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Two Essential Tips for Enjoying 2017


Good morning everyone.

It’s a pleasure to be able to share with you today, at the beginning of a new year.

It’s funny how we measure ourselves by time hurdles – chronological markers. Like do you ever feel Mondays are the hardest in the week? Some people say, “I’m a better person on Tuesdays – once I’ve gotten back into the swing of things.” You’re not a better person on Tuesdays – you’re the same person as you were on Monday – you’re a grumpy person, you just handle it better on Tuesdays.

Or “I’m an afternoon person, not a morning person – don’t mess with me in the morning because I’m grumpy in the morning.” You’re not a better person in the afternoon, you’re a grumpy person, you just handle it better in the afternoon.

Or how about new years? “Last year I had no self-control with food and exercise – but this year is going to be different. This year I’m a different person. #CaloriesMustFall!” No you’re not – you’re still the same person as last year, just greyer.

I love what one four year old girl said in a video I saw the other day – change doesn’t come in one big decision, but in a million little ones.

So a new year doesn’t make you a different person.

I don’t know where you spent your Christmas and New Years holiday, but Sarah and I spent December first in Barkly West near Kimberly for our youth Summer Camp, and then from there we went to Nelspruit for Christmas. So it’s basically been one of the hottest Decembers of my life! I mean Kimberly was warm, but Nelspruit is just a blur. In the afternoons I’d melt into the tiles and wait for evening.

Fortunately my parents have a swimming pool. In the heat, I'd love to go for a swim and duck under the water and push off one wall and feel the ciik water surge past my face.

The problem with that was that the water rushing past my face would force my eyes shut - which meant that I didn't see where I was going. Have you ever done that, and swum straight into the wall? Very sore...

As I was preparing for today's message, I realised that we often do the same thing in the New Year. We propel ourselves off of 2016 with full energy, and the busy-ness of the new year forces our eyes shut. Pretty soon we don't really know where we're going, we just know that we're going there fast. And we hope we're where we should be, doing what is going to benefit us, but we're completely blind in the busy-ness and activity.

So I wanted to give you two tips for enjoying 2017, and they both have to do with forcing ourselves to slow down and look.


I WILL LOOK BACK - LOOK BACK on the past year in light of God’s good gifts

Deuteronomy 8:17-18 “You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”

This past year was an incredibly important one for Sarah and I because it was our first year of marriage. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. It was a year of immense change for both of us.

Most people will know that the first year of marriage can be the hardest, as each party learns the hard lessons of learning about the others real expectations, how to communicate effectively, and – here’s a toughie – how finances are going to be handled.

We're no great financial whizzes, but as we looked at our future together and realised that Sarah would need a job for us to survive.

We got married in November, and figured we’d live off our savings through December, and Sarah would have a job by January, and we’d be safe by February.

Well, January came and there was no job. Half way through Jan I looked at our savings and expenses and realised that we’d survive like this till June at the latest. Sarah needed to have a well-paying job by then. But how hard could it be?

February came and went, and so did March. Small amounts from semi-volunteer work she was doing, and generous gifts from anonymous people kept us going and I realised we might just make it till October if we didn’t pay any more than what’s necessary for our survival.

Folks, on New Years Eve we sat down with some friends and spoke about this past year and I realised that we were still going. We were still going. Sarah didn’t get a full-time job all through last year, and God provided month to month. Had it not been for God… we would have been drowning in debt as many people our age are.

In fact, looking back over last year we didn’t just survive, we thrived as God gave Sarah open space to join me in ministry to the youth, and ministry in other areas. Had it not been for God…

The fact is, IF WE DON’T LOOK BACK on the past year in light of God's good gifts, we’ll look ahead at this year with fear and worry. We’ll look at our meagre resources, our little energy, our income, our limited time and say that this year we have to hunker down and survive. But we need to LOOK BACK and REMEMBER the LORD our God, for it was Him who gave us the ability to work and bear fruit.

And it's a principle we need to live by: Remembering God's help yesterday helps us to trust him for today and tomorrow.

Look back. What is it in this past year that you can point at and say, “Had it not been for God...I would have drowned in this.”

Maybe you look back and say, “I didn’t expect my marriage to survive”, “I didn’t expect my business to succeed”, “I didn’t expect to pass Afrikaans”, “I didn’t expect to go on a holiday”, “I didn’t expect to be able to buy a car”, “I didn’t expect to be able to pay the school fees”, “I didn’t expect to be healthy again”, “I didn’t expect to get through that fight with my friend”.

Look back and see God’s good hand.

I challenge you to take some time today, or to set aside some time one evening this week, to sit by yourself or with your family around the table, and think about the different ways God took you safely through challenging experiences this past year. Write them down and put them on the fridge in your kitchen so that every time you go to grab another slice of left-over Christmas cake or milk for your coffee, you will be reminded again that God helped us yesterday, so we can trust him for today and for tomorrow.

Not only do we look back, but we also need to LOOK FORWARD to what God is calling you to achieve this year

Matthew 6:19-20 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”

The next essential tip for enjoying 2017 is to LOOK FORWARD.

I don’t know about you but I have a tendency to plough headlong into the work that needs to get done. Stopping and thinking seems so unproductive. It reminds me of that story I told a few years ago of the man who heard that if you work hard you can be rich. So he went home and thought of the hardest thing he could do – digging holes – and he started in his back yard. He dug and dug, worked himself to the bone, and didn’t find himself any richer.

Sometimes we can be like that in the new year. We face our jobs, reenergised, and put our heads down like a bull and plough through the dense brush which is our workload.

Maybe you’ve done that, year after year, each year ploughing ahead with renewed energy. Maybe you’ve found little treasures along the way – a promotion, some recognition, better income. But you’ll find at the end that in the things that matter most you’ve been like that man who was digging in his back yard, working so hard and gaining nothing.

I remember working as a waiter at a birthday party for an old man. He was obviously a very successful man surrounded by a large crowd of friends and family. Near the end of the party, this man stood up to say his speech. I was eager to hear what this successful man would say as he entered into his last phase of life - what guidance and counsel would he have for us young people?

But as he went into his speech, it didn't take long to realise that his list of acheivements and accomplishments offered no hope to the listeners. Yes, he had certainly achieved and acquired a lot in his time, but I was struck that everything on his long list was very shortly going to be left behind him when he left this world.

My friends, God has work for us to do this year; work which He intends to reward with an eternal weight of glory. I don’t know about you, but I know that one day I’m going to face Him and I’m going to leave my earthly treasures – all of them – behind. So which is it better to do: Work God will reward that I’ll have for eternity, or work man will reward that I’ll leave behind?

When you put it that way the answer seems easy! So the question then becomes: What is the work God has for me? I can’t answer that question, but God can. Do you trust Him to speak to you and guide you as you ask Him to? Proverbs 3:5-6 says, ‘Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

As you trust in God, and invite Him into your journey, He will direct you where you should go. If you don’t invite Him in, you’ll be going all over the place, but not where He wants you.

If I don’t look up and ask God what work He has for me to do, will I walk around empty handed – nothing to do? Absolutely not. My hands will be full of stuff to do. And who will be filling my hands? You will. My family will. My community will. Everyone around me will try.

So I could be busy all my life, and achieve absolutely nothing.

My friends we have to be busy with the things that God has for us to do. We must determine this year to find out what it is that God has for us to do, and do that, so we don’t fill our lives with busy-ness that achieves nothing.

I love a quote by dry comedian Jack Handey. He says, “To me, it’s always a good idea to carry around two sacks of something when you walk around. That way, if anybody says, ‘Hey, can you give me a hand?’ you can say, ‘Sorry, got these sacks’.”

Your hands will always be busy with something. If they are busy with worldly work, and God calls you to do something outside of that, you’ll say, “Sorry, got these sacks.”

But if they are busy with God’s work, and someone calls you to do something outside of that, you’ll say, “Sorry, got these sacks.”

So ask God, ‘What are the sacks You have for me to carry this year? What is the work You have for me? What are Your goals for my year? What would You have me achieve this year?’

Let me state the obvious. I’m not saying you need to drop your job and become a pastor or a missionary. God doesn’t call everyone to that.

Find out what God’s plan is for you this year. Regularly, every day, invite God sincerely into your journey – invite Him to take over, invite Him to take charge, surrender your plans completely to Him and trust that He will make your path straight – He’ll give you what you need when you need it for what He’s called you to.

Think about how big the things are that God calls people to. Think about God’s callings on people:

He called Moses to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of slavery. He called Joshua to conquer Canaan. He called Gideon to defeat the Midianites. He called Peter to walk on water. He called the disciples to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. None of these people could do what God wanted them to do in their own ability or power. And neither can you.

Okay, maybe God hasn’t called you to lead your neighbourhood out of the bonds of slavery. But what’s stopping Him from inviting you on an adventure that will lead you to providing shoes for all the children of Zandspruit? What if He calls you to start praying for Herman Mashaba and the mayoral committee, and then calls you set up appointments to offer prayer support for them, and through that to influence that city for God’s kingdom? Will you need God’s help then?

But when the vision seems big, we can be so encouraged to know that we serve a much BIGGER GOD. We can look back and remember the miraculous and powerful provision of God in the past year. And remembering God's help yesterday helps us to trust him for today and tomorrow. So we can know that WHATEVER GOD CALLS US TO DO, HE WILL EQUIP US TO DO.

God might have a plan for you to start a prayer group at your work place. God might have a plan for you to start a food-scheme for poor kids in your community. God might have a plan for you to start discipling your kids. God might have a plan for you to challenge your classmates in the way they talk about girls. God might have a plan for you to walk a journey of healing with your neighbour.

My challenge for you today is to begin the habit of inviting God into your journey of 2017. Not just once. As that four-year old girl said in the video I spoke about, it’s not the one big decision that changes us but the million little ones. Make it a habit to daily, hourly invite God into your journey. Allow Him to take over. As He does you’ll do far bigger and far greater things than you now think is possible. And the work will have kingdom impact, and eternal consequence.

And so I challenge you to take some time out this week, by yourself and by your family, and talk about all the ways that God has stepped into your struggles as a family over the past year.

Write down the ways that God took care of you. Had it not been for God, I would have drowned in this…

Stick that paper on the fridge, or another place you’ll see it and be reminded often. Because remembering God's help yesterday helps us to trust him for today and tomorrow.

Then I challenge you to start making it a habit of inviting God into your journey.

You never know where He’s going to take you or what He’s going to call you. But let’s remember, that if we follow Him we belong to Him – He’s bought us with the blood of Jesus, and it’s only reasonable for us to live for Him. As Paul says, He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

Let’s start inviting God into our journeys, inviting Him to take over, knowing that whatever God calls us to do He will equip us to do.

Let’s pray.

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