The most optimistic time of the year

If Christmas—“with the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer”—is the most wonderful time of the year, New Year’s is probably the most optimistic time of the year. It is the time of year in which, having taken some time to reflect on how we have succeeded and failed in the past year, we decide about the changes we will make in the coming year. Whether those decisions take the shape of formal New Year’s resolutions or not, most people will have at least given some cursory thought to the changes they would like to make in the coming year.

The first few months of 2020 will no doubt see these plans kick into high gear with increased gym memberships, freshly created read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year programs, and crammed church parking lots. Students just know that they will get better marks this year. Employees are certain that they will be more productive this year. Employers know just how to secure a better turnover by year end.

But experience tells us that our lofty goals are not always met. Come February, the busyness of life and business may have crowded out our heartfelt commitment to stick out our gym membership for the year. Around the same time, you will perhaps have reached Leviticus in your Bible reading program and suddenly find sticking out your commitment more difficult than you initially thought. By the Sunday after World Outreach Celebration, the security team will report that there are plenty of empty spaces in the parking lot. Within a few short months, the best laid plans of mice and men have indeed gone awry and, perhaps, left us nothing but grief and pain for promised joy. By March, the optimism with which we started out the year may seem to have been a little naïve.

This is not a post about how to keep a new year’s resolution. There are plenty of self-help books and articles that will let you in on that secret. My challenge is less about how to plan, schedule, and set goals and more of an exhortation to realise that the key to achieving your goals lies not within your own power but within the power of God. This is why Solomon exhorted his son to entrust his planning to the Lord.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

 

Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.

(Proverbs 3:5–8)

It is perhaps our default disposition in our planning to trust in ourselves. We like to believe that we are in control and that everything we want to achieve will surely work out if we only plan properly. Proper prior planning prevents poor performance, right? Or something like that. Solomon thought differently. Rather than exhorting his son to proper prior planning, he urged, “Trust in the LORD will all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” He is sovereign. He knows all things. He sees the end from the beginning. We tend to want to cling to our own delusions of control, but Solomon reminds us that our own understanding is flawed and imperfect, while God’s is not.

Since the Lord is the one who sees the end from the beginning, and who is able to “make straight” our “paths,” there are at least three things we must humbly remember in our planning.

First, we must remember to trust the Lord who directs. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart…. In all your ways acknowledge him.” We like to think, in the words of William Ernest Henry, that we are the master of our own fate and the captain of our own soul but Solomon tells us to not lean on that understanding. Our plans rest on sinking sand apart from the Lord. “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Provers 16:9). We may not verbalise it, but our actions often betray our self-reliance. As you plan for the new year, commit that you will trust in the Lord, seeking his wisdom and guidance in all that you do.

Second, we must remember to fear the Lord who directs. “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.” To fear the Lord is to live in reverence of him. It means to recognise his authority and live in light of it. Those who live as if there is no God are fools (Psalm 14:1). If we live as if God does not exist, our lives will be corrupt and our deeds abominable. Solomon therefore urges his son to fear the Lord, which will result in a life that turns from evil. If our fear of the Lord is rooted in worship and awe of his wisdom and might, we will turn from the evil of self-reliance and embrace the blessing of trusting the sovereign Lord.

Third, we must remember to rest in the Lord who directs. “It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” When we rely on our own ability to achieve our goals, we often reach the end of the year filled with regret and guilt. As we think back to our commitments in January 2019, we recognise how far short we have fallen and regret that, once again, we have failed to be the kind of people we said we would be. Solomon shows us a better way.

If we trust in the Lord and allow him to direct our paths, we find healing and refreshment. His ways are better than ours. His ways are good for us. His ways lead to peace, not because everything goes exactly as we would like, but because we learn to trust that he knows best and works everything for our ultimate good. How refreshing to know that even your most trying time in 2020 will ultimately work to conform you more to the image of Christ.

So, as we enter a new year, by all means plan and schedule and set goals. But do so with a faith that rests not in your own power and wisdom but in the one true and sovereign God. Pray for the ability to trust in the Lord who directs, for that lesson, though not easily learned, will result in healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.

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