As I looked over my Facebook feed for the first time in 2016, I saw a number with good intentions and many with much self determination. Advice on how to make your goals, “set your intentions,” and make this first day of 2016 the first day of a new you.
It made me realize that the desire for something new is something that God has placed in our hearts. It is part of our make up, coded into our very cells and innermost desires, that we want and need a fresh start. That desire, that yearning, is part of what draws us to him, that makes us look beyond ourself for the new.
That is the message of the Gospel and God’s promise throughout time, the good news in Christ. In him, we are made new.
One of many favorite verses in Isaiah is Isaiah 44:22, “I, the Lord, made you and I will not forget you. I have swept away your sins like a cloud. I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist.”
God doesn’t just cover our offense. He doesn’t put them in the closet to bring them out again. The picture here is one of an exploding force, one that completely eradicates them, the kind of force that exploded and burst forth from the grave, breaking the chains of death on Resurrection Sunday.
They are gone. That is truly a new beginning, a fresh start.
Trying to Make a Fresh Start with Old Works
The thing about fresh starts is that we can’t bring any of the old with us. If we did, it wouldn’t be fresh. We can’t become new by holding on to old behaviors, old thoughts, and old works.
That is part of what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 9:17 when he said you can’t put new wine into old wine skins. It referred to the necessity for the New Covenant written in his blood (Luke 22:20, Matthew 26:28) versus stone tablets and dead works (Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:25-27, Hebrews 8:6-13, Hebrews 10:16). But it is also referring to the fact that we have to be willing to change, to allow him to transform us.
Fullness of Life in the New Year
Sometimes, as Christians, we only look at the eternal aspect of salvation in Christ. When we die, we will be with him. (2 Corinthians 5:8) Death is not the end. (Isaiah 25:8, Hosea 13:14,1 Corinthians 15:55). But life in Christ is not just about eternal life; it is about life in its fullness. Life today.
His death was so you could have eternal life.
He was weak, so we could be strong (Isaiah 53:4)
He had sorrow, so we could have joy. Isaiah 53:4
He was beaten, so we could have peace of mind. Isaiah 53:5
He was whipped, so we could be healed. Isaiah 53:5
Through and in Christ we can have the fullness of life (Colossians 2:9-10)
The Danger of Self Works
The danger is, again, trying to bring the old with the new, trying to bring old works to new life. Trying to do it on our own steam rather than through Christ. (Philippians 4:13).
We are in a very “self” oriented society; one that is focused on “self-help,” “self-improvement,” and “living intentionally.” All of these things are focused on our will versus focusing on God’s will. The message in all of these movements is, “I can do it myself,” “I can make myself different,” “I can manifest my reality,” and “I decide my life purpose.”
This, my friend, is not the Christian walk.
This is the striving and futile mindset of the world that leads to despondency and despair.
Paul talks about this in the same passage that talks about the fullness of life in Christ in Colossians chapter 2. He warns against the world’s mindset.
Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
In the U.S., we have more information, more knowledge, and more access to resources than at any time in the history of the world. We are also a complete mess. Since the turn of the millenium, there has been an “astounding increase” in the use of anti-depressants, One in ten Americans are on antidepressants, among women my age it rises to one in four. All the self improvement books, dream boards, fitness programs, diet plans, oils and supplements, and still 70 percent of Americans are on at least one prescription drug. Half are on two or more.
Yes, we should be good stewards of the resources that God has blessed us with and that includes our bodies, our finances, and our relationships; but none of that will give you peace. It is not going to give you joy. And if you think you can control any of these things and “make” it happen . . . You are one incident away from a very rude awakening.
You Don’t “Got” This
I hear people tell others, “You got this.” I know this is meant as an encouragement to keep doing what they are doing and going on, moving forward.
But really . . . that’s a lie. You don’t “got” this. No human does. (Matthew 6:27, Luke 12:25) We do not control what happens to us, we can only control how we respond to it.
Just this past week has been such a clear illustration of that. I had a lot of plans for what I was going to accomplish in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Very little got done. My laptop cable stopped charging, the battery went down, and the registry was corrupted so once I did get a new charger, Windows wouldn’t load. And then I misplaced my phone for an hour, call notifications weren’t coming through, and now I’m going to have to start the New Year on the phone with the cable company because now my modem is connecting to the service, but not to the internet.
I had good intentions and an awesome plan, but life happened.
James warns about this in the fourth chapter of his letter to the church.
Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” 14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. 15 What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” 16 Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16 NLT)
No one knows what tomorrow will bring. We don’t even know what today will bring. All those technical inconveniences I experienced this week were so minor, but they had an impact on outcome. The point of the Christian walk is that if we are in Christ, we should be relying on him to guide us. We have to be willing to go wherever he leads us.
God Holds the Future
We have to be willing to not only trust God for our eternal salvation, but for our day to day lives as well. We have to believe him when he says in Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”
The plans he has for us, not our plans that we want to order him to bring about. He accomplishes His word for our lives, not ours. (Isaiah 55:11)
If you are not in agreement with His word for your life, it doesn’t matter how many dream boards you create, how many intentions you set, how many decrees in prayer you make . . . God is not going to be working it out through his Holy Spirit (another spirit may be seemingly working it out for awhile, but that is another topic.) The work of the Holy Spirit is exclusively for His Word, his Scripture and what He has spoken for your life (John 10:27, Psalm 62:11) It is only when we speak in his will that his Word has power for us.
12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:12:13)
Resolve to Trust
I don’t know what tomorrow brings. I’m not setting any New Year’s resolutions. If 2016 is anything like 2015, I wouldn’t even begin to know how to set a resolution for what is coming.
I started graduate school this past August. A year ago today, it wasn’t even on my mind. It wasn’t until a year ago tomorrow that I was looking at the HBU apologetics program and thought, “Hmm, that would be cool” and sent in my application. It was something that was on my heart, but I didn’t have any sense of “yes” or “now.” When I sent in the application, I prayed and told God, “If this is what you want me to do, open the door and work it out. If not, keep it shut.”
He opened the door, worked it out, and continues to work it out. I have to remember that, that he is working out his plan for my life, because when I look at the mountain in front of me, all the reading and writing in addition to work and family, I have no idea how I’m going to get it all done other than keep going forward and trusting him for the rest, to trust him to perfect that which concerns me.
I don’t “got” it, but He does.
God has a much better plan for your life than you could ever imagine for yourself (Ephesians 3:20.)
 Peter Wehrwein. Astounding increase in antidepressants use by Americans. Harvard Health Publications. Published October 20, 2011. Accessed January 1, 2016. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/astounding-increase-in-antidepressant-use-by-americans-201110203624
 Roni Caryn Rabin. A Glut of Antidepressants. The New York Times. Published August 12, 2013. Accessed January 1, 2016. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/12/a-glut-of-antidepressants/
 Study shows 70 percent of Americans take prescription drugs. CBS News. Published June 20, 2013. Accessed January 1, 2016. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/study-shows-70-percent-of-americans-take-prescription-drugs/