A New Year’s Challenge – Start 2024 with a Sieve
January 1, 2024
In 2019, my novel, The Four Gifts of the King, was published. Like most novels, the novel has a meta-narrative – a big story to tell. Every person in the book has a part in telling that story. No one is superfluous. No one is in there by mistake. They are all required for the story to unfold in its fullness.
As the Master Author, God will be writing His meta narrative across the pages of 2024. You are an essential part of it. The question is, do you know your part? Do you understand your role? Are you aware of your unique contribution? God’s great story includes you, all 365 days of your life in this new year.
What would it mean to start 2024 believing you are part of that bigger story? It should inspire confidence and an anticipation that God has something great in store. It also means that if you know it, the enemy also knows it. His work is to detach your daily story from God’s grander story. He wants you to lose sight of your place, to forget your role. He wants you on the sidelines, not in the game. How does he accomplish that? Here’s a list for starters:
Distractions. Information overload. Schedule stress. Meeting expectations. Pressure to accomplish goals. Fears and insecurities. Failure carry-over from 2023. Uncertainties. Time pressure. Anxiety. Christophobia. Confusion. Global turmoil. Election-year madness. Discouragement. Despair.
Welcome to 2024. Your list may be different. Maybe shorter or longer. But looking out at the prospect of this new year, I’m betting many of these emotions and perspectives are familiar. I admit to struggling with all the vagaries the new year represents. How do we steward these precious days ensuring we are in lock-step with God in the playing out of His great 2024 narrative? How do we cut through the distractions and keep the main thing the main thing this year?
I believe we need to start this year allowing God to sift us through a spiritual sieve. Webster defines sifting as “to separate or separate out by or as if by putting through a sieve,” “to go through especially to sort out what is useful or valuable (italics mine).”
I believe we must submit ourselves to the Master Sifter if we are to stay focused on the role God has for us in His great story of 2024. Sifting begins with raw material. Think of all the inputs that are loaded into our minds every day. They are like spadefuls of dirt dumped into the top of a sieve. The goal in sifting is to screen out all the impurities, the non-essentials, the unhelpful or unusable items, the distractions, and the counterfeits. If pure gold is our goal, everything else must be sifted away for gold to be found. Here’s what it might look like for this sifting to occur in us, like soil working its way through three screens of a sieve.
The first sieve is usually coarse, its openings large to catch only the big items that must be eliminated early in the process. We can think here of Paul’s use of a running metaphor when he challenges us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
As we enter 2024, there is so much that seeks to hinder and entangle us. One of the ‘words of the year’ for 2023 is permacrisis. It speaks to the seemingly relentless stream of crises that dominated our world. The new version of 2024 is polycrisis, which reminds us that these crises are coming at us from every direction. We enter 2024 as a world, country, and church facing permanent and pervasive crises, turmoil, even chaos. If we let it, the reality of polycrisis will overwhelm us, making it impossible to see, much less participate in God’s meta-narrative.
This first sifting must serve to catch all the foreboding issues that surround us and name them as intruders. We can acknowledge their presence without giving them a seat at the table in our spirit. Here we must embrace our call to be stewards, seeking to be faithful where God has called us to engage, and entrusting everything else to Him. That entrusting works like a screen to filter out those things that clutter our minds and darken our hearts. There is so much that we cannot control about the polycrises of our day. When we acknowledge that and turn them over to God’s sovereign rule, we are set free. That is the working of this first screen in our sieve.
The second screen is finer, and for us to let it work in us, we must pray for God’s discernment. It is through prayer, devotion to God’s word, and fellowship that we are guided to see what is valuable and what is dross. These are the more subtle weapons the enemy uses to draw us away from the role that God has prepared for us to play. These can be the cares and concerns that gnaw at us in the middle of the night. They are closer to home and play on our insecurities, our misplaced confidences, and our unspoken anxieties. This level requires a more deliberate sifting and a careful examination of the distortions and lies of the enemy. If we were looking for pure gold, this sifting identifies the pyrite, the ‘fool’s gold’ that looks so enticing but serves only to distract and disappoint us. We think here of Paul’s instruction to, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
The third sifting may be the hardest. It is the finest work of the Holy Spirit to help us identify those things in our life that may look so holy, appear so kingdom-focused, and present such possibilities for faithful service. These may seem like the last places to find the enemy at work, and that is what makes it so important and dangerous. There will be an unending stream of ways we can invest ourselves in God’s work in the new year. With the world imploding around us, should we not embrace every opportunity to pour ourselves out in service? Shouldn’t we be ‘all in’ for the Gospel, fully engaged in kingdom advancement wherever and whenever we can?
Well, no. That is a most insidious lie of the enemy. It feeds on our pride and fuels our drive to do so much for Jesus that we leave no room for Him to do things in us. It deceives us into believing that the role God has for us to play requires us to measure success in what we accomplish for God and ignore all that God seeks to do in us. And it is only when God is at work in us that He can work through us to accomplish His will, His way, for His glory. The temptation the enemy will continually put before us is to do our work our way, believing that in doing so, we are pleasing God. This path leaves us exhausted and discouraged.
We are reminded of the story of Mary and Martha. It’s worth hearing in its full as we consider this final sifting work.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
That ‘one thing that is needed’ is the pure gold that is only discovered through this final sifting process. It is the unique role God is calling you to play in 2024.
Will you allow God to guide you through this sifting process, employing the sieve of the Holy Spirit at all three levels to eliminate in you all that would keep you from discovering His purpose for you in this new year?
May you be so yielded to His sifting work that 2024 will be a focused, rich, and fulfilling year as you play the role He has designed for you in His great New Year’s story.
Dr. Rodin is the Founder and Content Expert of the Center for Steward Leader Studies. He also serves as President of Kingdom Life Publishing and Rodin Consulting Inc.