Can one day really make that big of a difference? The calendar turns 365 times every year, but there’s something special when the last day of the year gives way to January 1. The New Year promises a fresh start. So we review, we dream, we plan, and finally, we resolve.
We do these things with the hope that the New Year will be better than the last one, but ultimately we don’t live for just one better year. Our purpose in life is not limited by time. God created time and placed us inside of it for now—but not forever. When time is no more, we will remain. So we live this moment, this day and this year with eternity in mind.
Annual goals are important, not because they are ultimate, but because they focus our lives on what is paramount. So with a timeless future in view, here are four suggestions for the New Year.
1. Make returning to Jesus a way of life.
When Jesus said, “Follow me,” he wasn’t asking his disciples for a one-time decision to put him on the top of their to-do list. Instead, he was inviting them to an ongoing relationship based on authenticity, intimacy and sacrifice. He was worth their lives, so he didn’t hesitate to ask for their full devotion.
For us, this devotion is expressed in a love relationship with Jesus where we communicate with him in daily Bible reading and prayer, where we respond to him through personal submission to his will, where we live in community with other believers and where we invite others to follow him through our witness and service. This relationship, however, does not come without a fight.
The world, the flesh and the devil war against us and attempt to siphon our affections away from God. The apostle Paul confessed this temptation in Romans 7. Daily victory required a daily returning to Jesus to set his mind on the things of God rather than the things of the flesh. So practically, repentance is not just for the wayward prodigal living in gross rebellion; it’s for the most devout followers of Jesus who battle with the prodigal still loitering inside of our hearts, tempting us to run away with him.
2. Make plans that build people.
When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, he made a plan to rebuild the wall around the city, then he got to work. Just 52 days later, he finished the wall. It was a remarkable accomplishment. However, Nehemiah’s ultimate goal was not to rebuild a wall, but to rebuild a people. With the wall complete and the city secure, the exiles could return.
God’s redeeming work is still to restore a people to himself for his glory. Any plans we make for any other reason become idols of our heart. Our health, relationships, finances, hobbies and our career are God’s provision for us to display the gospel as we invest in other people. God has not called us to make something of our lives. He has called us to die to ourselves and to live to make much of Jesus and the new life he gives to everyone who will trust in him.
3. Make room for unknown opportunities.
It’s wise to set goals and make plans, but it’s wiser still to place every plan under the subjection of God. The Bible says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps” (Prov. 16:9). The unmet goals from last year may be the result of a slothful lack of discipline and focus, but some of our so-called failures may be the result of us listening to God and obeying him for something much better than our best made plans.
We pray and plan for the New Year, but we recognize that only God is sovereign. As we seek him first, we make ourselves available to him and adjust our lives along the way. This isn’t a rationale for poor planning, undisciplined living or excuse making. Instead, it’s a humble awareness that our inflexible allegiance to our plan could lead us away from God rather than toward him.
4. Make obedience an action.
Plans are for paper, but listening to and obeying God moves us to act. After the whiteboard dream sessions for New Year planning are over, January 1 asks this question, “Now what are you going to do?” We soon discover that it’s easier to make plans than to act on them. The snooze button wins our attention or the Facebook status distracts us for just long enough to detour us from even the simplest of tasks.
Knowing God’s will, agreeing with God’s will and even celebrating God’s will are not the same things as doing God’s will. We must learn to think deeply on the things of God and to prayerfully seek Jesus first, but the Kingdom advances through those who take the time and make the effort to act.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23). Whether the work is majestic or mundane, celebrated or ridiculed, noticed or obscure, we do it with all of our heart. We manage our calendar, eliminate distractions, build relationships that encourage us to fulfill our calling, and then we keep our heart tender toward Jesus. Only he can produce lasting fruit through us. (John 15:5)
Can one day on the calendar really make a difference? When we join the Ancient of Days in his eternal work to redeem sinners and restore the world for the glory of God, every day makes a difference.