Putting the Old Year to Rest

30 12 2012

It is the time of the year, with just two days left in it, when you tend to look back and reflect on what has gone on. Perhaps the reality is that we are more concerned with the year ahead to bother about the year that has gone and if that is so, it may be that we leave the old year with unresolved issues. Now ‘the world’ is good at leaving issues unresolved  and so often when someone becomes a Christian they find there are a whole raft of issues that Jesus wants them to deal with, bad attitudes held on to, bad relationships still festering, and so on.

If we trouble to look back over the year that has just been, and really take time to do this as an exercise, we will find a variety of things that we feel uncomfortable about (yes, there will be many things to be thankful about but we’ll come to them later).  There are, first of all, our failures, the things lurking in the background that we try to forget about, things where, at the very least, we didn’t handle it very well.  Now the simple evangelical response is to suggest that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9) and that is right and proper but, I might ask, why did we fail in the way we did? Why did we say the things we did? Why did we give way to the temptation we gave way to? I ask these because saying sorry doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t do it again. True repentance, I suggest, does mean that we are so convicted by what we did, that we will be too horrified ever to do it again. Yet, so often it is not that simple. What was it in me that made me open my mouth and say the wrong thing? Now we each one have to ask the Lord that for ourselves and the answer may be different for each of us. It may be we spoke out of a lack of sensitivity for others. It may be we spoke out of our insecurity? It may be we gave way to that temptation because we lacked relationships whereby we can talk out our wonderings and see them in the cold light of discussion for what they are – wrongs.  That’s enough to start you wondering. The point I am making is that if we look at the reasons for whatever it is we feel uncomfortable thinking about, things where we know deep down we got it wrong, we will see how to avoid the same thing in the coming year. It does bear thinking about in that way. Dare we pray, “Lord I bring my failures to you to ask for your forgiveness, but please will you also show me why I did what I did and help me not to repeat it in the year ahead.”

But then when we look back on the year that has been, for many of us there will be questions or doubts about things that happened that were beyond our control, things that were not good.  Why did the Lord let that thing happen? What about…..  If we are able to be honest, there are many Christians with questions that they try to push down and ignore because “good Christians don’t have doubts!”  Well no, that’s not true.  We all have doubts at some time or other because walking or living by faith (which all Christians do, in some measure at least) means everything is not clear and sometimes we aren’t shown the ‘why’ until a long while later.  The fact that everything is not always absolutely clear, is something the Lord allows to happen because He wants us to learn to trust Him, to trust that He is a good God and that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rom 8:28).  I have often said in the past, I am sure that when we get to heaven, if the Lord allows us to look back over our lives and see them with the comprehensive sight that He has, we will never be able to criticise Him for anything He said or did, or didn’t do.  Now I am absolutely convinced of that  but that is a very different thing from the experience I can have when the sky seems to fall on my head and I am left wondering ‘why?’.  The reality of that is that there are only a limited number of answers: it was as a result of my or someone else’s folly, it was Satan at work, it was just part of this Fallen World where things now ‘go wrong’ because of the presence of Sin in it, or the Lord brought it.  Now more often than not, it will not be the latter one, but at least He allowed it.  So why did he allow it, why didn’t He step in and prevent it happening? Because He gives me and you free will and is loath to override it. Why did He allow Satan access to my life or the world to ‘break’ so as to upset me? To strengthen me, to point out a weakness or vulnerability in my life that He wants us to remedy. It was part of that famous ‘learning curve’ that we’re on as Christians.  So our prayer at the end of that has to be something like, “Lord, I trust you, that you are here for me. Please show me what you are trying to teach me through these things.”

But then, when we look back on the year that has been, for some of us if we can allow it to float to the surface (because we don’t like facing up to this one so it remains almost hidden just below the surface) there are fears that we had. Fears in this context tend to be built on bad past experience and so often the fear is of a repetition of that experience – that something might go wrong with another person, or in a job, or just in some life situation. May be it was the fear of health breakdown or fear of losing a loved one. In each case it is linked with the fear that perhaps we will not be able to cope, that we will not be able to handle whatever it is.

Now of course the thing about fears is that they are always about the future, about what might happen. Have you ever come across that verse, “Perfect love drives out fear“? (1 Jn 4:18)  Because we have a memory of it not working out well (whatever it was) we worry (fear) about it happening again and of us again not being able to handle it. Well, you’ve grown since it last happened, you’ve learned a lot and you’ve learned that God is there for you in it! His perfect love  IS here for you, whatever comes. His perfect grace IS sufficient to help you handle it and, the truth is, it may never happen again anyway. The prayer here, has to be something like, “Lord fill me with your prefect love that I may just rest in that love knowing that you are here for me, guarding me, protecting me, providing for me, so that whatever happens in life, we can handle it together.” Maybe, before finishing with this one, it’s a good thing to share your fears with a wise older friend if you have one and ask them to pray for you.

Finally, as we look back, it is worth sitting and remembering the year and remembering all the good things that happened and give thanks to the Lord for them. It does take time to do because our memories aren’t always wonderful, so why not get balance in your memories, and take the time to sit down and think back over what has happened in the year and thank God for them.

If we can do these things, we are better equipped to look into the year that is coming, the New Year. May it be so!