Obviously it's the new year and you would expect a blog about looking forward. Maybe remembering last year and making goals for 2018. Perhaps setting up how to have a successful year. None of those are bad, but my friend pointed out a Scripture passage that really resonated with me in light of the new year.
The passage is in the book of Ezra, which is the account of how the Israelites came back from being captive in Babylon. There home city of Jerusalem had been decimated and the center of their worship had been destroyed when they had been conquered decades earlier. Now they were coming back and rebuilding. One of the things they were rebuilding was the temple. They began the work and in Ezra 3 it is recorded how they finished the foundation. They had built / repaired the foundation to set up the rest of the work. It was amazing. It was exciting. God seemed to be finally relenting from punishing his people and he was moving positively instead. It was the first step to re-establishing worship in Jerusalem. It was so exciting, that we read how they celebrated. "10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. 11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid."
It was a big deal. It sounds like a great party. But what is striking is the verse that immediately follows. "12 But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy." Those who were older. The ones who remembered what it had been like before. The people who had seen what the temple used to be like - they cried. I wonder why. It could be that they were simply overcome that God had finally seen to start the rebuilding of the temple, but that doesn't really fit. I wonder if they were seeing the difference between what was happening now and what had happened before and it was depressing. Things weren't going to be the same. It wouldn't look the same. They had lost something and it wasn't going to come back. They remembered the good ol' days. The glory days. And in doing so, they were not celebrating what God was doing right in front of them.
It seems there is a lesson in there. It can be so easy to face the new year and measure what God is doing based on what he did before. While it is important to remember, to appreciate and learn from the past, God is always up to something new. He is moving. He is not static. And it might be that the very thing that you are going to go through this year that doesn't seem quite as good as before, is actually God doing something really amazing. So know your past. Appreciate your past. Be thankful for what God has done. But keep your eyes on where he is going now. You don't want to miss it.
I'm a goal setter. There is something comforting to me about knowing what my target is for this year, what tasks to accomplish and knowing what defines success. Yet I realize that many, many people are not wired like me. They find no joy or advantage in detailed goal setting. Regardless of where you fall on the planning spectrum, there is one question that I have begun to ask that I believe is appropriate for everyone. It's a question anyone could ask but is one that as a Christ-follower we ask of God. The question is simply this: "What’s Next?"
You see, as I reflected on the year ahead, I was struck by how many things are out of my control. Health, money, relationships, work, church and all the stuff around them frequently have things that happen that I simply did not expect or plan for. A lot of what happened in 2015 (good and bad) I could never have predicted and the same will be true for the year ahead. I can still plan and try to accomplish things but I need to hold those plans loosely. It means that I don’t find my value, satisfaction or security in making or accomplishing my plans. Rather, I find those things in Christ, the only one who truly knows everything that is going to happen in the months ahead, and who has a good and purposeful plan for my life.
So for the year ahead, I still have plans and goals, but I have taken to simply starting each day by asking the question of God, “What’s next?” What do you want me to do today? Who do you want me to call? How should I connect with you? What, in my waking hours today, do you have for me? Then (and perhaps most importantly) I am committing to do those things that God puts in my head or path. I will pursue my plans and goals, but I want to leave God the room to exercise his right to change my agenda at any time. It means I will do what God puts in my mind to do, even if it feels weird, scary or downright strange.
This has some enormous benefits. First, it takes the pressure off of me. It keeps me from worry, and puts responsibility for what happens in my life in the hands of the only one who can rightly take it . . . his! Two, it makes me intentional about my life. I have to purposefully listen and respond to what might be next. Three, it will make me way more effective. God can accomplish more with less in a shorter time than all my self-focused efforts.
My prayer for you is that you go through this year, staying close to Jesus, listening to him, constantly asking “what’s next?” and then doing it. May God richly bless you as you follow him.
Everywhere I turn I am being told what I need to make me happy. It could be something I need to purchase (the newest car, toy, home improvement), something I need to do (that best vacation, getaway) or a way to spend my time (less work, more leisure time, different job).
But I wonder if sometimes we are not as fulfilled and happy as God designed us to be because our focus is too often on the wrong thing – me!
I have been reflecting on Isaiah 55:1-3 which says: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”
I wonder if we sometimes are drinking from the wrong well or eating the wrong food. I wonder if we sometimes work and labor so hard, when we already have all we need. I wonder if we buy new things, try new experiences, pursue the next greatest thing, or simply try to escape, when all along, God invites us to come to him and get the only thing that will bring delight and satisfaction to our souls – himself.
The problem we have is that the things we pursue have instant gratification, but it is shallow and short-lived. When we pursue the one who created us, there is a process that takes time. It is the repeated pursuit of Jesus that makes all the difference, and as we do this over the long haul, we find that our souls are totally and completely satisfied. The kind of satisfaction that lasts and the kind of joy that cannot be lost.
I encourage you to get in this for the long haul and pursue Jesus every day. As you do, may you find satisfaction and delight in the one who created you.
Weldon Lemke has been leading Hope Chapel since 2009 with a passion to see people come to know God and grow to maturity in Him.