People ponder the future at New Year’s in a way that they don’t often in the rest of the year. They make resolutions to diet, exercise, and to this being the year that they get in shape, get that dream job, meet that special someone. And, even though I can’t keep a New Year’s resolution to save my life, it’s not bad to be intentional and plan out how you want to challenge yourself to grow. But, as a self-help culture, we are obsessed with and even idolize the future and our ability to shape it.
Even if you strip your goals down to the most basic and achievable, the process of attempting to achieve them in your own strength can warp your worldview. Mitch Horowitz, an American author who writes on mysticism in modern life, wrote five simple steps for a better 2014 on the Time Magazine – Idea Blog. He recommends trying to be a little kinder, forgiving cruel people and expressing gratitude. In between all of these innocuous goals, he preaches a false gospel of self-help:
“Make a list — every day — of what you truly, deeply want out of life. Revise it repeatedly, until you feel you are being unflinching honest about your desires… [Y]ou should know what you really want. You may be surprised where it leads you.”
Screwtape, C.S. Lewis’ famous, fictional demon, advises his demon underling, Wormwood, in a similar fashion:
“[God] does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it. We do. [W]e want a man hag-ridden by the Future — haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth — ready to break [God’s] commands in the present if by so doing we making him think he can attain the one or avert the other … We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap on the altar of the future every real gift that is offered them in the Present.”
What is our alternative to Mitch Horowitz’s daily desires list and Screwtape’s heaping altar to the future? What has God given us as we look to the rest of 2014? Biblical New Year’s Resolutions.
We are new creation. Instead of trying to pin down our ever-changing desires, we need to recognize that, as believers in Christ, we are a new creation — we have new desires. We no longer are trapped by a list of desires that we can never seem to make happen, but we are in a relationship with One who knows our desires (whether that be for marriage or a new job or special provision) and has promised to redeem our very hearts.
God gives daily mercy. Mitch Horowitz encourages his readers that they can make 2014 better by repeatedly looking inward to find out what they want. Lamentations 3:21-26 has a different perspective. God doesn’t want us to call to mind our desires, but instead to call to mind His never-ending mercy, which is allotted to you, not just for all of 2014, but for every morning as it comes. Continually diving into your own heart will leave you dry, but God is good to those who wait for Him and who seek Him.
We have Gospel hope. Regardless of how 2013 ended for you or what you fear in 2014, God has given you hope and not the hope of wishful thinking — but of solid hope of a bodily resurrection. You can go through your year making plans and working, not by knowing your desires, but instead by knowing what good plans the Lord has for you — even if you don’t lose 30 pounds, run a marathon, figure out what you want or meet that special someone in 2014.
Anglican bishop N.T. Wright puts it this way:
“How does believing in the future resurrection lead to getting on with the work in the present? Quite straightforwardly. The point of the resurrection … is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die. God will raise it to new life. What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it … What you do in the present — by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself — will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether … They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”
So as you live out your resolutions and ponder 2014, don’t get bogged down with the usual self-help platitudes about the future and frustrated by your inability to shape it. Instead, live in the present that is “all lit up with eternal rays” (Lewis) because that is where God is meeting you — the new creation — to give you daily mercy and remind you of your hope in the Gospel.