Ready or not, the Year of our Lord (Anno Domini—A.D.) 2019 begins next week!
I know it is just another day on the calendar—but for most of us—it is a day to begin the new year with a clean slate, and a mountain of resolutions. While it is true that most resolutions do not live to see February, it is still good to begin the new year doing new things.
Spending a majority of my youth in Southern California, I always looked forward to New Year’s celebrations. Many times I would stay up with my family, playing dominoes, board games or gin rummy, while we feasted on all kinds of junk food, and watched fireworks at midnight. At other times my dad would drive us to Pasadena late New Year’s Eve where we would sack out on the sidewalk of Colorado Boulevard to view the Tournament of Roses Parade the next morning. By the time we had played, talked and eaten all night, we mostly slept through the parade, but it was still a blast.
Special New Year’s celebrations were first observed in Babylon 4,000 years ago. The New Year’s day festivities on January 1st began in 46 BC, and was instituted by Julius Caesar, when he introduced the Julian calendar. The month of January was named for the Roman god of beginnings, Janus, who, appropriately, had two faces that allowed him to look back into the past year, and forward into the new year.
Around the world, traditions associated with the beginning of the new year vary widely. Among Chinese people, many believed evil spirits did not like loud noises, so they would light firecrackers and bottle rockets to frighten the spirits away at the beginning of the New Year. In Burma people would spray each other with water, believing the water cleanses and serves as a soul purifier. In Japan a rope of straw was hung across the front of the residence to keep out evil spirits and bring good luck. In Denmark old dishes were thrown at the houses of friends on New Year’s Eve, as a sign of affection and everlasting friendship. It makes you wonder what they would throw if they didn’t like you!
Bible-believing Christians do not believe in “good luck.” But as a youngster growing up, my Texas-native mom would make sure we ate special food on New Year’s day, like black-eyed peas with ham hock and cornbread. In the African American community, many would be sure to eat hoppin’ John (ham hock, black-eyed peas and rice) with greens. In the Pennsylvania Dutch community everyone had to eat sauerkraut and pork to guarantee a successful New Year. Personally, I think watching college bowl games are a great tradition for January first!
Though these traditions are meant mostly for fun, the New Year does offer a good opportunity for self-evaluation and goal setting. For Christians, it is a good time to renew our spiritual commitments. If you haven’t finished your list of resolutions, let me share five spiritual disciplines you may want to pursue in 2019
- Begin each day by Giving Yourself to God. Everybody belongs to God because of His creation. Believers especially belong to God because of His redemption. Either way—you need to recognize that your life is not your own. At the beginning of your day, yield yourself to God, and His direction. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6).
- Spend a few minutes reading the Bible. God’s Word is inspired and all the direction any person needs to equip them for spiritual service (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). The Bible is a Spirit-given book that has the ability to reach inside our thoughts, hearts and actions to reprove, cleanse, correct and train us in living for Christ. As you regularly peruse portions of Scripture it will affect your thoughts, and hence, your life.
- Talk to God in prayer. This direct communication with God is one of the greatest privileges we have. God invites us to come confidently to Him, “Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). He is never too busy to listen, if you will come to Him.
- Faithfully fellowship with God’s people. We need the mutual encouragement, accountability, admonition and spiritual sharpening that a church family uniquely offers. We can grow spiritually (Acts 2:41), so we need to be faithful (Heb. 10:24, 25).
- Be ready to share your faith in Christ with others. We are here to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). As we follow Jesus we are to become fishers of men (Matt. 4:19) and share the gospel. The gospel is God’s power to save: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).
As you begin 2019—whether it is with a plate of hoppin’ John or black eyed peas and cornbread—it will be a success if you give the Lord Jesus His rightful place in your life. It takes grace and grit, but you will be glad you did!