Message for the New Year
Proverbs 3:5-6 26 December 2021
A new year is nearly upon us. 2021 has flown by and 2022 is almost knocking at our door. At the beginning of a New Year, many reflect back on the past year and make plans for the New Year. Some even make New Year’s Resolutions. A new year brings new opportunities and a clean slate to all of us. One writer commented: “No matter what your past, your future is spotless.” As people of faith, we don’t wallow in past mistakes as they are forgiven. Instead, we learn from them and move into God’s future. A New Year is a gift from God which brings new opportunities to bless others and to be blessed by God.
An organization sent me an unsolicited version of “The Old Farmer’s 2022 Almanac.” In it they compare Resolutions from 1947 with Today’s Resolutions. Today’s #1 Resolution is “Lose Weight.” In 1947, people wrote that their tenth resolution was to lose (or gain) weight. The second contemporary resolution is to “Get Organized.” I was surprised about that one. With all the digital devices, computers and smart phones, I’d think people were well organized. The third contemporary resolution is to “Spend less, save more.” 1947 Americans also wanted to save more as it was number 4 on their list. The 5th 1947 resolution was “Stop drinking, drink less.” There is no such resolution on the contemporary list. There’s another resolution that appears on the 1947 list which does not appear on the contemporary list: “Be more religious, go to church more often.” With the secularization of society, people are less and less interested in religious faith. And there is a growing hostility to people who have religious faith. Last week when I was traveling south on SR 31 I was passed by a newer Jeep. I was surprised to see a large decal in the back window that read: “Hail Satan!” The nation is more and more becoming not just secular but pagan. Personally, I’m not into New Year’s Resolutions. I remember noticing that in January the numbers of people who came to the fitness center was much greater than normal. However, by February the numbers were back to normal. People tend to make resolutions, keep them for a short period, and they go back to their old habits.
Our attitudes and expectations have a major effect on the way life in the New Year will develop for us. Some believe the New Year will bring the same old stuff. Like Shakespeare said in the play “Macbeth”: “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.” That certainly is not an uplifting word for 2022. Shakespeare’s comment is the antithesis of Christianity. Life is more than sound and fury signifying nothing. The New Year may bring the same old stuff, but the stuff of the New Year is much of our own making.
As I reflect on the New Year, I recall the statement made by a business leader: “If you continue to do what you have always done and expect different results, you are crazy.” You have probably heard that statement before. I’d say that if one expects different results or outcomes and is unwilling to make substantial changes, one has unrealistic and self-defeating expectations. It’s back to the old reality that if I plant weed seeds, I’m guaranteed to have a good crop of weeds. If I plant weed seeds and pray that God will give a good wheat crop what will happen? Will God answer my prayers and give me a good wheat crop? No, He won’t.
Another business leader said, “Your business is specifically designed to achieve the results you are getting.” In this view, one has to change the system to get different results or outcomes. The same goes with our personal lives. The outcomes we are getting come from how we are living. Sad to say, but many people want life to be better but are unwilling to make the changes necessary to achieve a better life.
Given the disastrous economy, horribly high inflation and the continuing pandemic of the COVID virus, it is easy to move into 2022 feeling anything but optimistic. Some writers tend to be quite pessimistic when looking into the future. Samuel Becket wrote: “We are all adrift. We must invent a world in which to survive, but even this invented world is pervaded by fear and guilt. Our existence is hopeless.” It is wise to contrast such pessimism with genuine Christian faith. God is already at work in the future. He goes ahead of us into His future, and he has already made plans to bless us in 2022. Christians do not get caught up in the gloom and doom teachings of philosophers and certain writers. We trust that God continues to work in human history and His work is good and true.
I am not compiling a list of New Year’s Resolutions. Instead, we Christians are wise to continue to do what God is calling us to do. We will continue to be people who pray seriously for our needs and the needs of others. Recently, I read a book about the history of the Azusa Street revival in the early 20th century in California. For three and a half years, God poured out His Spirit with amazing regularity and many genuine miracles happened during the daily and weekly religious services. Out of that revival came two Pentecostal church groups and many people who lived out their faith in powerful ways. I came away from reading the book realizing that one of the big differences between church as usual and church as described in the Azusa book is expectation. The folks that came to the services on Azusa Street in the early 20th century expected God to show up and work miracles. What if we expected God to do today what He has done in and through Christ Jesus? One Scripture verse has me thinking. Jesus was teaching His disciples in the Upper Room on the night he was betrayed. He told them, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it (John 14:12-14).” I know that some believe the age of miracles stopped when the apostles died but in reading Scripture, I find that hard to believe. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And we are called to continue the work He began. What are our expectations as a church? Do we expect God to work among us with power? As we move into 2022, it is wise to have great expectations of God.
One of the problems we face is that we’ve been taught that self-improvement is a virtue. We are taught to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. However, such thinking focuses on our limited power, wisdom and energies. The Bible reminds us over and over again that we set ourselves up for failure when we try to make changes or do anything significant on our own without the energy, power and wisdom that God provides. People of faith know they are totally dependent on God. In our self-reliant and now government-reliant culture, it’s hard to recognize and acknowledge our complete dependence on God. In our self-centeredness, it is hard to acknowledge God. I recall my eldest when she was 3 or 4 years old. Her favorite exclamation was, “I’ll do it myself!” When it comes to living, we had better not do it exclusively by ourselves without the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. People of faith know that life is about God, not about our self-centered goals and objectives.
While some do well in developing and keeping Resolutions, our best hope is to trust in God and seek His power and presence in our daily lives. Over the years there have been a number of people who call out for revolution. Their kind of revolution is through violence and creating chaos. We see that in the big cities today where people loot, steal and vandalize. We see it in a culture that creates heroes out of criminals. However, Jesus was a revolutionary of a different type. He calls us to a complete or radical change. He came and turned things upside down in a good way, and He continues to turn the world upside down wherever people take him seriously. One of the tenants of Christianity is that holy change comes not from human effort alone but by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit comes, He turns things upside down as He does His transforming work. The problem with transformation and being open to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit is that it’s about radical change. We humans tend to be resistant to change. We like a comfortable life that is predictable. Holy change means that God pushes us out of our comfort zones. While we are quite happy with the way things are, God presses us into his future. In 2022 will we trust where God leads us; or will we resist the Holy Spirit?
There is always a remnant in the church that is open to God’s work. They are Christians who truly hunger and thirst for righteousness. They seek to draw closer to the Lord. They are unafraid of trusting God for the future and going where He calls them. They are bold enough to believe that Christ Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. They know he continues His work of healing, delivering and saving people.
As we move into 2022, the Word of God comes to me again from Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” It is good to be intelligent and have a solid education, but it is imperative also to be grounded in the Lord. If we move into 2022 relying on our own insights and intelligence and not acknowledging the Lord God in all that we do, we will have little genuine success. When we recognize Christ Jesus is our past, our present and our future, then we can live as His people and do the work that He calls us to do. Recognize that our Lord is powerful and listens to our prayers. Recognize that the more we expect God to come with power the more He will come with power. In this coming year, the best we can do is draw closer to the Lord Jesus Christ and live as he wants us to live.
CH (COL) Michael W. Malone, AUS,