So how are you feeling at the beginning of a new year?
I reckon that standing on the cusp of a new year can cause you to react in one of two ways…
One response is that of wide-eyed optimism. You see the new year as an opportunity for goal setting and goal achieving. You’re buzzing with a sense of personal excitement. I got a glimpse of this on NYE as I scrolled through my Twitter & Instagram feeds. I couldn’t help noticing the amount of ‘positivity’ that people were exuding about the coming year. Maybe it’s just a statement about the type of people who are gonna post on NYE, but it felt like my feeds were full of assurances that this year was going to be amazing, full of blessings for me to gain, and I was invited to just dive in and achieve all that I was capable of.
Part of me loves that reaction. After all, surely it’s better to be ambitious rather than apathetic? As I’ve written before, sign me up to being a history maker for the sake of Jesus’ fame and renown.
But there’s another response. If I’m honest, part of me gets butterflies at the thought of a new year. I know some of the sorts of things this year is likely to hold. Perhaps for you it’s the burden of new responsibilities, or moving to a new place, or the slog of on-going suffering. Or maybe it’s just the reality of same-old same-old. The start of a new year can feel a bit like we’ve pulled into the visitor’s car park ready for the start of some epic hike. As I strap on my rucksack and look ahead I can trace the path in the distance as it leads over towering craggy peaks as well as through long, tiring valleys. A new year? I’m not even sure I’ve caught my breath from the last one.
So I’ve been glad for time in the opening chapters of the book of Joshua this week. It all begins with God’s people standing on the brink of seeing the fulfilment of God’s promises to them. Their previous leader Moses had died, but a new one, Joshua, has been given the job of leading them into the promised land.
And the repeated refrain that God speaks to Joshua is a call for him to “be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:6,7,9).
Like a new year, perhaps some of us respond to those words in a Mel-Gibson-in-Braveheart type way, summoning up every inner ounce of fortitude: “yeah, come on, let’s do this thing… New Year, you’re all mine”.
But, dare I say it, when you dig a little deeper into what God was asking of Joshua, it starts to seem like perhaps the second response is more realistic…
Though God had promised to be with Joshua, it’s clear that being ‘strong and courageous’ also involved being faithful to God, i.e. keeping God’s law, not turning “to the right or to the left” (1:6). As we know from reading ahead, that’s something that God’s people would be unceasing in failing to get right. Even Joshua’s high-calibre leadership was ultimately let down by his people’s disobedience as they refused to do what God had asked of them, living lives of compromise and setting their hearts on things other than God.
But the great thing is that we don’t have to try and be like Joshua. At the heart of the Bible’s message is not me and my courage. It’s not even Joshua and his courage. At the heart of the Christian faith is another person who was also given the Hebrew name Joshua, meaning ‘the LORD is salvation/saves’ (although to be fair he’s better known by the name’s Greek translation, Jesus).
This ‘greater Joshua’ never failed to be strong and courageous in the face of some of the greatest trials imaginable. Jesus was obedient to God even to death, a death which dealt with the problem that had plagued Joshua’s generation all those years before: our warped, wayward and adulterous hearts.
So if we’re feeling weak and weary as we begin a new year, then we can take heart because it’s not about us, it’s about Jesus. Actually weakness and weariness are pretty much the ‘qualities’ that God is looking for in those he uses to make much of his grace. More than self-confidence and ambition this year, what I need is to stick close to Jesus.
And as I line up behind him, actually I find I begin to change. My drooping hands and buckling knees are lifted by the one who courageously gave himself to reconcile me to my God.
My faint and fearing heart is rallied, and I have a selfless confidence as I stare into 2015. He goes before me, up every steep mountain and through every dark winding valley. I am encouraged for I know that my King Jesus has been, and continues to be, strong and courageous on my behalf.