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Are We Ready
Today’s message is to answer the question, “Are we ready for the coming new year?” And then, what are we expecting given the uncertainty surrounding this current pandemic?
I heard a story of a son who had called his parents to wish them a Happy New Year. As he was talking to his dad he asked, “What is your New Year’s Resolution,” to which his dad replied, “To make your mother as happy as I can all year.”
Now, that is what most people would say is a caring and loving husband.
When the son got his mother on the phone he asked her the same question, to which she replied, “My resolution is to make sure your dad keeps his New Year’s Resolution.”
And that is what we may call one encouraging wife!
Throughout the years, there have been various predictions as to what the next year would bring, or at least, what the future holds.
Back in 1967 experts predicted that by the turn of the century technology would have taken over so much of the work load that the average American work week would only be 22 hours long, and that we would work only 27 weeks a year. Therefore, the biggest problem that would face a person is what to do with all that leisure time.
Talk about missing the mark. The truth is that most of us are busier than ever just trying to stay afloat, and it seems that we’re always in a hurry. We walk fast, talk fast, and eat fast.
And so, here’s the question, “Have we made our New Year’s Resolution?”
For me, I really never make New Year Resolutions because I always found out that I could never really keep them for more that a couple of weeks, and if I was really lucky, maybe a couple of months. And it wasn’t because I had no will power, but rather it was because circumstances beyond my control happened which put all my plans on the back burner, if not in the trash.
And I think I can safely say that this is what happened in 2020.
Even here at Living Waters Fellowship we ended 2019 well and we were having a strong beginning to 2020 when the wheels fell off because of the Coronavirus. But we all thought, because of what was presented to us that it wouldn’t last all that long, and we could get back to some sort of normalcy in the not too distant future, like a couple of months.
And why we can put all the conspiracy theories out there as to the reason, and whether they are right or wrong, the reality is that we are still in the midst of the pandemic, with lockdowns throughout our country. Actually it is throughout the world.
And so, as we approach 2021 we do so, with not only anticipation, but also with a lot more dread than hope.
Now, I’m not one for making predictions, but what I think is safe to say that as a whole, we’re not going to be going back to the way things were, or back to our old way of doing things, but rather we’re looking ahead to a whole new normal, whether it is right or wrong, it is still going to be the way of things for quite some time.
So, with this in mind, how are we to approach this upcoming year of 2021, or better yet, does the Bible give us some good advice as to what and how we are to operate given the current uncertainty in our world.
I think the answer is yes, and it can be found in what the Apostle Paul tells us in the 5th chapter of the book of Ephesians.
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:15-18 NIV)
Paul begins by telling us to not only to be careful, but to be “very” careful. Which is good advice when it comes to the future. We don’t know what to expect, because while we have 20/20 hindsight, we’ve got little foresight. You see, what has happened is that we have been in the reaction mode in what has been going on, rather than being proactive.
In other words, rather than reacting to what is going on around us, we need to start doing what is right regardless of what we perceive the consequences might be. I guess what I’m trying to say is that instead of letting God’s word lead us in these times, we let our opinions and the opinions of others sway our decision making process.
This is why this piece of advice from Paul is so invaluable at this time.
1. Understand Our Time is Limited
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise.” (Ephesians 5:15 NIV)
We need to understand that we’ve been allotted, or given by God a limited amount of time, which is at the heart of what the Psalmist is asking God.
“Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.” (Psalm 39:4 NIV)
Years ago I found a program that keeps track of how much time a person has left to live based upon their age and some health related questions. And while for some they will live longer than other participants, the truth is that we’re all going to die, or as the saying goes that the only sure thing in life is death and taxes.
And so, Jesus gives us this piece of advice saying, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34 NKJV)
What Jesus is telling us is that instead of worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow, we need to instead be focused on today, because none of us knows what tomorrow will bring. Therefore, let’s not waste the time we have today worrying about tomorrow, but rather let’s be wise with the time we have.
So, how can we live for God today?
Don’t know if you knew this, but the two biggest times wasters are regretting things we did in the past, or being anxious about what will happen in the future. And so we’re engaged in a little game called, “I wish.” In other words, “I wish it were next week, or next year?” Or we say “I sure wish this day or this year were over.”
There once as a girl who hated college, but she told herself that if she could just get through college, she could get married and have children, and then she’d be happy and enjoy life.
And so, once she finished college she married her sweetheart and they had some kids, and she then told herself that once she raised her kids, then she could relax and enjoy life.
But as the kids were entering High School, she and her husband realized that they didn’t have enough money to send the kids to college. So she got a job, and said that once her kids were out of college then she could quit work and enjoy life.
But once her kids finished college, she realized that if she just worked a few more years she would then have a pension to help them live and enjoy their retirement. And so, once her time at work was up, she receive her pension, sold their home, and bought a little retirement cottage where they now sit on the porch reminiscing about the good old days.
Someone said, “Life is what happens to us while we’re making plans to do something else.” This is the Apostle Paul’s next point.
2. Make the Most of Every Opportunity
“Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16 NIV)
Jesus said that Satan is a thief, and one of the things he tries to steal from us is our time, because time is one of our most precious possessions.
Just think of all the time we’ve wasted in pursuit of pleasure, or worrying about things we have absolutely no control over. Or consider the time wasted in front of the TV or Internet.
But we can also waste time in doing good; rather than doing what is best.
Consider the story of when Jesus went to the house Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. When Jesus sat down to teach, there was Mary at his feet soaking in every word. Meanwhile, her sister, Martha was in the kitchen preparing the food.
Now most know this story, it’s found in Luke 10. Martha gets upset that she’s doing all the work, so she complains to Jesus. But instead of agreeing with her, he told her that while she’s worried about the essentials, she’s missing out on the eternal, and therefore what Mary had chosen is the best.
Martha had missed this, because while she was doing something good, which I highly applaud, because these sorts of things need to be done, but she and we need to make sure we take care and do what is also the best.
In other words, we need to make sure that we don’t get so caught up in the essentials of the here and now, that we miss the eternal, that is, those things that are going to last forever.
Now, to answer the question as to what is then considered good and what is considered the best, which I know is on everyone’s mind since I said it, is tied up in our priorities, which we generally have out of order, like when we place work, money, possessions, or even family over that of God. This is what causes a lot of anxiety and stress in our lives.
Our priorities need to start with God first, and then family, work, and ministry. I think Jesus said it best when He said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33 NKJV)
And so, let’s not give into the tyranny of the urgent, but rather let’s start connecting with God to find out what is the best.
We need to be careful not to end up like Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbs comic strip, who said, “God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I’m so far behind I’ll never die.”
And so, to get our focus off the good and onto the best, we need to take Paul’s next piece of advice.
3. Understand the Will of God
“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:17 NIV)
If I could take a little leeway here and kind of summarize, God’s will is about our transformation. And so, when we look at next year, our focus shouldn’t be upon what we need to do given our present circumstances, but rather our focus needs to be on what God wants us to do in us and through us.
This was the mindset of Jesus who said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38 NKJV)
What I see this as being for us this next year is not to be so caught up with our worries and anxieties that we forget about what the will of God is for our lives. Now, to find this out, let me give you a couple of suggestions so that we can rightly establish our priorities to line up and match the Lord’s.
a. What is the Most Important Thing
And what we have seen is that this should be our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. If this is then at the top of our list of priorities, then it will affect how we think and make our decisions, how we schedule our time, and how we react and respond to others.
b. Find Time with God Daily
Schedule daily time with God. If we have to, let’s schedule this time on our calendar. And what I am talking about is taking time to read and study the Bible, praying, praising God, and even learning how to journal.
c. Join in with God’s Work
This is basically the theme of Blackaby’s book and study on Experiencing God. It’s also found in our mission statement of making a difference in our community and world for Christ. And in this present pandemic, this is needed now more than ever.
And the final lesson from our text is found in verse 18
4. Be Filled with the Holy Spirit
“Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18 NLT)
Paul is saying that there is a much superior alternative to that of getting high or drunk, and that is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Now, from this verse there’s a lot to learn.
First, it is in the language of the imperative, which means that this is a command, not some holy suggestion. We are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit. You see, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that distinguishes and enables us to live God honoring lives.
Next, it is in the present tense, which means that this is a continual action. Being filled with the Holy Spirit isn’t a one-time event; rather it is something we need to be asking for every day.
This verse is also in the passive voice, which means that this is a work of God. We cannot fill ourselves, nor can we work ourselves up into being filled. This is an activity of God. Further, what we need to know is that God is ever ready and willing to fill us. All we need to do is make ourselves available to be filled, or what I like to call, “fillability.”
Finally, in the Greek it is written in the plural, so while it is something that is personal, it is also corporate as well, that is, it is something that the church needs to be. And it’s such a filling that will transform not only every one of us, but it will also transform the community as well.
And so, while most everyone is glad that 2020 is coming to an end, we also are a more than a bit apprehensive about what 2021 holds for us. Therefore, let’s take the advice God presented here and understand that we all have a limited time left, which means that we need to make the most out of the time we have, or out of the opportunities the Lord places in our paths. And what this means is that we need to know God’s will and be filled with the Holy Spirit to accomplish His kingdom purposes.
And so, to accomplish God‘s kingdom purposes we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that we can know what the will of God is so that we can make the most out of every opportunity with the limited time that we have left.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study