I was the kind of kid who spent a lot of time observing. I watched what people did and waited to see the results. When it came to New Year’s resolutions, the results were overwhelmingly bad. So, I made up my mind I would not fall into that cyclical trap. But, like everyone else, I sensed the importance of that day. It was the end of one season and the beginning of another. That made it noteworthy. I wanted to start the new year in the right direction. But, I knew if I made a whole bunch of resolutions, or even one for that matter, I would fail.
I watched how others met the day. Some friends traditionally got together with their friends and family. They always seemed to have a good time. Some people started diets. Others joined gyms. Some people set work or study goals. On New Year’s Eve our church usually had a game night, followed by preaching and “praying in” the new year. That was nice, but it wasn’t personal.
When I was fifteen, I started my own New Year’s tradition. I don’t really remember where the idea came from, or what made me so determined to do it. I’m just glad I did. That year, I decided I would spend time with the Lord on New Year’s Eve, asking Him for direction for the year ahead. That’s hard to accomplish with everything else going on!
I still remember slipping off into a side room at church and squeezing in just a few minutes. I didn’t have long, but I was able to read some scripture and spend time asking Him what He wanted me to focus on over the next year. I don’t remember now what the answer was, what I ended up working towards in the twelve months that followed. But, I remember that night as if it were yesterday (and believe me, it wasn’t!) Those few moments were so precious that I’ve kept the tradition up every year since.
Some years, the Lord has already shown me what He wants me to focus on before New Year’s Eve arrives. Sometimes it comes in those quiet moments as the world outside my window erupts in cheers and fireworks. Some years, it comes in the first few days of the fledgling year.
As we approached the end of 2013, I was feeling more than a bit overwhelmed. My best friend called me for my birthday and, I am ashamed to say, got an earful of all my troubles. (Thank you for being so patient!) Every direction I looked, I saw more things that needed to be done and no means, energy or time to do them. I honestly couldn’t see how I would ever sort through my thoughts enough to figure out what I was going to focus on in 2014. What aspects of ministry needed more attention? What writing should I be focusing on? Which projects did I need to let go and which did I need to expand?
When we decided to take a trip to Ohio for my cousin’s (beautiful!) wedding, I thought this might be the first year since I was fifteen that I didn’t get those special moments with the Lord. And, to be completely open and honest, I felt if I did somehow get a few moments with Him, I would just completely mess it up because my thoughts concerning the new year were so tangled. But, God is gracious. In the end, I had an entire hour—just me and God. (I have five pages of journal notes to prove it!) The time was sweet and refreshing and profitable; but as I came away from it, I still didn’t know for sure what the Lord wanted me to focus on in 2014. That bothered me, so I kept praying.
Sunday night was the night it all came together. We had an unusual church service. Instead of the usual song or two followed by preaching. We sang a couple of songs, and then had a praise and testimony time. Then each person shared a verse and two reasons why it was special to them.
My thoughts immediately went to Isaiah 26:3,4:
“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord forever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.”
This passage has been a favorite of mine for more years than I can count.
Peace has always been important to me, not necessarily quiet, just peace. If our hearts are not at peace, how can we ever hope to hear God? If our relationships are not at peace, how can we glorify God through them? How can we minister together if we are warring against one another?
But peace is not always easy to maintain because we are all full of that dreadful little thing called pride.
Pride, which relies on self to fix everything, worries.
Pride, which is always right, causes contention.
Pride, which wants its own way, destroys our ability to put others first.
Isaiah 26 gives the secret to peace. It isn’t seeing the problems solved, the relationships mended, or the strife melted away. Those are only the results. The true secret to peace is our gaze; not of our eyes, but of our hearts.
Peace comes from having our thoughts completely fixed on God. The word here translated “mind” is beautiful. Specific to this verse it carries the meaning of thoughts and, more importantly, meditations. A thought can be fleeting, here one second gone the next—believe me, I experience that problem on a daily basis! But, meditation is a process. It begins with a thought, but that thought is never let go. It is developed and expanded and internalized. It becomes a root of our thinking process.
Recently, someone said something that hurt me deeply. Their words revealed that a gulf I hoped would somehow be spanned probably never will be. Over the next twenty-four hours, thoughts came about that person, their family, and our relationship. Each time, I had to make a specific choice not to let my mind camp there because I love that person, and I don’t want that to be destroyed. It could have been, quickly and easily. I had to (not so simply) let it go and turn my heart back to where it needed to be centered—back to Christ.
The word translated “mind” also refers to our “frame and formation”. The frame of a house is what establishes its shape and boundaries. It determines both its appearance and its functionality. This also refers to our shaping as vessels in a potter’s hands. Will we say, “Hey, you don’t know what you’re doing!” Or will we allow God to shape us?
Our thoughts and meditations, our frame and formation are all to be “stayed”—to rest—upon God. They’re just supposed to lay right there and not move. He is to be the underlying support. If I meditate on Christ, how will I have room to think of the ways others have wronged me? If my mind is fixed on His power to deliver from any situation, how can I worry about things I cannot control?
God promises peace to the person who keeps their mind fixed on Him. But, it isn’t just any peace it is “perfect peace.” Literally, it’s “peace, peace” or shalom, shalom. The word covers nearly every aspect of the idea of peace. It refers to relationships, health, prosperity, our welfare, freedom from wars, and most importantly our relationship with the Lord. God doesn’t just promise us a little peace. He promises a double dose of perfect peace. And the best part is that WE do not have to keep it.
Notice the verse says, “THOU wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.” It is God’s job to keep us in perfect peace, our job is simply to keep our eyes on Him.
As I was reading these verses in Sunday night’s service, I couldn’t help but think of a similar passage in Philippians:
“Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6,7
God never changes. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, He is there waiting, ready to not only give us peace but also to keep us in it.
My heart was soaring by the time I had finished reading those verses. I knew immediately this was what I had been praying for. This was what God wanted me to focus on in 2014:
But God didn’t stop there. When our sharing time was over. We sang one last hymn. It goes like this:
There is never a day so dreary,
There is never a night so long,
But the soul that is trusting Jesus
Will somewhere find a song.
There is never a cross so heavy,
There is never a weight of woe,
But that Jesus will help to carry
Because He loveth so.
There is never a guilty sinner,
There is never a wand’ring one,
But that God can in mercy pardon
Through Jesus Christ, His Son.
Wonderful, wonderful Jesus,
In the heart He implanteth a song:
A song of deliverance, of courage of strength;
In the heart He implanteth a song.
-Anna B. Russell
I know there will be dreary days and long nights in 2014. There will be heavy crosses and weights of woe. I know there will be a need for deliverance, for courage, and for strength. And, I know the same wonderful, wonderful Jesus who pardoned this guilty wandering sinner, will be in the midst of each one.
As we sang that hymn, my thoughts ran to another song, one of my favorite Russian hymns, which declares not just that Jesus will implant a song in my heart, but that HE is that song. (You can listen to it here! Don’t worry. It’s in English!)
As if all this wasn’t enough, God still wasn’t done. When the song was over, the message began. The text verses were these:
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, LOOKING UNTO JESUS the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down on the right hand of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” Hebrews 12:1-3
It goes right back to our gaze and right back to our minds. It also goes back to the idea of the path set before us in this new year. If we forget to consider Christ and what he suffered, we will faint. But in light of all He did for us to obtain our salvation and victory over the grave, how can we be wearied in our daily trials? Yes, sometimes they are many and overwhelming. Often they are undeniably and unbelievably painful. But, He took upon Him the sins and the punishment of the whole world.
The service closed with communion. And I realized we were doing exactly what the verses had said: Considering Christ. I couldn’t even imagine a better way to end the service, nor to solidify in my mind what my focus is to be this year. And not only this year, but always.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.”
– Helen H. Lemmel
May each of you have a blessed and peaceful new year!
What has God given you to focus on this year? Please share in the comments.
ABOUT RACHEL MILLER
I am the author of three books, including the Walking in His Promises Devotional Journal. You can check them all out here. I also run a Christian editing and writing service. Check it out and let me know how I can help you.