That’s how much time is left, in 2016.
And, I imagine by the time I finish writing this short post, 2017 will be here.
I like the start of each New Year. The calendar that stretches out before us–the resolutions we make–the “fresh start”. I like to clean my house top-to-bottom, review my daily routines and tweak them, and do a restart in all areas of personal and spiritual disciplines.
I was also the kid who liked the first day of school, because I liked new school supplies–crisp white sheets of paper that hadn’t been torn or smudged or written upon.
So, normally, I would be quietly anticipating the strike of midnight and the embarkation on 2017.
But instead, I find myself a bit weary of it all tonight. Uncharacteristically discouraged, on this eve of 1-January. And, more than a bit anxious over the upcoming year.
Oh, don’t get me wrong–I’ve cleaned my house, organized my files, created my goals, and reviewed the past year. I’ve made my resolutions–some are the same I make every year and some are brand new. I’ve set up my calendar and made my lists. So, technically, I am ready.
But I also want to linger in these last 20 minutes. I’m ready, but I am not eager. And that’s a bit unusual for me.
Maybe you feel the same way as I do, tonight, dear reader. Maybe you, too, are a bit weary, as you wait for the ball to drop in Times Square. Maybe you are looking at your lists, your clean calendar, your resolutions, your “plans”, your goals–and maybe you are feeling something similar to what I am feeling in these last minutes of 2016: A sense of futility.
Because, you see–I know how to work hard. I have a master’s degree in working hard. Maybe you do as well. I know how to set goals and to fight to reach them. I know how to be productive and organized. I know the things I need to do to lose weight and become more healthy.
But I also know that these things do not produce joy, in and of themselves. And, I know that no matter how hard I try, there are times in which I will fail–or break that resolution–or make a grave mistake–or disappoint those I care about–or not quite make the grade.
And, I know that some things that haunt me will continue to haunt me. Maybe to a lesser degree–I hope, I pray, I earnestly plead with God that this is so. But I suspect such things will remain.
So I wonder, is all this New Year’s Hype I participate in each year–the lists, the organization, the goal-setting–is it worth it? 9 minutes from 2017, and is it really worth the effort to try, try, try again?
Yes. I still believe it is.
But, with one caveat.
The lists are good. The resolutions to exercise more, eat less, make healthy choices, quit bad habits, get out of debt–they are all good. Worthwhile. The goals that we set–reading goals, miles ran goals, writing goals, financial goals, work goals, ministry goals–all good things.
However, they pale–they absolutely must pale, in the light of a particular God-mandated directive.
It’s found in Deuteronomy 4. It’s spoken by Moses to the Israelites, but I think it is just as important tonight, with 4 minutes left in 2016, as it was ages and ages ago, for those hearing the words directly from the mouth of Moses.
It’s this: Keep Your Soul Diligently.
Yes, there’s more to it than that, but there is much to be said, about those 4 words.
Here’s the verse, in its entirety:
You see, dear reader–Moses–in verses 4:1-8–had been talking to the Israelites about the importance of their obedience to God’s commands, law and statues. To wrap it up, though, he brings it way, way past the point of blind, robotic obedience to a supreme being who is impersonal—and drills down to the very core of who the Israelites are–and who we are–by telling them (and us) this: Only take care and keep your soul diligently.
And how do we do this?
By following what Moses commands, in the first verse, of chapter four:
And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.
You see, we can make all the resolutions we want–and even keep them. We can be the most organized and productive people in our workplaces. We can set lofty goals, and fight hard to achieve them. We can do all that, but unless we keep our souls diligently, through the obedience of God’s commands and by remembering not only what God has done, but who God is–our Sovereign King–we run the risk of always chasing after fulfillment and completely missing the only One who satisfies the deepest needs of our souls.
And now, it is 2017. In fact, it is 13 minutes into 2017. I paused this writing, to do the annual 2-minute “Count down” with my smalls and to hug them both and wish them a Happy New Year–and now I’m back, wrapping this little piece of writing up, here in this new year.
I still have my goals, my dreams, my resolutions, and my plans for 2017. And so do you. But let’s also resolve to keep our souls diligently, in the next 12 months–through careful obedience to God, coupled with the steady intake of scripture, the committed participation in corporate worship, the earnest care for others through service, and the daily act of coming before our God in prayer.
Let us not forget what God has done. And let us eagerly anticipate that which He will do, in the days ahead.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Dt 4:9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.