One of the most encouraging things about a new year is the word new. It means “unfamiliar . . . made or become fresh . . . different from one of the same category that has existed previously,” says Webster.
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Simply put, it’s a place to begin anew.
Starting over requires knowing where you are. Honestly admitting your present condition. Facing the music.
Remember Jonah? Somewhere down the line, he got his inner directions cross-wired. He wound up, of all places, on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea bound for a place named Tarshish. That was due west.
But God had told him to preach to Nineveh. That was due east.
Jonah never got to Tarshish, as you remember. Through a traumatic chain of events, Jonah was forced to get his head together in the digestive tract of a gigantic fish.
Let me ask you two pointed questions—from one pastor to another. First: What makes you afraid of taking a risk? Walking with the Lord is a risky path, and everything within us, when we lean on our own understanding, screams . . .
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Just keep it like it is. Just leave it alone. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
But sometimes things need to be rearranged even though they aren’t broken.
Sometimes we need a major change of direction, not necessarily because we are going in an evil direction—it’s just not the direction God wants for us.
Now, here’s my second question:
God is at the helm of His creation. Not fate, not chance, not some impersonal force of nature but the Lord alone is in full command of your life.
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He is the sovereign ruler of the universe, and His decrees govern what happens in His world.
God’s decrees are:
We pastors are great at telling people the will of God for their lives. But what about following God’s will in our own lives? Truth be told, it’s a lot easier to preach it to others than to put it into practice for ourselves.
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The apostle Paul’s words come to mind:
[If you] know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? (Romans 2:18–23)
Paul’s words were directed to Jews who knew (and believed) the Word of God. By principle, that’s us as well.
Let me ask you a penetrating question: are you willing to do God’s will? Really?
For years I’ve wondered at how God places us in a holding pattern between two holidays. I think it’s for the purpose of evaluation. During this time, life naturally slows its pace. It’s a perfect occasion to push the “pause” button . . . and take stock of our lives.
Just think about this last year—or better, the last two or three years. Things haven’t gone at all like you expected, have they? You may be living in a completely different city than where you lived three years ago. In fact, you assumed you would be living in that previous location all your life. But you’ve now come to realize there are other places to live . . . and that God’s grand plan for you includes a complete change of scenery.
Perhaps you haven’t moved, but you now hold positions and exercise responsibilities that you never would have imagined several years ago. Frankly, you may find yourself “between ministries” (that’s what we pastors call “unemployed”), whereas a few years ago your position seemed secure.
For some . . . “tragedy” has struck (from an earthly perspective), and a dark shadow has been cast across your life . . . or perhaps within the life of someone in your family. At such times, it helps to cling to the perspectives of Joseph and Paul, who factored God’s sovereignty into the struggle of their lives (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28 —please stop and read!).
Finally, there are a few of you who can say that these have been years of sheer delight. You have grown and discovered new areas of God’s goodness and God’s world—even regarding your own person—that you never knew before. You have received new insights into the Word of God. You’ve been given a deeper understanding of many in the flock you pastor. Your family and your friends have grown closer.
Whatever we might say about the events of the past few years, we have to confess that most of these things have come without announcement. We really had no way of knowing they would occur. “The mind of man plans his way,” Solomon reminds us, “But the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
As we close out the old year and prepare for the new, you and I find ourselves shaking our heads in amazement as we look back . . . and lifting our eyes in faith to heaven as we look ahead.
Truth be told, the future remains a vast, unknown, open space. Yet it lies completely in the hands of our sovereign Lord. “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).
As you step out into the unknown, stay close to Him.