We are a perpetually forward looking people- and at no other time of the year is this more true than right now.
We look forward to Thanksgiving.
Then we look forward to Christmas.
And then on to New Year’s.
And then, at the rate we’re going in our culture, by around March we’ll be looking forward to Christmas again!
There is just something about the holiday season that brings us right back to our childhood and heightens our sense of anticipation to peak levels.
There’s nothing wrong with this, in and of itself; I do it as much as anyone else. As a kid, I remember looking forward to countless holiday traditions, but one of the best in our family was our annual New Year’s Eve Bonfire. We would spend the weeks leading up to it collecting fallen limbs and leaves from all over our property, then invite as many of our friends and family as we could to come over and light it up. After all, what could go wrong when a bunch of Livingston Parish folks get together to set something on fire?
The night was always a blast. We would roast hot dogs and marshmallows, play football and basketball, even shoot off a few fireworks if someone was in the mood to burn some money on it (pun absolutely intended). But after the crowd dispersed and the cleanup was complete, there was one more essential task that had to be done before we could drift off into a much needed New Year’s nap.
We had to put out the fire.
Why? Because if we didn’t, and we simply left it to burn unattended, chances are we would be ringing in the New Year with the local fire department, attempting to put out a raging flame spreading through our yard and our woods- or worse. So in an effort to avoid this unfortunate scenario, each year Dad would take steps to cool the embers intentionally and properly. It took time, sure…but it was totally worth it.
As we approach the end of 2016 and look forward to turning the page to 2017, I want to strongly encourage you to take on a similar process with your life. Resist the urge to look forward in anticipation of everything that’s coming (good, bad, or in between), and instead take some time over the next week to intentionally and properly “shut down” the year that was.
Shut it down- or risk burning it up.
Allow me to explain. Many of us live under the illusion that our past has no bearing, no impact on our present or on our future– but nothing could be further from the truth. What happened in 2016, if it isn’t processed well, will carry right over into 2017 and beyond- and potentially thwart what God wants to do in and through your life. We need to take the time to reflect on our wins and losses, our peaks and valleys, our celebrations and struggles, and most importantly, on what God has taught us in 2016 through each of them.
This is the equivalent of “putting out the fire” so that it doesn’t burn unrestrained into the new season to come. Here are a few practical tips on how to “shut it down” right before turning the page to 2017…
1- Take time to say thank you. James 1:17 tells us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” In other words, anything good in your life this year is the result of God’s goodness graciously on display. I’m sure God delivered many of these blessings through the hands of other people too. So take time this week to practice giving thanks to Him- and to them.
2- Remember to repent. 1 John 1:9 is a tremendous promise from God’s Word- “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But notice the conditional clause there- “If we confess…” True repentance is the first step toward forgiveness, healing, and transformation. If you want to leave behind the sinful patterns that have plagued your life in 2016, be purposeful about repenting– and receive God’s promise!
3- Live in reality, but not in regret. All of us have things about 2016 that we wish we could go back and change- words we wish we could take back, actions we wish we could undo, circumstances we wish we could rearrange, or perhaps do away with altogether. But that’s the thing about the past- we can’t erase it, we can only learn from it. Life works in one direction- forward. So let me encourage you- Whatever is behind you, be honest about it (denial doesn’t help anyone), but don’t allow it to cripple you from taking the forward steps that God has before you. God specializes in making “all things new”- including you.
4- Resolve to freshly pursue Jesus. The ultimate goal of taking these steps to “shut it down” isn’t simply so you can get a good night’s rest heading into 2017. It is instead to lay the appropriate foundation necessary to go after Jesus Christ with fresh abandon in the year to come, to clear the “clutter” than sits in our souls and hinders us from running hard after the Savior. I’m sure you, like me, have some goals for the new year, but let none of them stand over and above a steadfast commitment to live the life changing love of God and surrender every single day to His Person and purposes.
Thankfully, Dad’s annual efforts to calm the flames were always effective, and we never did burn the house down on New Year’s- or any other day, for that matter. As you turn the page from 2016 to 2017, I pray you’ll undertake that little bit of “extra effort” necessary to consider your past and move well into your future. I’m confident that if you will, God will meet you with grace and wisdom and enable you to do what you need to do to flourish in Him.