits, but there are many different approaches you can take. The trick is to try different things and figure out what is best for you.
You can make your way through a particular category of psalms which might be relevant to you in this period of the year. You could pick a psalm according to what mood you are in on a day-to-day basis, or just go through each psalm in order like I usually do.
When I’ve chosen my psalm I tend to read through it a couple of times, highlighting particular verses that stand out to me and making notes in the margins if necessary. I then take the time to think about how the psalm as a whole or particular verses might apply to my life, and when I read it through again, this time I stop to talk to God about what comes to mind when I read each verse.
The Songs in the Key of Life sermon series at ChristChurch London has been a great help, particularly in helping me to know how best to think about more difficult aspects such as the imprecatory psalms. There are also many devotionals and other top-quality resources that are available in helping to figure out how best to approach the psalms and use them as a means of aiding your own personal devotion to God.