Amidst the annual revelry that was the 2016/17 New Year celebration, a particular phrase thrown about by well-wishers caught my attention. It is probably something that gets said every year, but I noticed it more this year than in the past. Countless blogs popped up with tips on how to make 2017 your ‘best year yet’ and many people promised loved ones the year would take them to new heights. Perhaps it was particularly prominent given the fact that many saw 2016 as a big black mark on history thanks to several blows to their collective positivity throughout the 365 day journey around the sun – including a series of high profile celebrity deaths and a less-than-desirable US presidential election with two highly questionable candidates. Perhaps not. Either way, it struck me as presumptuous at best, perhaps even arrogant.
I should say from the outset that there is nothing wrong with approaching each new year with positivity. Indeed, although things don’t always go to plan, believers can approach each new day with hope because God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28-30).
In the book of Lamentations, we find these words:
Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:19-23 (ESV)
What is it that produces hope here? It is reflection on the fact that the steadfast love of God never ceases, His mercies never come to an end and they are new every morning. There is more than enough grace for each believer for each day, whether in 2016, 2017 or any other year in the future. A further clue to the source of this hope is found in the verse that immediately follows.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
Lamentations 3:24 (ESV)
When God is the source of our joy, we find hope in the midst of any circumstances.
So it is good to be positive and to rejoice in the fact that God has promised to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Interestingly the point of that verse in Hebrews is that we can be content with what we have because God is with us in all things. In 1 Timothy 6:8 the apostle Paul speaks of being content with just the bare necessities (food and clothing) and in Philippians 4 he sets an example when he says:
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Now it may be that in 2017 God blesses you abundantly in a wide range of ways, or it may be that you have a difficult year, a year in which you feel like you tread across more valleys than mountain tops and the truth is that’s ok. God will be glorified in your life in any circumstance if your ultimate joy, hope and trust are found in Him, the giver, not just in His gifts.
The hard truth is that God doesn’t owe you anything. He controls your every breath and He has chosen to show you mercy and grace. He has not promised that you will enjoy this year more than last year or that your circumstances will necessarily bring you sustainable joy every year. It may seem strange, but when reflecting on this point I find it comforting to consider some incredible passages in the Bible that speak of God’s sovereignty and remind us that history is just that, his-story – it’s not about us.
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
Daniel 4:34-35 (ESV)
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
Psalm 115:3 (ESV)
Another source of comfort stems from the fact that the Bible says that times of suffering are not our enemy. It is through difficult situations that we are refined (Isaiah 48:10), taught how to persevere in the faith (Romans 5:1-5) and made more like Christ (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
I can’t say what 2017 will hold – no one can, but God knows and He promises to be with you no matter what you face throughout the year. In short, 2017 may not be (at least humanly speaking) your ‘best year yet’, but that’s ok – if you’re a believer then God will be with you, working all things for His glory and for your ultimate good, even when you can’t see how that’s possible.
In closing, this is my prayer in 2017 for all those who are unsure of what the year will hold, but who desire to cling to Christ for their ultimate joy in all circumstances, both now and into the future.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13 ESV).