By concentrating on outward achievements, we miss out on the deep work that Jesus wants to do in us, says Joe Warton. Let’s make 2024 the year we focus on purpose, people and practices

Here we go again. Step one: make a New Year’s resolution. Step two: take two spoonfuls of willpower. Step three: fail. Step four: do the same next year.

If that sounds like your January ritual, despair no more! While there’s always going to be a gap between the person you want to be and the person that you are, there’s a way we can all narrow that gap. In other words, you can grow (and help others grow too).

The area of growth I’m talking about is what the author David Brooks calls our “eulogy virtues”, as opposed to our “CV virtues”. 

CV virtues are the outward achievements we can point others to: “I’m now the CFO of this company” or “I’ve run seven marathons in seven days wearing flippers.” That kind of thing. These tend to be the areas of growth we typically focus on.

Eulogy virtues are different. They represent who you are as a person - your character; the things your loved ones will treasure in their hearts at your graveside; the way you treat the people who serve you in shops or how you respond when you’re 70 miles into a holiday journey and discover your spouse forgot to pack the electric toothbrush. 

That’s not to say your CV virtues are irrelevant. But if we’re not developing our character along the way, we’re missing out on the deep work that Jesus wants to do in each one of us. 

God wants us to become more like Jesus (Romans 8:29). We are called to follow in Christ’s steps (1 Peter 2:21). Transforming our character is a core part of God’s mission on earth.

So, here’s my question. By the time the clock strikes 2025, would you like to be more like Jesus than you are right now? 

If so, call me a preacher and clip a mic to my tie, because I’ve got three Ps to help you along the way! I spent ten years researching everyday discipleship at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC) and, from the magma of survey, interview and observational data, three mountains emerged. 

When Christians have purpose, practices and people, they grow. 

Disciples rich in these three Ps enjoy a closer relationship God, respond with more grace to the people around them, have healthier perspectives on life, are more joyful, exhibit godly influence in their workplaces and have better conversations with non-Christians about their faith. Want a slice o’ that for yourself? Then read on, my friend!


Why is it that when Mission Impossible’s Ethan Hunt takes a beating, he keeps running? Answer: purpose. The ‘mission’ is bigger than the ‘impossible’. Less fictionally, why was it that, when faced with the barbaric treatment of a concentration camp, Viktor Frankl was able to endure? Same answer: purpose. Later, in his seminal text on suffering, Man’s Search for Meaning (Rider), Frankl quoted Fredrich Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

As God’s people, we have the most spectacular ‘why’. We get to bear God’s image (Genesis 1:27-28). We get to invite people into life with Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20). We get to be involved in seeing heaven come to earth (Matthew 6:10). We have a great purpose!

In the Bible, the concept of solo discipleship is anathema

And that’s awesome, obviously. But it’s vital we know how to earth God’s purpose for us in the life we actually live: riding the bus to college, enjoying a latte with a friend or updating our company’s sickness policy. If we don’t know how to live it out in the normal stuff of life, our sense of purpose remains a mist that gets burnt away by the mid-morning sun.

In the research, the importance of having a clear sense of God’s purpose in your everyday context came through time and time again. Take one particular psychologist in the Midlands. She’s part of a church that talks a lot about purpose, and how we can all serve God in our everyday lives. But when her vicar visited her at work, she lamented that she wasn’t “doing much for God” there, as she wasn’t able to openly share her faith. The vicar helped her see how her work was bringing healing, showing kindness and releasing the oppressed. The psychologist ended the conversation with a huge smile on her face: “Wow! I’ve never thought of it like that before!”

4 ways to build spiritual practices into your day


1. Find a spot: Be really specific about when and where you will do the practice: “I will spend 15 minutes reading my Bible as soon I’ve packed my lunch”; “I will thank God for the good things from my day as soon as I get on the train.” 

2. Be flexible: It’s great to make a plan, but life gets messy: “I’ve got to leave early this morning, so I’ll read the Bible when I get back, and I’ll pray in the car now.” 

3. Stay rooted in grace: People are often very hard on themselves if they feel like they’ve failed. But this is counterproductive. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to someone else.

4. Focus on the goal: A habit that feels arbitrary is easy to give up on. Remember how the particular practice you are using is helping you grow into the person God is calling you to be.

I’ve seen this impact in my own pastoring and small-group leading. In one session, with a group of young adults, we were thinking about how our work (whether paid or unpaid), reflects the character of God (see box on p51). 

A personal trainer recognised a whole host of ways he was loving God and people through his work. Through exercise and positive human encounter, his clients were becoming healthier and happier. Through his caring words and actions, he showed them something of what Jesus looks like. People would open up to him, and he used his pastoral gifts to bring godly perspective, wisdom and comfort. All this led to natural opportunities to talk about Jesus, because the words he spoke were backed up by the life he lived. 

So, what purpose might God have for you in your work, friendships or sports team? How might you be serving him there already, perhaps in ways you haven’t recognised? And how might you serve him there more?


A few years ago, inspired by books like Justin Whitmel Earley’s The Common Rule (IVP), I became really intentional about spiritual practices. I set myself a ‘no screen before scripture’ rule, reflected most evenings on where I’d seen God throughout the day and experimented with different ways of connecting with God’s truth as I worked and looked after my children. It changed me. 

Having a clear sense of purpose was great. I could see ways I could serve God, but how could I actually become the kind of person who reflected Jesus in those spheres? Practices are a huge part of the answer.

Joyful disciples were much more likely to be engaging with regular spiritual practices

Alongside my LICC colleagues, we explored the impact of practices, surveying 265 respondents across ten UK churches. In one question, we gave participants 24 different words (positive and negative) and asked them to select which three best described their discipleship at that time. Thirty-two selected the word ‘joyful’. We discovered these joyful disciples were much more likely to be engaging with regular spiritual practices than average.

People who prayed regularly were 15 per cent more likely to say they sought to change things for the better in their workplace or everyday contexts. Rather than prayer being a substitute for action, it seemed to reinforce or perhaps even inspire action.

A helpful way to engage with the Bible


Select a book or section of scripture and read a small portion each day.

Head: Read the passage once, focusing on what the words are actually saying. Who was this being written by and who was it being written for? What are the main points the author wants to communicate?

Heart: Read the passage again, slowly, and see what word, phrase or theme grabs you. What feels weighty and significant? Focus on that for a few moments.

Hands: What are you going to do about it? Take a moment to visualise the day ahead. What would it look like for the truth of this passage to shape who you’ll be today?

And people who read the Bible most days scored higher in just about every area of discipleship. Bible reading wasn’t just helping them feel good, it was shaping their actions too.

In more experimental research, we taught a group of 82 Christians four spiritual practices, including engaging with the Bible, reflecting on the day and a couple of ‘portable’ practices to help them connect with God as they went about daily life. 

Over three months, we saw huge boosts in those who were regularly engaging with the practices. They scored higher on every area we measured and were more likely to describe themselves as ‘flourishing’ and ‘purposeful’, and less likely to select words like ‘anxious’, ‘jaded’ or ‘stuck’.

What practices might you need to embed in your life to help you grow into the kind of person who can live out God’s purpose for you in your day-to-day life? 


In Western cultures, which value personal freedom, self-sufficiency and individual expression, it’s easy to be a spiritual lone wolf (or should that be sheep?). We can view community as an optional extra; desirable but not essential for growth. 

But relationships are at the core of God’s design. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we’re called to “love one another” (John 13:24), be “devoted to one another” (Romans 12:10), “instruct one another” (Romans 15:14), “spur one another on” (Hebrews 10:24) and “encourage one another” (eg 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Judges 10:22). In the Bible, the concept of solo discipleship is anathema. 

The importance of relationship is wired into us. Around the end of our strands of DNA are structures called ‘telomeres’. These are like the plastic wrapping around the end of a shoelace, which prevent it from splaying, and they protect our DNA, helping us stay younger and healthier. Research shows that people who live in communities where they feel cared for and accepted have longer and healthier telomeres than people who don’t. Our relationships affect us at every level – even our genetics!

And relationships are vital for healthy Christian growth. 

People who are part of a prayer partnership or triplet report more positive outcomes in the outward dimensions of discipleship, such as relating well to people around them, and sharing their faith with others. 

Transforming our character is a core part of God’s mission on earth

In some research I did into the faith and lives of 18-35-year-old Christians, I asked 20 participants what helped them live out their faith every day. The thread that ran through all their answers was: input from other people. Christian parents, a brother-in-law, their small group, friend, young adults’ worker, church leader – these were their main influences. 

Finding purpose in your work (whether paid or unpaid)


In Genesis 1, we see our creator God doing a number of things, and it is probable our work will mirror some of these. In what ways does your work reflect God’s work?

Producing order: like a parent tidying up their kid’s bedroom, or an administrator putting the right files in the right folder.

Generating provision: like a farmer growing food or a fund manager growing pension pots.

Bringing joy: like a midwife delivering a baby or a waiter serving food with a smile.

Creating beauty: like someone tending to their garden or a website designer helping a brand to sparkle.

Releasing potential: like a line manager organising training for their staff, or a ghostwriter who turns semi-articulated thoughts into readable prose. 

I was frequently amazed at the difference people said a conversation with me or one of my colleagues made, even if all we did was ask some questions and listen well. Participants would often say how grateful they were for the conversation, and how talking to somebody had inspired them to take action they otherwise would not have taken.

Of the three Ps, this one is probably the hardest. It’s definitely the one we have the least control over. Yet Christian relationships can be powerful. There are things we get from one another that we simply can’t get from ourselves.

So, over the course of this year, how might you develop relationships with other Christians that can help you (and them) to grow? 

Moving forward

You’ve made it this far, so I don’t think I need to tell you what to do next. My suspicion is that you know one or two things you need to put into practice. You have all that you need to keep growing: the example of Jesus, the power of his Spirit, the guidance of his word and a place in his body – the Church. 

So, I leave you with the same confidence Paul had for the Christians in Philippi: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).