It’s that time of year again! No, not Christmas. It’s evaluation time!
Since December 1993 I have taken the last week of each year to evaluate my life. When I began this process twenty-three years ago I was frustrated, confused, and disappointed. I simply “hoped” my future would become better. I have since learned that hope is not a good plan.
At the time I was twenty-nine years old and had written my resignation earlier that year. I was not only resigning from my pastorate specifically, but ministry altogether. However, before reading it to my church, I was invited to a leadership training conference to hear John Maxwell. I had never heard of John Maxwell before, but out of desperation I went. Among other things he mentioned doing an annual personal evaluation.
After hearing Maxwell, I tore up my resignation. Instead of resigning, I began to put together a process to evaluate myself. When my 31-year-old brother was killed in an automobile accident on December 16 the same year, his death provided even more fuel in my soul to evaluate my life, to develop a plan for where I was going so I could make every day count.
This evaluation remains the most important thing I do every year to help my future be better than my past. My process is not complex, but it does require several hours of undisturbed effort. And it produces several pages of notes with honest perspective, challenging goals, intentional plans, and realistic timelines.
There are four key areas that I evaluate:
If I am not paying attention to my health, the next year mostly likely won’t be a good one. No area (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) can be ignored. Each can and does affect the other ones.
My life is woven together with my wife, my daughters, my sons-in-law, my grandkids, friends, mentors, mentees, and acquaintances. My evaluation time helps me make sure each of those relationships is getting the priority, attention, and time than it needs.
Life for most people is full of financial ups and downs. Sometimes there isn’t anything you can do about it. Hospital stays and extended illnesses, college expenses, and weddings can quickly drain years of savings. But, I’ve found annually evaluating helps me better plan how much I can expect to make, my expenses, how much I can save, give, and invest. The Bible is pretty clear than paying attention to one’s finances is better than not doing it.
In this section I ask, “Am I fulfilled?” “Have I been fruitful this year?” “Am I being faithful?” “What does God seem ready to do with me in the future?”
When I keep these four areas in focus, I seem to approach the future with more confidence. So, every year on December 26, I begin asking these four questions about each of these areas.
Where have I been?
It’s important to not live in the past, but we must stop occasionally to glance there. In each of these areas, what decisions, people, and events have brought us to where we are? In every automobile, there is a small rear-view mirror in the middle of a massive windshield. The rear-view mirror is a tool to glance at where you’ve been, and the massive windshield exists so you can get a clear view of everything that’s ahead.
Where am I now?
Be honest at this point about the condition or status of each of these areas of life. Have they become what you would have hoped five or ten years ago? Which areas need the most improvement? Which areas should you celebrate?
Where do I dream of going?
Now it’s time to dream about the future and write down your goals. Imagine the various components of your health, relationships, finances, and career/ministry five years from now and ten years from now. What does your life look like?
What actions must I take to get there?
To have a dream without a plan only makes one a dreamer. Your future will not get better accidentally. What needs to change? I can still here John Maxwell saying to me, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you always got!” If you expect improvements in your future, there must be improvements in your actions! Write your plan of action with dates of when you will begin, then start!
While others are eating leftovers, shopping for bargains, returning gifts, watching TV, or hunting on the day after Christmas, I hope you will join me in a personal evaluation. Our futures, our families, our finances, our careers and ministries will be better for it! Then we can really say, “Happy New Year!”