As we welcome another year, our attention naturally turns to the future. We ask questions like, “What will the new year hold?” Or, “What will I accomplish this year?” And even, “What will God do in 2019?” Such future-oriented questions are right and good when marked by humility and dependence upon God. Yet, when the former mercies of God in previous years are forgotten, our confidence in the future grace of God is shaken. So, how can we avoid such forgetfulness in the new year? How can we remain confident in God for the future? I have two suggestions based on Joshua 4, which tells the story of the Israelites crossing over the Jordan River into the Promised Land.
First, we must remember that all future plans and resolutions are dependent upon the Lord and should be submitted to his will.
As the Israelites entered into the Promised Land, the Ark of the Lord’s covenant went before them. The Ark represented the presence of the Lord among His people. As the priests entered the waters of the Jordan River with the Ark, the water was “cut off before the Ark.” The miraculous presence that the people would need in the years ahead was preceding them. This principle reminds the reader of what Solomon teaches us in Psalm 127 regarding how “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”
As we enter the new year, whatever our goals and resolutions may be, we must recognize that we are fully dependent upon the Lord to bring them to fruition. The satisfaction of our needs, the fulfillment of our goals, the success of our efforts must be humbly submitted to the will of God, who goes before us in all things. Practically speaking, this means that we must be more concerned with the will of God in our lives.
Moreover, while we might not always know the specific details of God’s will in every situation, we are able to know the principles of His will that should guide our goals and plans in the New Year. As we make resolutions, we must remember that God’s will for us is sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3). When we think about the future, whether it be the satisfaction of our needs or the fulfillment of our dreams, growth in holiness should be our priority. Such growth in holiness is completely dependent upon God working in our lives to conform us to the image of his son, Jesus Christ. We do not move on from holiness with each year that passes. Instead, we grow deeper in holiness, just as we have in past by the grace of God.
Second, we must be intentional about remembering the mercy of the Lord in the good times and the bad times.
If you read Joshua 4, you will notice that there are two sets of stones in the story. There are stones taken from the Jordan River to be placed as memorial stones at the place where the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land. These stones were taken from the river during the harvest season. We know this because Joshua 3:15 and Joshua 4:17-18 tell us of the overflowing banks of the Jordan during this time. Thus, the memorial stones taken out of the river would be a reminder during the harvest season. Another set of stones, according to Joshua 4:9, were to be placed in the Jordan River. Unlike the stones on the banks of the Jordan, the stones placed in the river would only be visible during the low seasons.
The Lord was giving Israel two reminders of his mercy at different seasons of their time in the land. During the harvest, they would be reminded of God’s abundance. During droughts and famines, they would be reminded of God’s faithfulness. Whatever the season, they could remain confident that God was good and faithful to his people. Similarly, we should also be intentional about remembering the mercy of the Lord. Maybe this year will be the year that alongside your resolutions, you take time to reflect upon and remember the mercy of God in your life.
One of the most practical ways to pursue such remembrance is through journaling. This practice helps us remember God’s work in our lives. As the psalmist tells us, “we must recount the wondrous deeds of the Lord” (Psa. 9). If you are not already journaling but would like to start, I would recommend, if possible, keeping a handwritten record in a nice journal with a nice writing instrument. Take the time to slow down and reflect upon the months, weeks, and days that have passed. If you are inclined to write in your Bible, you can also make notes in the margins as you meditate on God’s Word. Think about how God has sustained you, answered your prayers, given you wisdom, and helped in your times of need. When you are down and discouraged, write those burdens out in a form of petitions to God. Ask him to prove his faithfulness to you in the midst of the crisis and the sorrow.
When the Israelites saw the stones that had been placed in the Jordan River to be seen during the seasons of droughts and famines, there is no doubt that they were living through difficult times. Yet, the stones in the Jordan, much like the words in our journals, can serve to remind us that God is the God of our yesterdays, our todays, and our tomorrows. He will not leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). He can be trusted!
In summary, these two simple yet profound principles for the New Year can provide the direction that we need to not only start well but finish well. May the Lord help us all recognize that we are fully dependent upon the LORD for the satisfaction of all of our needs and remember that God is good and faithful in every season of life. If we spend some time this year reflecting upon God’s former mercies, then I believe we will be better prepared and more confident in his future grace.