To celebrate the birth of the God-man Jesus, is to recognize the biggest chapter break in the universe's most impressive story. As God's redemptive plan ripples through time, it comes in stages. 

Have you ever noticed that God's macro-work in stages is reflected in His micro-work with individuals? 

The clarity generated from looking at life through stages or chapters is amazing.  It's especially pertinent for me as an even-decade New Year approaches on the heels of my 40th birthday.

The idea of seeing life through stages or chapters was first meaningful to me in my early twenties, when I read Robert Clinton's, The Making of a Leader. He opens with this observation and chart:

Leadership development theory begins with the concept of formulating a time-line. A time-line study for each person is unique. However, when you see enough time-lines you notice some overall general patterns. The following is an idealized pattern, synthesized from a study of many individual patterns.

One take-away at the time was looking proactively  at my life through the lens of decade-long stages. 

Another strong influence  toward "chaptering" my life came from reading the Sacred Romance, by Curtis and Eldredge. These guys beautifully weave the book metaphor into the process of spiritual formation using story and chapter markings in relation to God's authorship. Also, while at Dallas Theological Seminary, the practice of life-mapping influenced me along the same lines and led to one of the most valuable small group tools I have ever used. 

Finally, my work with Bob Buford, exposed me to a helpful staging progression he uses in describing the Half Time journey- a masculine metaphor of life progression from "warrior to king to sage."  All stages are important, but nature of contribution, energy and influence evolves over time. Since its Christmas you might enjoy the special wisdom of these four stages of a man's life: 1) You believe in Santa, 2) You don't believe in Santa, 3) You are Santa and 4) You look like Santa. (via @markclement) 

The bottom line is that knowing the chapters of your life can bring meaning as you look back, perspective as you look forward, and clarity for decisions you make today. 

As I begin my forties I am doing so with lens that is distinctly different from my 20's and 30's. Here is what that looks like for me:

  • My 20's were about Intimacy; the cultivation of habits in my life with God.

  • My 30's were about Service; sharpening my calling in a physical full-court press to honor Him.

  • My 40's will be about Sabbath; pursing wholeness, rest, eternal perspective and a deeper quality of love as a result of the the previous two stages.

Minor and major decision-making can be framed by this perspective. Today on the plane I read Anne Jackson's, Mad Church Disease.  I wasn't just reading a good book, but scanning for insight on a decade long journey.  At forty, I have thought about having more kids. But what frames my thinking and prayers is not having children in a repeat "warrior" stage of life, but having them in a "king" stage of life. 

What stage of life do you currently find yourself?  If you had to divide your life into 3-5 chapters today, what would your chapter titles be?  Consider how this perspective might shape your decisions in the new year.