And so it is that the calendar has (finally!) flipped and we have begun a brand new year. Last year, 2016—with its mix of joys and sorrows, goals met and goals missed, friendships gained and friendships lost—is behind us.
For many, New Year’s is just another holiday. For others, it’s a time of deep reflection, both on the past year and on the one ahead. For followers of Jesus, New Year’s has no unique significance. There’s no central biblical narrative informing our celebrations.
But this doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t pause and reflect on the turning of the calendar. Moses asked of the Lord, “Teach us to number our days, so we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). Time—seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years—is a gift to us from a good God. To wisely follow him, then, is to redeem our time (Eph. 5:16).
New Year’s can also remind us of the new birth. In a sense, each day with Jesus is a chance to turn the page on an old way of life and embrace a new one. We are, after all, new creation people, and we serve a King who renews us daily by the Holy Spirit.
Setting goals for a new year are an important sign that we’re intentional about glorifying God in our callings—work and business, home and church, private and public witness. When we work and plan, even in seemingly insignificant endeavors, we’re fulfilling the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28). In this age, we’re blessed with an abundance of resources to help us to maximize our time: digital tools, productivity experts, and inspirational blogs.
But before we write out our goals, we should begin in the heart. The temptation for Christians is to make our plans and add a dollop of Jesus on top, rather than allowing him to form in us the desires and motivations to do his work.
So whether or not we’re making concrete goals or more abstract ones, whether we’re writing down resolutions or foregoing them altogether, here are four important steps we can take, as we peer into 2017, to draw closer to Christ.
The wise man of Ecclesiastes said, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Eccl. 12:1). In January, the year is young and the opportunities seem fresh. So many productivity gurus preach a gospel of self-empowerment, but as gospel people, we know the fragility of human life. We know every breath is a miracle, a gift given to us by our Creator.
I love the words of hymnwriter Thomas Obediah Chisholm (1866-1960):
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.
In a cursed and tumultuous world, creation itself reminds of God’s great faithfulness. Every new season is a testimony, a signpost, to grace. So the proper response to the past year, whether good or bad, is not “I made it through” or “Look what I achieved.” It is “Thank you, Lord.”
Our worship of God for his faithfulness and majesty, evidenced by the changing of seasons, should then lead us to repentance. His goodness breaks us in fresh ways as our sin is exposed by the light of his glory. But this isn’t a morbidly introspective, navel-gazing exercise. To repent is to rejoice. We claim the promise of 1 John 1:9 because we know our forgiveness has already been purchased at the cross.
Beginning the new year with repentance is to draw closer to Jesus, to appropriate the fresh grace that is ours in him. This is why confession always brings relief and joy. It is the gateway to greater intimacy with God.
How can we begin new plans and journeys in 2016 without first allowing his light to penetrate the darkness of our hearts and to reveal areas in need of growth? How can we start hustling and working and dreaming without first renewing our joy in the One who directs our steps?
New Year’s should also be a time of renewing old commitments, like marriage, family, and church. Before we begin grand plans to lose weight or develop a new skill—good creational goals—let’s begin by renewing the core commitments we already have.
Our most vital work is what we do within the walls of our homes—loving our spouses and raising our children in an atmosphere of godliness and grace. We live out the gospel best when we live it out in the daily rhythms of repentance and forgiveness with loved ones. We must reject the lie that says success requires abandoning family commitments.
We should also renew ourselves to the faithful body life of our local Bible-treasuring, gospel-preaching church. The local church is the locus of God’s mission in the world, where we gather in community to declare Christ’s kingship each week, and where we work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12) with brothers and sisters in Christ.
Commitments to marriage, family, and church don’t always look or feel significant. But faithfulness in these core things over a long period is a radical, countercultural life. They form the habits of a disciple and show the world what it looks like to be a Christian.
New Year’s should be a time to rest. First, we rest in the reality of our identity in Christ. We may have failed to meet our heady goals in 2016. Jesus still loves us, despite our failures, unchecked boxes, and disappointment at the scale. The gospel tells us that he loves us in the midst of these.
It’s not the voice of your Savior, but the whisper of the enemy that says you have less worth because you blew your resolutions. A “more successful 2017” will not make Jesus love you any more. He’s the One, after all, who calls broken sinners and empowers them for his mission. Failed apostles, former persecutors, recovering Pharisees—his body is full of them.
Second, we should plan to physically rest. We don’t often do this on New Year’s. We plan to work and hustle. But do we schedule time to reflect and acknowledge our need for sleep and leisure? Rest isn’t a sign of laziness or weakness; it’s a sign of spiritual strength and confidence that when we close our eyes, our lives are in the grip of a sovereign God. To sleep is to say that we’re not God and that the world can go on without us.
So as we make our plans for 2017, let’s remember that even in our failures, we serve the One who remembers our frame and knows we are dust (Ps. 103:14). We make plans, but we hold them lightly. We entrust our future, not to Evernote or Google Calendar or a reading list, but to the King who holds the world in his hands.