It’s New Year’s, 2020! And everyone is shouting, Happy New Year! As the old year winds down to its final few seconds, people all over the world are getting ready to welcome the new year amid a bonanza of fireworks and a musical light display. In the euphoria of the moment, everyone everywhere, it seems, is welcoming the New Year with the greatest delight and optimism.
Despite all the disappointments of the year just past, everyone is looking forward to something better in the year to come. In the words of Alexander Pope, Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never Is, but always, To be blest. The soul, uneasy, and cofin’d from home, Rests and expiates in a life to come. Translation: Everyone, restless about the past, looks to the future for the cleansing of their souls and a new start.
But it seems to me that the missing factor in the celebration of this hope is its lack of substance. It’s more a kind of wish than anything truly established as fact. There is no foundation of assurance that it will be so — merely an intense expression of desire to somehow see it happen.Yet, as Pope suggests, it is this perpetual sense of anticipation for something better that propels the human soul forward into the unknown future.
For a person of Christian faith, however, it seems to me that there should be something much different to the hope expressed in Happy New Year! Though life can’t help but have disappointments for all of us (Christians included), there is a sense in which it’s possible to anticipate true blessing even amidst the difficulties that are sure to come.
So it was, in opening the Scriptures at the beginning of this New Year’s Day, that I was especially blessed to read the first few words of Psalm 67. They read much like the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:24-26 (from which, no doubt, they are derived): May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. The words came as a trumpet blast to my soul on New Year’s morning, giving me a special sense of anticipation and excitement about God’s favour for the year ahead.
Those words set me thinking about what this blessing might mean to me, or to anyone who prays these beautiful words for the year ahead. I concluded that there are a large variety of ways in which one can legitimately experience God’s blessing. The most immediate thought of blessing would likely have to do with one’s personal well-being — i.e. one’s physical health and related matters, including such things as daily food, rest, recreation, as well as personal protection from serious accident or injury. But blessing might also extend to one’s work, financial matters, and relationships. Relationships could include everthing from those of the most intimate kind — marriage and family — to those of friends, other people of Christian faith, and members of one’s neighbourhood or community.
True blessing has so many permutations and possibilities. We want our lives to be valued and valuable, to be meaningful, to be productive in the best sense of that word. We want to know that we are making a positive and permanent contribution to the well-being of those we love. And most of all we want peace, love, and joy — emotional blessings rooted in the spiritual reality of a relationship with God in which we truly know HIs love.
This should not be regarded as a naïve sort of experience of blessing in which difficulties never emerge. Some blessings from God, it is known, come in the form of trials of different kinds — illness, losses, and sometimes even death. But in the blessing of God, these are not ends in themselves but mere stepping stones to greater intimacy with God who ultimately is able to grant eternal life.
The most important question of all has to do with how anyone can be assured of having a truly Happy New Year, or as Christians like to say, of having a Blessed and Prosperous New Year. Is it possible for this to be more than a wish, some vague hope for something more than mere survival? Is there a way to truly experience an obvious sense of the favour of God in the coming year?
I believe the answer is a resounding, YES! God has made it possible for any who desire it, to experience the smile of God throughout the whole year — throughout one’s entire life, in fact. The Bible makes it clear that God’s blessing comes not by striving, but by receiving (i.e. John 3:16). It is an absolute gift that simply comes to any who are willing to take God as His Word.
The short answer to the quest for God’s favour is to receive God’s gift of grace in Christ. What this means is to recognize Jesus as the Saviour and King (evident in his sacrificial death and resurrection), to agree with Him concerning one’s need for Him because of sin, and to fully trust in Him, inviting Him to be both Saviour and King. Then it’s just a matter of talking to Him daily and learning to follow Him through what has been written down in the Bible. Truly, it is this simple step of faith that begins a journey of discovery, of joy, and of great personal blessing.
One more thing: it’s apparent in the blessing of Psalm 67:1, that God’s favour is not to be regarded simply as an end in itself. God’s favour is not merely something to be individually or corporately consumed. It’s one thing to receive His favour; it’s quite another thing to pass it on, as it says in the Psalm: that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. In the words of Genesis 12:2, we are blessed to be a blessing. This can happen in a couple of ways: 1) by the evidence of God’s blessing in our own lives because of the joy and peace we experience from Him, but also, 2) through our verbal testimony to God’s goodness according to what He has done for us and promised in His Word.
In the words of 1 Peter 3:15, it is in giving Christ that place in our hearts which He deserves that we should always be ready to give a reply to every query about our assurance of God’s favour. Because, clearly, the goal of all this blessing is that the nations would be glad and sing for joy because [God] rules the peoples justly and guides the nations of the earth (Psalm 67:4). True followers of Jesus are blessed in order to reflect God’s praise back to Him, but also to a world that is desperately seeking the happiness that Happy New Year implies.
So, Happy New Year, (in the truest sense of that greeting) to everyone who reads these words. God bless you!