My friend was sent an interesting animation on New Year’s. There was a clock and as the hour hand moved clockwise, it passed over words instead of numbers. For 2017, there were words like, “stress”, “disappointment”, “chaos”, and “hate” as dramatic music played in the background. Then, cue 2018, the music crescendoed, fireworks exploded in the background, and new words were revealed like, “bright”, “peaceful”, and “hopeful.”
2017 was a difficult year for many. We look at what happened in our own lives or in the news, and it makes sense we’d look for things to be different in 2018. For the natural optimists among us, a new year represents a fresh beginning, a blank canvas brimming with potentiality.
But while some people charged zealously into 2018, others of us entered in brace position. We may have barely made it through 2017, and would rather not think too long on what it will take to weather another year. Some of us pride ourselves in the cynicism we believe is a more true-to-life assessment of reality. Others of us would like to be hopeful but, having said at the end of 2016 things couldn’t get any worse, now find ourselves dubious about what 2018 holds.
Are there actually any good reasons to be hopeful going into the new year? Does anything really change when you say on the midnight of January 1st , “Goodbye 2017!” Because, really, that was just a minute ago. And weren’t we just as hopeful the beginning of last year?
Last week, Grace wrote about making “365 steady pivots” in 2017 through practicing the discipline of thankfulness every night– a practice many of us would do well to imitate. Today, for those who lean toward anxiety and pessimism in the New Year, I commend the discipline of morning hope.
This I Call To Mind
My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.”
The writer of Lamentations lived through some difficult days. He had seen his people’s moral and spiritual decline leading up to God’s judgment on them for their breach of covenant (Lam 1:8, 18). He was eyewitness to the horrendous atrocities of war– the destruction of the temple of God, death, and ongoing starvation. He is “the man who has seen affliction” (Lam 3:1), and after listing out some particulars of his suffering, exclaims he has no peace, no happiness, no endurance, and no hope.
But a turning point comes in Lamentations 3:21-24, when he writes,
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
I want to point out a few things here as it pertains to our living with hope this new year.
First, the writer needs to call to mind the truth.
Christians often refer to this as “preaching to ourselves,” or, in the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, talking rather than listening to yourself. He describes this dynamic in Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures,
Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problem of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you.
…You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’–what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’–instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.
When we face the reality of sinful governments, church dissension, chronic illness, and other trials, it’s easy to feel that sin and suffering are the whole truth about the world and our lives, or at least the most important reality. It takes mental effort and energy when we feel overwhelmed by grief, anger, or anxiety to entertain the possibility of another interpretation concerning our lives.
For the writer of Lamentations, calling to mind the truth of God was his turning point from despair to hope, and the same can be true for us. Rather than listening to our own versions of 2017 as if God were not loving and present with us throughout, we can call to mind truth. Rather than cowering to our own fearful prophecies regarding 2018 or giving in to cynicism and pessimism, we can call to mind truth.
Second, God’s steadfast love and mercies never cease.
Tim Keller has written, “Worry is not believing God will get it right, and bitterness is believing God got it wrong.” The same can be said about what we believe about God’s love. One version of Lam. 3:22 says, “his compassions never fail.” We grow bitter when we believe God has failed to love us through the circumstances of our past and anxiety says he will fail to be loving toward us in the future.
But the truth is that God’s love and mercies never cease. Would the one who did not spare his own Son for us fail to love us in every other detail of our lives (Rom. 8:32)? Knowing God has always been committed to loving us, and at every moment of our lives has only acted in his loving wisdom, helps us fight the temptation to look at 2017 with bitterness. Knowing his mercies will not start to fail this year helps us fight anxiety and pessimism. All that happens in 2018 will be an expression of his perfect wisdom and steadfast kindness.
Third, God’s mercies are new every morning.
Some of you know what it is like to lie awake, waiting for the morning to come. Whether from insomnia, chronic illness, caretaking, worry, or other reasons, the dawn often seems like it can’t come soon enough. Yet when it finally arrives, it feels like it has come too soon. The night is terribly long and each day holds burdens that range from being difficult to impossible to bear.
From their history of wandering and God’s provision of manna, the Jewish people knew the significance of living morning by morning. Years later, Jesus would tell his hearers to limit their anxieties to one day at a time. The writer of Lamentations has already said God’s mercies never cease, so we know that means God loves us all the time. But his words are deliberately chosen to minister to needful hearts. God knows it is not enough for us to hear, “God’s always merciful.” We need to know his mercy and love—our lifeline, and our only hope— are waiting for us each time we wake up to a new day, whether we do so with zeal or reluctance.
In Sensing Jesus, Zack Eswine writes of the morning:
Morning is meant as a poem or sermon to console the downcast. Their soul cry is given new invitation to ask again and to have hope that the dawn of God will soon come to answer. The morning enables us to think again of God’s goodness and to ask him why he waits to reveal that goodness to us (Ps. 88:13–14). The ending of night also rouses us to a renewed conviction to use the day as a means of opposing what is wretched in the world and protecting what is good and beautiful and right (Ps. 101:8).
Child of God, do you often go to bed worried that the sun will fail to rise when you wake? As confident as you are that morning will come, you can be even more assured the Lord’s steadfast love is upon you as you rise to each day.
Lastly, because God is his portion, the writer hopes in him.
Having called to mind the truth of God’s unceasing love and daily supply of mercy, the writer proclaims God’s worthiness as his portion and proclaims not only that he has hope, but that he chooses to hope in God.
What hopes are you carrying into this year? We can look forward to God’s gracious gifts without guilt, but if our hope is tethered to our circumstances, we will not be able to weather all 2018 will bring. Unshakeable hope lies in trusting in his kindness in bitter providences, in looking forward to the Everlasting Morning when, for now, the nights and days hold tears. And hope lies in choosing to bear the cross each day because of the promise of resurrection ahead. Only if God is your portion, if your hope is in him, will you truly have hope.
365 New Beginnings
Enthusiasm about the new year may be slowly fading now that we’re 11 days deep into national news, personal trials, and everyday life. But as Christians, we have good reason to be hopeful, not just at the start of each new revolution around the sun, but with each rotation of the earth.
With each dawn, there is a new provision of grace and steadfast love waiting for you. Lord willing, you have 354 new beginnings to go this year, each one a fresh reminder of his faithfulness. Christian, you rise every morning of 2018 well-supplied with the mercies of God.