"And God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens... let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years...' " (Ge 1:14).
We have just passed another milestone, ending one calendar year to begin another. The Year of our Lord 2023 is passed and Anno Domini 2024 is begun. There is a newness, a fresh beginning before us as the possibilities for the next 12 months open up.
You may be interested to know that the calendar year counting system that we use was only invented in AD 525 by Dionysius Exiguus (and only became widely adopted a couple hundred years later). He counted back to when he thought Jesus was born, but it looks like he was off by a couple years. It's probably technically AD 2026 right now.
But it doesn't really matter: whether we count from Jesus birth, or his death or some other counting system, what matters is the "Anno Domini" part. This year, like every year ever is the Year of our Lord. All of time is in his hands, and Christ reigns over all. It's all our Lord's.
This is another year in which Jesus reigns, and where his Word goes out to accomplish God's plans.
As we count the begining of another year it may all seem a bit arbitrary; "Yay, we reached a spot that marks our periodic journey around the Sun." Yet, although the specifics may be unimportant, the principle of counting the days and years is not arbitrary. In fact, God assigns the job of tracking times and seasons to the heavenly host. We are given markers that daily, monthly, yearly, etc, cross our skies so that we may mark the times.
There are several reasons for us to mark the times. Over the next few weeks I plan to flesh out some practical outworkings of this idea.
Firstly, we mark times and seasons to wisely prepare for the future.
There is a type of preperation for the future that is ungodly, when we attempt to pridefully cut God out of the picture and look to ourselves for our security (see Luke 12:13–21). But, if we have a rightly ordered perspective, we are encouraged to plan ahead and work for the future under God's providence.
"The sluggard does not plough in the autumn;
he will seek at harvest and have nothing." (Pr 20:4).
"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' " (Jas 4:13–15).
Here there is wisdom, knowing that there are patterns and seasons in God's world, we anticipate what comes and plan ahead. We know that our plans are subject to God's plans, and that we cannot predict exactly what will happen, but we can follow the pattern and undertake our endeavours under God being ready to accept how His plans may change ours.
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven... a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted..." (Ec 3:1-2).
Harvest comes every year, but only if the field is ploughed and planted ahead of time. Now while most of us are not living off the land, the principle still applies. You could say that ploughing is an investment in the future; a term deposit of sorts. If I do the hard work and sacrifice now, me and mine will benefit from it in the future (and even be generous to others!). In Australia the government forces us to prepare for the future by mandatory savings taken from our wages (superannuation), but I think it's pretty safe to say that we should not trust all of our future planning to government systems and not plan or prepare for ourselves.
There are times of plenty and times of drought, so preparing during the good times is a blessing during the bad times (Gen 45:6–8). Even though we expect the yearly pattern of harvest, there is also a longer term cycle of good and bad times. In Australia we well know drought, and that natural disasters periodically come upon us. Wisdom would suggest we should expect them to come again in the future, and we should be better prepared for next time. During days of plenty, prepare for days of little.
A simple example is how we approach our employment - you may be soundly employed for 10 years, but your company may fold, you may be made redundant, or your Christian ethics may be deemed incompatible with your employer and you'll be let go. There's no guarantees, and so it seems foolish to live as though the blessing you're experiencing now will go on indefinitely.
So ask the question, what will we do if we lost our jobs tomorrow? If you're earning more than just the bare minimum to makes ends meet, but you're still living pay-packet to pay-packet, it may be worth revising your budget so that you can have reserves for a rainy day and to be generous to others in their time of need. Remembering you should never get to the point that you pridefully think you've covered off every eventuality.
In the same way that people keep candles and matches in the cupboard for an eventual inevitable blackout, if we have means we should probably anticipate the inevitable times and seasons and prepare accordingly. I'm not trying to fear-monger or send you into some "prepper" craze, I'm just highlighting the fact that many of us have shaped our lives around convenience and some of us are happy to go along for the ride without even thinking about it. We can depend heavily upon godless corporations, just-in-time delivery and hope that our present prosperity will always continue. Think about it: We carry spare tires in our cars, life jackets on our boats, first aid kits in our cupboards. We know things can go poorly, and wisdom would suggest we should figure out what a "spare tyre" would look like for the life of our household.
Because we are so detached from our agrarian roots we have lost our fear of winter; it's a blessing from God that we are not worried about freezing or destitution every winter. Yet we ought not think that the summer of our decades-long prosperity streak will never turn to winter, nor that the individual circumstances of your household will always be rosy.
It may be in God's providence that you end up destitute, on the run fleeing for your life with just the clothes on your back. In such a circumstance you are providentially hindered from using wealth preparing for the future, but for most of us that is not where we are now, and so we should be thinking about how we can put our plenty to better use for the future.
" A slack hand causes poverty,
but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
He who gathers in summer is a prudent son,
but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame." (Pr 10:4–5).
"A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children,
but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous." (Pr 13:22).
It's not only about money. Working for a good future under God touches every part of our lives. It shapes the choices around how we spend our time, what skills and knowledge we pursue, what choices we make around property and purchases. Our materialistic culture is enlivened by short-sited selfish consumerism and pursuit of self-serving short-term satisfaction, but God didn't make us to be mere consumers, he made us to be world builders (Gen 1:26–28, 9:1–2).
In each season it is prudent to prepare and plan for the next, and this applies to stage of life considerations as well. When you're a child you prepare for adulthood. Students prepare for exams, which in turn prepare for vocation. You prepare to welcome children into the world. You prepare for when you can't work anymore in your old age. You prepare and inheritance for your children. It would seem foolish to skate through life, year after year, and never anticipate and prepare for what comes next based on the season you're in now.
As we mark the begining of another year I ask you: What should you "plough and plant" this year so that there is a dividend payed to bless others in the future?
Remember, that the best investment you could even make for the future is to lay down your life and receive Christ! With all this talk of practical wisdom, you must never forget that the things that matter most are the eternal things of God above. Knowing that will affect those investments you make for the future, because you're not just planing for a rainy day, you're building lives that will live forever with Christ. The earthly things will fade away, but there are eternal things that will last forever!
"...lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Mt 6:20–21).
"For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?" (Mt 16:25–26).