A Year Renamed
We all know what a new year feels like.
It’s chilly and breathless, like untouched snow. Yet it sparkles with promise and we can’t wait to venture out into it. It’s expected, but still manages to surprise us. Even without looking at a calendar, we can all sense the change—a season is about to give way to another. For some of us, relief sweeps in with this reality. Most of us are ready to begin afresh, glad for an officially-marked reason to finish a couple chapters and begin some different ones. But for many of us, the fresh blanket of snow is also laced with tiny shards of ice. Little shivers of uncertainty, maybe even dread.
The year went so fast. What if another one speeds by and nothing really changes? Do I dare even remember the dreams God put in my heart? Do they even really matter? Do I?
We’ve all felt it—that cry for purpose, significance. That aching, yearning heart that feels left out, misunderstood, confused about destiny. We were made for more—created in God’s Image with a beautiful destiny. But the satisfaction we were created for isn’t found by striving after fleshly forms of fulfillment. Our beings crave God, our Maker. Like the Psalmist, our very beings cry out for Him, hungering and thirsting for the living God (Psalm 63:1). We were created to know Him, to exist in a relationship of mutual delight with our Father and King, to know that we are perfectly loved and endowed with beautiful gifts. And out of that place, we were meant to go forth and bless the world with the image of Christ. Our time spent staring at Him changes our eyesight, giving us a timeless perspective and endless resources to share with others.
But it’s so easy to take our eyes off the Lord. So many voices clamor for our attention. We have so much before our eyes, constantly—the endless news feed of what other people are accomplishing and achieving. This can drain us, leaving us weakened and disheartened. But in order to align with the truth about ourselves, we need to remain connected to the Lord (John 15:1-2). He enables us to rest, even in the wilderness (Psalm 23). He desires to give us glimpses of our destinies through dreams and visions and then lead us forth with courage, all from Him (Romans 11:36).
The attribute we need is persistence. For the Christian, this is available to us in Christ. Jesus modeled perfect diligence and headlong pursuit of the Father’s will in His mission on Earth. This is what made Him successful in all His endeavors. He knew who He was and what He was supposed to do and He did it without letting anything derail Him (Mark 1:11). Yes, He was fully-God, but He was also fully-man, and Scripture is clear that Jesus had to persevere through great difficulty (Hebrews 5:8). It was a process, even for Him. We are likewise exhorted to press on and not give up. (Hebrews 3:14; Philippians 3:12).
Far too often, we give up in the dark just before dawn. We succumb to convenient blame-shifting or the poisonous potion of lies and excuses for why our lives are less than they should be. And then we wonder why we feel dead inside, like there’s no point to dragging ourselves through each day. We wonder why we continually fight defensiveness, frustration, fear of failure. We were designed for persistence—to press on to take hold of what Christ has for us, in Him; we take hold of it by taking hold of Christ (Philippians 3:12). Nothing we were meant to be or accomplish will mean anything apart from Him (John 15:1-2).
Jacob is one of my favorite biblical examples of persistence. We learn a lot about his formative years in Genesis 25-29). By virtue of his name, Jacob was a “heel-grabber”, a usurper who was born fighting for position and eventually cheated his older brother out of a birthright Esau wasn’t willing to fight for. The contention in the family because of Jacob’s behavior caused him to have to flee for his life at one point. His youth was a tumultuous time of fighting for recognition, finally landing in the desert, wondering if he would ever make it somewhere safe where he could become something great.
In the plain, black-and-white text, there’s not much to recommend Jacob as a person. But in His typical fascinating omniscience, God loved this man (Romans 9:13). There was something in him that God delighted in, some part of Jacob that was drawn upward, even before he was aware of it. God noted Jacob’s persistence after blessing and acknowledged the determination He had put there, but he had more in store for Jacob than the young man was looking for. He renamed the man Israel, one who wrestles with God and prevails.
In His Kindness, God transformed Jacob from a fleshly schemer into a blessed prince who wasn’t afraid to fight through to the intimacy with God that he craved (Genesis 32:22-32). Jacob later marveled at the Promises given to Him by the God of the universe who had invited him into something so much bigger than he could have ever accomplished on his own (Genesis 28:16).
So many times, I have found myself feeling like Jacob must have initially—defensive, uncertain, wandering. Crossroads moments can cause feelings of inadequacy to flood in and overwhelm us. Our lives are so far from where we’d like them to be, our desires so great, and our abilities so short of what’s needed to get there. Yet, God looks at us with joy and delights in what He created, saying, “Oh, Child of mine…the glory and position and favor you seek from people, from what you do, from this Earth…all of it cannot hold a candle to what I can give you! The yearning in you was put there by Me, but you were not meant to strive in your flesh, after fleshly things, alone. Persistence was meant to keep you after the true Desire of your soul, the Goal of your life, the Finisher of your faith! Come, let me rename you to reflect what I see and then transform you into what that is for My Glory!”
Jacob left his father’s house with nothing but the clothes on his back and spent the night in the desert with a stone for a pillow. His own scheming and resources had left him with very little to lean on. But God met this young man in the night and made His Presence known to him, calling to Jacob in a dream and inviting him to take hold of the endless One and have no lack (Genesis 28:10-22). Jacob named the place Bethel, the House of God, and he left the next morning the richest he had ever been. Henceforth, he didn’t have to worry about position or be afraid of the future. He had God Almighty on his side. He and God entered a partnership that day, a covenant of blessing, abundance, and safe-keeping for obedience, and steadfast pursuit.
We don’t just follow God because of His Gifts. He is the Gift! Intimacy with Him transforms us into the warriors, the dreamers, the Kingdom people that we cannot make ourselves into. Anywhere you feel inadequate is a place where you need more of God. He is never-ending. His Presence never runs out and is always overflowing, abounding to you. (2 Corinthians 9:8). In Him, you can keep your hand to the plow and not look back, persisting in your intimacy with Him, knowing you were made for Him and His plans for you will prosper. It’s all His—the journey, the destination, the strength to get there.
On this New Year’s Day, let us wake up and marvel, as Jacob did, utterly in awe of God. Let us bow in worship, acknowledging that He inhabits places that we didn’t realize. Let us “build an altar” out of the place where we are, choosing dependence on Him, knowing our roots need to be connected to Him always. Let us be filled with determination, a fierceness that clings to God and receives the blessing promised. Let us take hold of courage to step forth, knowing He goes before us and what seemed like wilderness one minute will be revealed as the next leg of our journey when God shines His Light on it. Let us be willing to rise up and take what has been supporting us—whatever we’ve been leaning on—and set it up as an altar before the Lord, acknowledging that our hearts are the House of God and His Presence is truly Awesome in us (Genesis 28). God blesses the heart and life that are yielded to His Purposes!
If you truly want more, come and seek the Fountain of Living Waters. It is always worth it. Allow Him to have the dreams that are in your heart. If He put them there, He will breathe Himself into them, into you. And trust me, you don’t want it any other way.