Steps Forward in the New Year
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Another year is behind us, and a brand-new year lies ahead. If last year was a difficult one, we may be glad to see the end of it, but there are probably many of us who are peering into the new year with lack of confidence, trepidation, and even worry.
Maybe we can’t see the way ahead clearly—or we’re unsure where our path is leading—but as we press forward, we will discover that God has already prepared the way before us. Feel the anticipation in God’s voice in this passage from Isaiah: “Forget what happened long ago! Don’t think about the past. I am creating something new. There it is! Do you see it? I have put roads in deserts, streams in thirsty lands” (Isaiah 43:18–19).
It’s impossible to drive life’s road without sometimes hitting bumps of regrets, disappointments, and tragedies, and when we do, it’s easy to get stuck. But God wants each of us to continue to move forward toward the future He has prepared for all who love Him. It’s a future filled with hope (Jeremiah 29:11)—but to get there, we have to be determined to keep running the race before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, “who leads us and makes our faith complete” (Hebrews 12:2).—Ronan Keane
As each new year approaches, we often take time to reflect on the past year and set goals for the coming one. As I was about to do that this year, a friend sent me this quote by Joni Eareckson Tada: “Faith isn’t the ability to believe long and far into the misty future. It’s simply taking God at His Word and taking the next step.”
When I applied it to the past, it rang true. Each of the last seven or eight years involved uneasy steps into the unknown. After my wife’s health took a sudden and severe downturn, a troop of doctors spent a couple of years trying to diagnose the problem. As it turned out, she has a combination of incurable but manageable conditions, and it’s taken several more years to find the most effective treatments. During that difficult time, all we could do was pray and take one step at a time. But that was all God needed from us.
Thanks to Him and the good doctors He led us to, my wife is doing much better. It hasn’t been easy, but we can both now say without hesitation that the experience has deepened us, made us more thankful for all we have, and taught us to value each day. More than anything, I think, it’s increased our faith in God’s love and goodness.
With that as a frame of reference, the advent of a new year doesn’t seem so daunting. The daily difficulties of the past years are now only vague memories, but the good that came from them is a vital, emboldening force. “Have faith,” it tells me. “You have nothing to fear. Trust that God is good—and He is with you!”—Keith Phillips
Confidence for the future
As the children of Israel were preparing to cross the Jordan River, Joshua sent the ark of the covenant ahead. He instructed the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before” (Joshua 3:3–4).
“Never been this way before”—I often feel that way! I run into a situation or a dilemma that’s all new to me, and I have no idea how to tackle it. Should I go or stay? Should I take this offer or turn it down?
Some decisions are easy to make. Sometimes the path ahead seems pretty straightforward, even if you’ve never taken it before. Other times, it can feel like there are potential dangers and pitfalls all around. Looking ahead can be exciting, but it can also be a little frightening because of the many unknowns.
The children of Israel didn’t know how things were going to play out for them either. They knew there was a promised land ahead, but there was also the River Jordan blocking their way.
The Israelites hadn’t traveled that way before. That’s why they had to follow the ark, which represented God’s presence and His promises. By following the ark—by following God—they could walk confidently, knowing that they were headed in the right direction.
I think this story offers a pretty awesome formula for making decisions. When you’re facing tough choices, when you “haven’t been this way before” and you’re dealing with brand-new challenges or seeming impossibilities, keep your eyes on Jesus. Only God knows what’s ahead, so it’s a good idea to follow His lead.
God cares about your problems and concerns and dilemmas just as much as He cared about His people stuck at the banks of the Jordan River. The Bible promises, “The Lord is kind, and as soon as he hears your cries for help, he will come … and he will guide you. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice saying, ‘This is the road! Now follow it’” (Isaiah 30:19–21).
God’s Word contains solid promises that you can stand on and claim in prayer whenever you’re desperate for His answers and direction in your life. Then as you keep your eyes on Jesus and follow His lead, you’ll be able to march confidently into the future God has in store for you.—Marie Story
Trusting in the happy ending
Life is full of choices. Every day there are choices, large and small, and every day that passes leaves a greater legacy of past choices. Some turned out to be good, some bad, some a bit of both, and some we’re not yet sure about, but each played a part in making us who we are.
Here are a few principles that I find helpful when thinking about the past and what has brought me to where I am today.
Our future isn’t limited by our past. No matter what decisions we have made or what others decided for us, and no matter what point we are at now, the future is still as bright as God’s promises—ones like these: “If you have faith … nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20), and “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23). If you’re not where you want to be, there is time to change that. Where there is life, there is hope.
If some choice you made seems to have had a bad outcome, or one that is not what you had in mind, remember that you probably haven’t seen its full effect yet. As someone once said, “Everything will be okay in the end; and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end yet.” That principle is certainly true for those who love the Lord and look to Him for guidance, because He has promised to always work things out for our good in the end (Romans 8:28).
It’s human nature to look back and have regrets about some of the things we did, or to wish we’d done them differently. God understands that and sympathizes. But it’s a mistake to overlook the good that also came from those experiences—the wisdom, maturity, and other lessons learned, which have helped to shape our character and draw us closer to God.
When you look back on the past, count your blessings. Remember those “true, noble, just, pure, and lovely” things that also make up the story of your life (Philippians 4:8). Thank God for the good decisions you made in the past, as well as those that He’s going to help you make in the future.—Maria Fontaine
Prayer of commitment for the New Year
Jesus, You’re so precious to me! Thank You for calling me to be a child of God (Romans 8:29). In this new year, I pledge my life to You. I pledge my mind to You. Help my thoughts to glorify You. My heart is Yours—use it to love others as You desire.
Transform me so that I grow to become more like You. Help me to give no place to the Enemy through any bad habits that have grown in my life, and help me to work to eradicate them. I have no delights except those things which delight You. I have no ambition except to serve in Your courts, to decrease that You might increase, to wash Your feet and follow Your example of humility and service to others.
My prayer and my pledge is that I will not grow weary in well-doing, but that I will be faithful to You, Your Word, and Your calling in my life. Continue to humble my pride so that Your Spirit can work in and through me to draw me closer to You. Help me to be the light and salt that You have called me to be in my part of the world.
Help me to delight in doing Your will. Anchor me to Your heart, Jesus, so that I never drift away from You. I pray that You will fix my heart to Yours, that no earthly love will cause me to stray from my faith or to dampen Your light. Let my life shine with Your light in this dark night so that others may be drawn to You. Amen.
Published on Anchor December 2022. Read by John Laurence. Music by Michael Dooley.