2021: My Year of XXX

2021: My Year of XXX<span class=16 min read" />

Introduction

When a new year dawns, people everywhere come up with themes for the year. The themes can be corporate (a church’s) or individual. I won’t bore you with examples of such themes since they are ubiquitous, and your church (or you) probably has one.

But in approaching a new year, believers must understand that we are not in control of the year. While such themes might be an expression of our faith, they are short-sighted and largely unnecessary. The life of a believer is not tied to the calendar. What happens to us throughout the year does not depend on the theme we give to that year.

The downside to this is for us to think that we have the power to shape what the year will look like through the theme we give it. We begin to see ourselves as shapers and makers of our destiny.

A related downside is we begin to feel discouraged when God takes us through experiences contrary to our beloved theme (as it appears to us). What happens when your year of exceeding favor comes with countless rejections? What happens if you lose your job in your year of upliftment? What do you do when COVID-19 hits in your year of perfection and “unperfected” everything? You get what I mean. Do you know how to handle that, or do you blame God?

Moreso, the good gifts of God (whether exceeding favor or upliftment) are always with us. You enjoy upliftment in your year of exceeding favor, vice versa. 2019 was as much a year of exceeding favor as 2020.

Whether in 2020 or 2021, our lives are dependent on a sovereign God who loved us and sent his Son to die for us.

How then should we approach every new year?

God is sovereign over our days

The truth of God’s sovereign rule and control over all things is everywhere in the scriptures. However, for our purpose, let’s focus on Psalms 139:16. “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book, before one of them came to be.”

This text teaches at least two things. God knows how long we will live, and he knows what every day of it will be like. Notice that God does not just know these details; he knows them because he ordained them. Before I was born, he ordained all my days and what every one of them would be like.

I don’t know what tomorrow will be like, but God ordained my tomorrow before I was born. And your tomorrow is not excluded. He does not just know my tomorrow; he knows all the days of my life. He knows because he ordained every single one of them. No second of them is unknown to him.

James understood this perfectly when he instructed us to stop boasting about tomorrow. “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Whether we see tomorrow and what will happen tomorrow are subject to God’s will. We can only live, go to that city, spend a year there, carry on business, and make money if the Lord wills. If he doesn’t, we can do none of that. If he wills, nothing in heaven or earth will stop us from doing all those. What God ordains, he accomplishes (Isaiah 37:26); what he does not, no one can accomplish (Lamentations 3:37).

 

God’s sovereignty and God’s promises

None of us know what 2021 holds in store because we are not God. Many US citizens woke up on January 6 to a protest that turned into mayhem at the Capitol building in Washington. Some of them probably thought this year would be a roller coaster, a respite from all the ills of 2020. But six days on and there is (at least) a dead body already in the US Capitol building.

My point here is that none of us knows what the future holds, whether 2021 or 2075. God is the one who ordained each of our days (as individuals and nations) and brings them to pass in his sovereignty.

However, though we don’t know the future, we have God’s promises that we can always hold on to. Our confidence and boldness in approaching a new year are rooted in the promises of God.

For example, in Mathew 6:25-34, we have his promise of provision. The God who feeds the sparrows in the air and clothes the grass on the fields will feed and clothe us. As if that is not grand enough, we know that he who gave us his Son (the greater) will give us all things (the lesser). If he gave us the greatest gift-his Son- what else won’t he give us (Romans 8:32)? Will someone who bought the latest Camry for you struggle to buy you a meal?

In Philippians 1:6 and Jude 24, we have the promise that we will persevere in faith. The God who began a good work in us by regenerating us, giving us the gifts of faith and repentance, will preserve that faith.

We also have the promise that the gospel commission will be successful (Mathew 24:14). People will come from every tribe, language, people, and nation to worship Jesus (Revelation 5:9). The nations of the earth (led by their kings) will submit to his authority (Revelation 1:5).

So as we come to a new year, we know that God will provide us, preserve our faith, spread the gospel, and bring nations to Christ. Those are indisputable. Whatever year we come to, God is doing all those things, in 2021 as in 2059.

What we know and what we don’t

While we know what God will do (because of his promises), we don’t know he will accomplish it. We know he will provide for us, but we don’t know what means he chooses to use this year. He might take our jobs so we can start a business, vice versa. He might call us to the mission field and make us depend on the gifts of fellow believers.

However he does it, we know he will provide. We know the promise, but we don’t know the details/intricacies.

We know he will preserve our faith. We even know the means of grace he will use. But sometimes God works with us to develop some character traits or overcome some sins at some particular time. Sometimes he places us in circumstances where he will develop our patience, and sometimes he finds a way to bring down our pride and humble us.

We know the gospel will expand this year, but we don’t know if that expansion will be in Korea or China. The church in China may grow beyond our wildest imaginations while the one in Korea stalls. Both churches may grow incredibly. We don’t know the details. God may even surprise us, and we see a resurrection in the church in Europe. We don’t know those details/intricacies. What we know is that the gospel will never be stuck. The gospel will prosper and grow in 2021.

Will America go into further decline this year or begin to find its way back to its Christian foundations? We don’t know. But we know the nations will stream to Christ, and the kings of the earth will submit to him. We don’t know which nation will become Christian or recover its Christian roots, but we know the nations of the earth are Christ’s possession (Psalms 2:8).

So while we know what God will do, we don’t necessarily know the details of how he will do it. It’s like an undisputed Chess player. You don’t know his moves, but you know that however he plays, he will win. But God is more than a Chess player – the Chess player has not been defeated; God cannot be defeated.

Therefore, as we approach every new year, we hold fast to God’s promises while trusting him for the details/intricacies. We trust him for provision without knowing how he would do it. We trust him for the preservation of our faith without knowing where God will purify us this year. We trust that the gospel will expand without knowing where the expansion will take place. We trust that the nations will come to Christ without knowing how he will do it this year.

The grace of trials

Related to the above point is that God often uses trials to accomplish his purposes and fulfill his promises (they are part of the details/intricacies we cannot uncover).

Paul tells us that we glory in our sufferings just as we glory in the hope of glory (Romans 5:1-3). And what does God accomplish through those trials? “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Believers will face trials of many kinds, but God does that so that “the testing of our faith produces perseverance,” and perseverance makes us “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

God disciplines all of his sons, but he does it “for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.” His disciplines produce a harvest of righteousness (Hebrews 12:7-11).

Outwardly, we do waste away, but the inner man is being renewed daily (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). In fact, our light and momentary affliction are preparations for eternal glory.

So trials are part of what God uses to accomplish his purposes and fulfill his promises. He builds our character (a fruit and evidence of the preservation of our faith) through our trials (Romans 5:3). Our trials even work for the furtherance of the gospel (Philippians 1:12). Sometimes his provisions come amid poverty and lack (Philippians 4:10-14). Sometimes it takes deep trials and difficulties to bring the nations to Christ (2 Chronicles 7).

Therefore, when we approach the new year, we must know that part of the details/intricacies unknown to us are trials. We know what God will do, but we don’t know if (and how) he will use trials and afflictions to accomplish them. But whatever God chooses to use, we know he is working to fulfill his promises, which is our good.

Our loving, sovereign God

The good news is that whatever be the details and intricacies, we know the end of them all. Our loving God does everything for the good of his people. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). Christ rules over everything for the church (Ephesians 1:22).

When he brings trials, it is for our good, as his beloved children. Whatever he does in the details/intricacies, it is for our good and his glory, the fulfillment of his promises, and the accomplishing of his purposes.

Paul exemplifies this for us in Philippians 4. Paul, as Christ’s apostle, knew lack and plenty. He knew how to live in lack and plenty. God’s promises of provision are fulfilled in his life in both lack and plenty. Paul had mastered contentment. When Paul approached a new year, he didn’t know what to expect-lack or plenty. But he knew the God that would provide for his needs, in lack or plenty. Both lack and plenty are God’s designs and tools (1 Samuel 2:7).

https://www.bible.com/bible/111/ROM.8.28.NIV

The gospel as our identity and foundation

One more thing we must grasp in this (and every) new year: whatever God chooses to do, our identity must be rooted in the gospel. If you define your life by your wealth and God chooses to take them away (for your good and his glory), you will be in a very bad place spiritually. If you define your life by the success of your mission or the growth of your church membership, you will lose it when your mission does not produce fruit or your membership decreases.

Even the knowledge that God is doing all things for your good and his glory will not help you if your identity is in what you own, what you accomplish, and what people say about you.

If you are a Christian, your identity is rooted in Christ- you are in him, and he is in you. Your sin he bore, his righteousness, you bear. Thus united with him, you are justified (Romans 5:1-3). Thus justified, you are adopted as a child of God (John 1:12-13). As a child of God, you have an inheritance that can never perish, fade, or spoil (1 Peter 1:4). Thus adopted, you are reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18). He is your high priest at the right hand of the Father, and you have direct access to God because of that; you can go there any time to receive grace and mercy (Hebrews 4:14-16). As a believer, the Spirit of God is in your heart (2 Corinthians 1:22). Jesus is your shepherd, and he will never lose you; none can snatch you out of his hands (John 10:27-30).

That is your identity. Whatever is happening around you, who you are in Christ is secured and unchanging. Christ’s work is finished, and your union with him is eternal. As God works out everything for our good and glory, we build our lives upon our identity- united with Christ. I am not my bank account balance, social class, reputation. I am united with Christ.

Thankful, joyful, and peaceful

Because our identity is in Christ and God is the one in charge of the universe, we must live every day of every year with thankfulness.

One of the identifying marks of sinners is their unthankfulness (Romans 1:18-21). It’s evident to all that there is a God who made and preserves everything. But unbelievers hold this truth in unrighteousness. Instead of worshipping and thanking God, they worship and thank created things.

On the other hand, one of the identifiers of believers is that they are thankful. We know that God is the one who supplies us with every good thing (James 1:17), and we return all thanks to him. Whatever good thing you receive this year, learn to be thankful to the source of it all. All things come of him (1 Chronicles 29:14).

But every good thing also includes the trials he brings our ways. As we have seen, he uses them for his purposes and promises.

This year (and every year), let’s enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise (Psalms 100:4). Instead of sinning, let’s rather offer thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:4). We should sing music that expresses our constant thankfulness to the God who rules over everything for our good and his glory. As the peace of Christ dwells in our hearts, thanksgiving must accompany it (Colossians 3:15).

Let’s be thankful for the spread of the gospel (2 Corinthians 2:14) and the work of sanctification in the church (2 Corinthians 8:16). More importantly, let’s be thankful for God’s indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Also, we should respond to God’s sovereignty and our identity in Christ with joy and peace. The gift of God’s grace should call forth inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:8). The kingdom of God is joy in the Holy Ghost (Romans 14:17). As we continue to trust in God, he fills our hearts with joy and peace (Romans 15:13).

This joy and peace should be unrelenting, even in trials. Our joy should abound even in trials (2 Corinthians 7:4). We should rejoice in trials (Romans 5:3, James 1:2). We should imitate Paul (Colossians 1:24) and the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:6). Our joy should be grounded in our identification with Christ in his sufferings (1 Peter 4:13). Even our thanks must be joyful (Colossians 1:12).

We must learn from Habakkuk, one of the pre-exilic prophets. As he looked forward to God’s judgment against his people, he looked with hope. “Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails, and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the sheepfold and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-19). His joy was rooted in God’s covenantal faithfulness. Let’s take our cues from him.

Summary   

The believer should be thankful, joyful, and peaceful every day of every year. When we approach or enter a new year, we should do so with absolute confidence. Where cometh this confidence? Our God and Savior, who died for us on the cross, is the sovereign ruler over all things. He ordained and controls all the days of our lives. Nothing can happen to us outside of his will because nothing ever happens outside of his will (not even the fall of one sparrow – Mathew 10:29).

We are also confident because our savior rules over all things for our good. This sovereign God made promises to us, promises that will never fail. Because he cannot lie or fail, we are confident that he always fulfills his promises whatever the year.

While we are ignorant of all the details/intricacies, especially how he uses trials and afflictions to fulfill his promises and accomplish his purposes, we are confident because we know every detail/intricacy is for our good.

Because we trust him for the ends, we can trust him for the means. Consequently, we can approach every new year confident in our sovereign God- his purposes and promises.

Also, we enter every new year remembering that our identity is in Christ. Our identity is not in our themes or our expectations of what a good life is. Everything else in the world is uncertain, including riches (1 Peter 1:24, 1 Timothy 6:17). But Christ is not uncertain. His work is finished; his provisions for us are eternal. That’s the only ground worth building on, the only anchor worth holding to.

So go out into the new year with deep thankfulness, intense joy, and glad peace. Your God is on the throne, and you are in him.   

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