God's Grace for the New Year
I love celebrating the new year. January 1 is no different than the first of any other month, but the concept of the new year-remembering the past and starting anew- refreshes my soul. It gives me a warm glow of hope and life amidst dead branches and cold winds. (I admittedly love the cold, though.)
When we think of New Years in Western culture, we often think of the hedonist practice of getting drunk, regretting it the next day, and resolving to not do it again in the new year. This is obviously not true of every one, but it is common enough in our culture to be a joke on New Year’s. As we make our resolutions, our culture unknowingly throws back to the god of Janus, whom January is named after, the Roman god of new beginnings.
Making resolutions is not necessarily an evil thing, but it becomes a hopeless practice when we attempt to “be better” in our own strength. Our culture has also adopted a wide-spread joke about breaking all of our resolutions on January 2. Even those of us who do not know Christ realize we are hopeless in ourselves.
When we attempt to “be better,” and “do better” in our own strength, we are making the statement that we don’t need God. We can do it ourselves. We ultimately fail.
Until last year, I never made any resolutions or set any goals for the new year-or ever. Goal-setting overwhelmed my soul and left me feeling like a failure. I was trying to “do better” apart from God. I gave absolutely no grace to myself in failure, unlike our God who lavishes grace on us. I simply avoided goal-setting because not trying felt better than failing.
When I began exploring the concept of new year in the Bible, it shifted my perspective on setting goals. According to the Jewish calendar, the new year falls sometime in September or October (It is a shifting date). Leviticus 23:23-32 commands a celebration of the trumpets, otherwise known as Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish new year. Rosh Hashanah is held on what the Jewish people believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. It was a time to look to the hope of restoration of a perfect relationship with God.
The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is included in this celebration. Yom Kippur signified the helplessness of personal sin and the need for a sacrificial atonement for forgiveness. It was a day of fasting, rest, and making sacrifices. Jewish people often used (and still use) this day to make restitution with those they’ve wronged.
For an entire month before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish people practiced self-examination and repentance-a kind of resolution making with total dependence on God for grace and forgiveness.
According to God’s Word, New Years is about self-reflection, repentance, embracing Jesus’ sacrificial atonement for our sins, and looking forward to the restoration of all things. It was never about trying harder. It was always about looking forward to the Messiah.
Now when I set goals, I always ask myself, how will this goal help me know Christ better in this season of my life? If it doesn’t, it isn’t necessary right now and I table that goal for later. For example, if your goal is to exercise more, is it so you can know Christ better by keeping the temple of your body healthy? Or is it so you can look more pleasing to the eyes of the world? You may feel pulled both ways, which is totally human. But, I find when I focus on the Christ-motivation, I am more likely to accomplish my goals. The world doesn’t motivate. It enslaves.
Trying harder doesn’t motivate me, but God’s grace gives me confidence that I can set goals in total dependence on him. If I fail, there is grace to find my worth in Christ and not in success. If I succeed, there is grace that destroys self-hubris.
Let us press on this year in self-reflection, repentance, dependence on Jesus, and looking forward to the day when all things will be made right. Don’t wait for the next January 1. We can begin again any day in Jesus.
Bottom photo by Jeremy Yap at Unsplash
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