I love the opportunity each new year provides. The taking down of the Christmas tree and the setting in of the deep winter chill reminds us that life moves in seasons. We are time-bound creatures with a need for regular rhythms. Yet often those rhythms leave us feeling tired of the ruts and routines, longing for something more.
The new year gives us the occasion to examine unhelpful or even destructive patterns, and to set goals with the hope of “turning a new page.” We know we need change and growth, and we long for time to bring it. The removal of one calendar and its replacement with another can prompt an exercise of remembrance and reflection combined with a renewed sense of purpose and hope as we plan for what is next.
However, we can easily place too much expectation upon the month of January and the passing of time. We can assume that patterns of self-control will magically come to life in ways that they never have before. We can think that our
renewed sense of determination and willpower is all that we need to achieve our full potential. We try to will our success into being, pronouncing, “This is the year! This time things will be different!” However, halfway through the month, many of us have already learned that the arrival of January did not live up to the hype. Our SMART goals,
positive words, and good intentions are not enough to help us transcend the futility of our own existence.
Time itself changes nothing. For real change to come, we need more than the passing of time; we need a heart that seeks and finds wisdom. A wise man of God from the Bible, Moses, prayed to the Lord, "So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Ps. 90:12 ESV). This is a profound prayer that is helpful as we mark time and seek change at the beginning of a new year.
According to this verse, all of our days on this earth are “numbered” or limited. Lord willing, at the publication of this article I will be alive on this earth 13,744 days (I’ll let you do the math if you want to figure out my age). Moses acknowledged in the same Psalm, “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty…” (Ps. 90:10a ESV). At the high end, that’s 29,200 days, and it’s proverb, not a promise. Anything beyond that is borrowed time; anything short of that is also not a guarantee, but a gift from God. I’m almost halfway there.
While knowing the exact number of our days does not itself lead us to wisdom, the awareness of the brevity of life can. Almost everyone agrees that the years go by faster the older you get. As I walk with my kids in public, many wiser sages tell me, “Don’t blink, they’ll be grown before you know it.” One day you are eating ramen noodles in the dorm room in college; the next, your life is half-way over and you get the itch to buy a new motorcycle or pickup truck. When we come to these epiphanies, we can come to terms with life and find wisdom, or we can live in denial and pursue foolishness and futility. The truth is, we do not need to wait for this type of crisis to come because none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. It is not the act of aging itself that produces wisdom, but rather the awareness that our time on earth is limited, and then there is eternity.
The passing of time such as the turn of the new year, the celebration of a birthday or milestone, or even the dawn of a new day should cause us to ask, “Why? What is the purpose of my existence?” We will get a different answer to that question depending on who we ask, but I would suggest the only one really worth asking is the one who made us, the one who is “from everlasting to everlasting” (Ps. 90:2). That is who Moses asked, and the Lord clearly answered. Moses found that the Lord is a secure “dwelling place in all generations” (Ps. 90:1 ESV). He found that the steadfast love of the Lord is strong enough to satisfy his soul in the morning and make him glad all his days (see Ps. 90:14-15).
If we are to find true and lasting change, we must not seek it in the second chance that a new year provides. Wisdom shows us that we need something more than time and will-power; we need the eternal God. If you want to experience
true, lasting change, go find a Bible, open it up near the middle, find Psalm 90 and read it today. Then pray and ask God to give you a heart of wisdom that leads to finding salvation in Jesus Christ. He is the source and the goal of all wisdom, and he will change this year and the rest of your days if you let him.
For more on thinking about the New Year, read "Creating Spirit-led Goals for the New Year."