Well, here we are, at the start of a new year. And of course, we know what that all means: New Year’s Resolutions. Webster’s Dictionary defines this as “a tradition, most common in the Western Hemisphere, in which a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behavior.”

Now, I love setting goals and resolutions, I do. But truthfully, resolutions can grow stale. 55% of Americans know this, as they never even bother to set New Year’s Resolutions. But even more stark is that only about 8% of us actually keep them. Why, do you think, are we so bad at keeping resolutions?

I think it’s because there is a big difference between setting a goal and working toward its achievement, and hearing the voice of God, repenting, and turning toward something new. Sure, those two things can overlap but in my life, the times when I really stick with a plan is when my heart is broken over something that breaks God’s.

After all, the basic call of a disciple is to hear and obey.

In our community, we use a simple tool to do this. It’s called the Learning Circle, and we stole it from an organization called 3DM. (If you want a more in-depth look at this and other life shapes, check out Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen.) It is a simple, reproducible way to look at hearing and obeying, based off Mark 1:15.

Mark 1:15 (NLT): “The time promised by God has come at last!” [Jesus] announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” [Believe, of course, being action-based and not an intellectual ascent to knowledge alone.]

learning circle

Most of us tend toward either hearing from God but not bringing those words to action, or we jump into plans over and over (like New Year’s Resolutions) without first hearing from God about them. This simple tool gives us a great balance of both.

The Kairos moment is when the Kingdom of God breaks in, to use Mark’s language. It’s that moment when something hits us: a sermon or worship song, or (more likely for me) an argument with our spouse, a surprisingly strong emotion, a pesky pattern that keeps emerging, etc. When we identify that, we Observe what is happening, then we Reflect on why, and because we always do this in a group setting (like Jesus did), we Discuss it together. By the time we leave the first side of that circle, we should be able to answer in a sentence or two the question, “What is God saying to me?” (Example: the Kairos was being impatient in traffic again. What God is saying to me is that my busyness is leading to unreasonable anxiety. I need more rest.)

Once we know clearly what we are repenting of, we head over to take action on that word from the Lord. We establish a Plan that looks a lot like a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reasonable, with a Timetable), decide who we will be Accountable to, and Act on it. By the time we are finished with this side of the Learning Circle we should be able to clearly and concisely answer the question, “What am I going to do about it?” Often the plan seems miniscule in comparison to what God is saying, but I have seen again and again that when we take even the smallest steps to actually do something, we begin to change. (For the example above, my plan might be to institute a day of Sabbath rest each week, and have the leadership team at my church hold me accountable. In trying to act this out, I may find that I have too much activity to actually do this, which will lead to a new kairos: “I need to prune.” That will lead me into a new plan.)

Setting resolutions is great, but hearing and obeying is the true work of a disciple. If we are faithful and keep at it, we will be astonished at how much we can grow this year.

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