Tonight, we say farewell to the troubles of 2016, we celebrate the joys of the past year, and we ponder mysteries of the new year to come. Above it, all ring the ever-revolving anthems of our “New Year’s Resolutions.” We cringe at the thought of failing at them before the end of January. We fantasize our dreams of paying off debt, getting in shape, finding that job we’ve wanted for so long, finding a spouse, and a great many other things. As you’re shaping your dreams and goals for 2017, I want to encourage you first to meditate on something perhaps unexpected: God’s New Year’s Resolutions.
I know it’s odd to think of God having New Year’s resolutions; and no, I’m not claiming to write prophecy here. I am, however, hoping to bring something timely and helpful. God also has goals for 2017, and for some, His goals might be unexpected. I’ve seen a number of chain posts on Facebook with prayers for the coming year, and they all seem to repeat the same theme: abating the troubles of 2016 and seeking an easier 2017. God’s goals center on something else entirely.
If you haven’t read it before, it would be helpful for you to read at least Exodus 1-20 after reading this post. Read it in an easy, flowing translation, and it will read quite quickly since it’s a story. For now, consider that God says to the Israelites,
“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
– Exodus 19:4-6
As you read through the Bible, you’ll realize at least two things very clearly.
First, these words of God are actually New Testament promises. You see, God told the Israelites, “if you obey.” If you obey. And we find in the Old Testament storyline a giant allegory of our human nature: we cannot obey, and we will never be God’s prized people if it depends on our obedience. Then, the New Testament realizes the promises to Abraham and the prophets of One that will come and (among other profound blessings) obey on our behalf because we are utterly unable to obey. Jesus won for us these promises and blessings, and this truth isn’t subtle. Peter tells us, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). Sound familiar?
Second, the Exodus story is a clear and intentional allegory for New Testament life. God rescued the Israelites from death and slavery by the blood of lambs. He brought them into a wilderness with compassionate promises to bear them on eagles’ wings to Himself, their ultimate resting place. But they did not obey, and we would not have either. We find we need a better Lamb to be slaughtered on our behalf to free us from a deeper death and slavery to sin.
However, the allegory does not end there. We were brought out of sin and into a wilderness full of troubles and difficulties. I know this because Peter says later in his letter, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 4:12-13)”. Not just Peter, but Paul, and James, and others tell us often to rejoice in our sufferings in the wilderness. The wilderness is assumed.
The desperation and chaos of the wilderness are not meant as a punishment (otherwise, Jesus accomplished nothing in His death on our behalf). No, they are meant as a deep grace, as a gift of deep love given to us out of a well deep wisdom. God is using the desperation and uprooting the wilderness inevitably brings as a means of continuing our rescue from sin’s slavery. He is using the wilderness to show us His provision by dethroning all of the idolatrous provisions we have all lived addicted to for so long.
Entertainment is not your joy. Your job is not your great provision. Physical rest is not your resting place. Control is not your green pastures. Receiving and taking from others is not your still water. Your spouse’s love and respect are not your fountains of living water. God Himself and His blessings in Jesus alone are your good portion and your full inheritance. He is your resting place. He is your completion.
You cannot, I repeat, you cannot see God as your everything when everything else is your functional everything. Only in the wilderness do the scales fall from your eyes to see God as your lavish and great Provider.
God’s New Year’s resolution, friend, is to rescue you from sin’s grasp and to lead you gently into a wilderness of hard difficulty where He will expose your idols, cause you to feel a deep need, and then provide deep grace that will bring you joy greater than you’ve ever known before. Friend, He will not give you ease. He will give you Himself.
As you form your New Year’s resolutions or continue to work on your current resolutions, I strongly encourage you to do so in the context of God’s wilderness storyline. Please do not say, “God, give me health and prosperity.” Rather, say, “God, by any means necessary, lead me to enjoy more deeply the prosperity Jesus has already given me and to put it on display for more people to see.”