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Annual Personal Review

December 31, 2016 • Life for Leaders

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

Psalm 32:8 (NRSV)

 

The Road to Emmaus appearance, painted by Josef von Führich, 1837.

The Road to Emmaus appearance, painted by Josef von Führich, 1837.

Most organizations that I’ve been involved with have an annual planning cycle. Each year-end, we review what’s gone well and what hasn’t. We conduct individual performance evaluations. We set goals for the coming year. At its best, the yearly review process is a chance to substantively reflect on the prior year and to thoughtfully imagine a better future. Constructive annual reviews allow us to be honest about our failures, to celebrate genuine progress, and to plan for the coming year.

What is typical practice in organizations is less common in our individual lives. I suspect that the annual discipline of reviewing our life and work may seem a bit too business-like for our personal affairs. Most of us have flirted with New Year’s resolutions of various kinds, but rarely do they become a serious personal discipline and rarer still are they the result of an in-depth process of personal reflection.

As we come to the end of another year, I’d like to suggest that it’s a good time for an annual personal review – a chance to reflect in-depth about the past year and to see how God has been and might yet be at work in our life and work. Psalm 32 is a great foundational text for such a reflective process.

The Psalm begins with facing our past honestly – particularly the bad and the ugly. Notice that the Psalmist says, “I did not hide my iniquity” (Psalm 32:5 NRSV). As the story of Adam and Eve intimates, the consequence of sin is that we instinctively want to hide (Genesis 3:8-10). Not only do we want to hide from God, but we want to hide from the consequences of our actions. To use the language of this text, we want to hide our iniquity. And, we do that in lots of inventive ways, including justifying our actions and shifting the blame to someone else, as evidenced by the Genesis 3 account. We’ll do anything but look reality squarely in the face. As T.S. Eliot wrote, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.” (Burnt Norton) Facing our failure and sin turns out to be surprisingly difficult.

Still, the Psalm helps by recalling that God is compassionate and gracious. “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” (Psalm 32:1 NRSV) Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “covered” in verse 1 is the same as the one for “hide” in verse 5. In other words, the Psalmist suggests that when we refuse to cover up our past, God graciously “covers” our sin. Therefore, we needn’t fear facing our failures, no matter how large or catastrophic. To use Paul’s language in his letter to the Romans, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31b NRSV) Isn’t that extraordinarily good news?

In addition to dealing with our past failures, Psalm 32 reminds us that God is positively and personally engaged in our past and future work. Our annual personal review process can help us reflect more deeply about how that is the case. Today’s text suggests two important aspects of God’s work in our work. First, God is interested in shaping a way of life in us, not just imparting a body of knowledge to us. We live in a culture that easily separates theory from practice. The Psalmist indicates that God’s engagement in our lives seeks to reintegrate the two – that we might live a life that’s congruent in thought, word and deed. God is as interested in the “way we should go” as in the things we might know. Second, God doesn’t engage us from a distance. The last part of today’s text, “I will counsel you with my eye upon you,” provides a wonderful visual of someone who is personally attentive to our life and work. Not only is God interested in shaping fully integrated lives in us, but he engages us in that process actively and personally.

Unlike the popular conception of a deity who is uncaring about and uninvolved with the day-to-day realities of our existence, Psalm 32 reveals a God who cares deeply about our life and work. And, the text encourages us to discern that he is actively and personally engaged with us, even when that is hard to see. Taking time to reflect on God’s work in our life and work provides an important means to discern that work in us.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

How might you make time and space for reflecting on God’s work in your life and work?

In what ways are you tempted to hide from the consequences of your past actions? How does God’s compassion and grace affect your ability to face your past?

In what ways do you see God’s work in your life in this past year? Where have you seen evidence of his presence? In what ways might God be working in your life this coming year?

PRAYER:

Lord Jesus Christ, we are grateful for how you teach us the way we should go and guide us in that way with your eye upon us.

We admit, Lord, that it is difficult to face our failure and sin. We are tempted to hide from our sin as well as from you. Thank you that you invite us to uncover our sins that you might recover our lives.

Help us to see your gracious presence in our lives as we reflect on this last year. Give us grace to follow you in the year ahead.

We pray all this in your name, Amen.

 

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary.

 

Image Credit: By Joseph von Führich – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain.

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