Navigating a New Year

At the end of every year, news services and magazines like to take a look back at the past 12 months to do a “year in review.” They go over the highlights and the lowlights of the past year to help us remember what this past year has been like.

            And then, sometimes, they have someone who will make a prediction, an expert about the future, who will tell us what we can expect in the coming year.  And actually, some of those predictions have been surprisingly accurate.

            Let me give you an example – In the year 1900, an engineer by the name of John Elfreth Watkins wrote a magazine article entitled, “What May Happen in the Next One Hundred Years.”  And here are a few of the things he got right.

  • Watkins predicted that there would be digital photography by the year 2000.  He wrote, “Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance. If there be a battle in China a hundred years hence, snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspapers an hour later…. photographs will reproduce all of nature’s colours.”  Which is an amazing prediction considering the only photography at that time was done with view cameras all in black and white.
  • Watkins predicted mobile phones.  He said, “”Wireless telephone…will span the world.  A husband in the middle of the Atlantic will be able to converse with his wife sitting [at home] in Chicago. We will be able to telephone to China quite as readily as we now talk from New York to Brooklyn.”  The idea of wireless telephones at that time was truly revolutionary.
  • And Watkins predicted television. He wrote, “Man will see around the world. Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span.”

            Those were some amazing predictions in 1900.  But, not all of his predictions were correct.  Watkins also predicted some things that have not yet come true. 

  • He wrote, “[By the year 2000], there will be no C, X or Q in our everyday alphabet. They will be abandoned because unnecessary.”
  • Watkins also predicted Americans would walk 10 miles a day, that there would be no cars in large cities, and that mosquitoes, houseflies and roaches would be totally exterminated (we can only hope!).

            OK, so he missed a few things, but all in all, I have to say that I’m impressed.  So here we are at the close of 2023, looking ahead to 2024, wondering what this coming year is going to be like.  What is it going to be like?  And the truth is, we don’t know.  But as someone once said, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.”  And that is the hope for those of us who are Christians as we look ahead to a new year; we know that God has this whole thing under control.

            And the apostle Paul knew that.  And with that somewhere in the back of his mind, he wrote a letter, the book of Ephesians, to a church where he had preached for several years.  Paul wrote to encourage the Christians in Ephesus and to instruct them in what they should know and in what they should do, and that’s basically how the book of Ephesians is divided.  

            The first three chapters, this is who you are in Christ.  The last three chapters, this is how you ought to live for Christ.  This is what you need to know, and this is what you need to do.  This is what your Christian walk ought to look like.

            Paul uses that word a lot to describe the Christian life, he calls it a “walk.”  Sometimes Paul describes our Christian life as a run, but more often it’s a walk.  It’s a steady pace.  It’s an ongoing lifestyle.  So, beginning in the 4th chapter of Ephesians, Paul begins to talk about the Christian walk.  Here’s how you need to walk.  Walk in humility.  Walk in unity.  Don’t walk the way the world does.  Walk in love. Walk in light.  Walk in wisdom.

            So, with that bit of background, I want to take a look at our text this morning in Ephesians 5, beginning with verse 15.  Paul wrote, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)

            These three verses give us three principles that I want to suggest that you and I should use to navigate this new year.  In fact, not just this year, but to navigate the rest of our lives with.

            There’s a writer, Bob Mumford, who tells about a certain Italian harbor that can be reached only by sailing up a narrow channel between dangerous rocks and shoals.  Over the years, many ships have wrecked because navigation is difficult.  And so, to guide the ships safely into port, they mounted three lights in the harbor on three huge poles. When those three lights are perfectly lined up, a captain can guide his ship safely through the narrow channel.

            I’d like to use that illustration as we look at these three principles in Ephesians 5.  And I would suggest that we need to get all three of these things lined up in our lives, so that we can navigate safely in our walk with Christ.

            Three basic principles.  The first is this…..

I.          Walk Carefully

            Ephesians 5, verse 15, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.”  Now, if I was reading this from the NKJV, it would say, “See then that you walk circumspectly.”

            Now, that’s not a word that we use very often in our conversations.  When’s the last time you said to someone, “Hey, look at me, I’m walking circumspectly.”  It’s sort of an older word, but it’s a good word.  Our English word “circumspectly” comes from two Latin words.  Circum is “around.”  Circumference, circumnavigate, it means “around”.  Spect, like inspect or spectate means “to look.”   So, circumspectly means “looking around”.

            And that’s why many of the newer translations say, “Walk carefully.”  “Walk circumspectly” means that you watch where you’re going and you look around as you make every step that you take.  Pay attention to where you’re walking. 

            Because the Christian life is not to be lived haphazardly, like, “Whatever happens, happens.”  It should be lived very carefully giving consideration to how we interact with people, what we do, what we say.  Be careful how you live.  Be careful how you walk.

            Many of us heard this a lot when we were kids.  Whenever you went outside, your parents might say, “Be careful.”  If you went out barefoot, they might say, “Watch your step.”  And if you cross the street, they would say, “Look both ways before you cross, be careful.  Look around.”

            And I will give all of you a word of warning if you go to visit Joey and Clair.  If they give you a tour of their farm, I advise you to walk circumspectly.  Look around as you walk.  Be very careful, because there’s stuff on the ground there that you don’t want to step in.

            And there’s stuff all around you in your Christian walk that you want to avoid as well.  So, walk circumspectly.  Walk carefully.

            And then Paul tells us a little bit more about how we should walk carefully.  He says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.”  As we walk carefully, we are to do so with wisdom. Now, when the Bible talks about wisdom, it’s not talking about how intelligent you are.  It’s not talking about how many degrees you have.  It’s not about how many verses in the Bible you can quote.

            Rather, wisdom is putting our faith into practice.  Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions.  Because wherever your Christian walk takes you, there are always going to be choices that you will have to make.  Should I go here?  Should I do this?  Should I say that?  And Paul says, in your Christian walk, walk carefully, making sure that you make the right kind of decisions that will lead you in the right direction.

            Be wise, don’t be foolish.  The Bible talks a lot about what it means to be foolish, but perhaps the most familiar passage is found in Psalm 14 where David wrote, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14:1).  We sometimes use this verse to say that someone who is an atheist is a fool, but I don’t think that’s what David was saying.  You see, the Hebrew in this verse literally translates, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘No God.’”  

            I don’t think this fool is denying the existence of God.  He’s just saying, “I don’t want God in my life; I don’t want him telling me what to do.”  Sort of like when you go to a restaurant and you have coffee, and you’ve had a cup or two, and the waitress comes around and she’s about to pour you some more, and you put out your hand and you say, “No coffee.”

            When you say that, you’re not denying that fact that coffee exists in this world.   You’re just saying, “None for me.”  The fool says in his heart, “No God.  I don’t need God.  I don’t want God.  I don’t want God in my life telling me what to do.”

            You see, you can be a theological Christian, and at the same time be a practical atheist.  You can say, “I believe in God, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God”, you’ve got all the doctrine down pat, but by the way you live and the choices you make, it’s obvious that you don’t really believe in God at all.

            That’s what it means to be foolish, to be unwise.  So, Paul says, in our Christian walk, we need to walk carefully in wisdom, which means that we make the kind of choices that will show people around us that we truly believe in God.

            So, point #1, I encourage you to walk carefully in the coming year.  Be very careful about where you step.  Don’t live like the world, don’t think like the world, don’t make choices like the world.  Let your faith in Christ lead you to make wise choices.  Walk carefully, that’s the first pole in the harbor.

            Here’s the second…

II.        Look for Opportunities

            Verse 16, “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”  The idea here is that we need to constantly be looking for opportunities.  

            Paul says to make the best use of our time.  Now time is an interesting thing.  As we go through our lives, we’re all governed by time.  Every day, we keep up with that time on a clock.  We divide our days into weeks and months and years.  We call what’s coming up a “new year.”  Now, the truth is, January 1st was a day just like any other day, but we say it’s the beginning of a new year because that’s how we mark time.

            According to the Bible, back when it was written, the average lifespan was about seventy years.  In Psalm 90:10, “Seventy years are given to us!  Some may even reach eighty.  But even the best of these years are filled with pain and trouble; and soon they disappear, and we’re gone.(Psalm 90:10, NLT)

            I thought about that — seventy years.  Now, if I live to be exactly seventy years old, I don’t have much time left.  The Psalmist is right.  “Soon [these years] disappear, and we’re gone.”  That’s so true.  Life is so short; it goes by so quickly.

            But I was discouraged by that, so I went to the Internet and I found a website where you can answer a few questions and it will tell you how much time you have to live.  So, I punched in some data and it told me I have 2,950 days left.  Which gives me a little more time than David gave me in Psalm 90. 

            But that’s not really the point of the text here in Ephesians. When Paul says to make the best use of our time, he uses a different Greek word than the typical word for time.  You see, the ancient Greeks had two different words for time.  The first was chronos, which we use in words like chronological and anachronism.  It refers to clock time — time that can be measured — seconds, minutes, hours, years.

            But that’s not the word that Paul uses here.  Instead, he uses the Greek word kairos.  And kairos is different.  It’s not about minutes, but about moments.  It’s often used to refer to the right moment, the opportune moment, a defining moment in our lives.  Chronos time is measured and counted, while kairos time is lived and experienced.

            Kairos is time judged not by its duration, but by its importance and value.  Kairos is a window of time in which life-shaping decisions are made.  It is a defining moment.  So, Paul’s point in this passage isn’t about counting time; it’s about making your time count, making every moment count, looking at every event of our lives as an opportunity.

            So, Paul says to make the best use of your opportunities.  And here’s why you need to do that — because we are all locked into a specific set of time, and choices are given to us on a daily basis where we can do whatever we want.

            We get to choose whether we want to act in a loving manner, or not.  We can choose to serve the needs of others around us, or not.  We can choose to encourage and uplift others, or not.  We can choose to share the gospel with others, or not.  These are all choices we make every day.

            But here’s the thing — one day, we will all leave the realm of time and we will enter the realm of eternity, timelessness.  And, at that point, those opportunities are gone.  You will never be able to share the gospel with anyone else in heaven.  You’ll never be able to make that phone call, carry a meal, send a note to encourage someone — those days are over.  So, while we have our chronological time, whatever time we may have left, we need to make it a kairos moment, an event, an opportunity that we use for the glory of God.

            So, walk carefully, looking for opportunities.  Jesus put it this way, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4).  Now is the time to seize those moments.

            Because I don’t know how many days I have left on this earth.  The Internet tells me I have 2,950 days left, but it could be more.  It might also be less.  This year could be the last year on this earth for any of us.

            This past Christmas season, some of you have been made painfully aware of the fact that life is brief, because you lost someone you love this past year.  James tells us that our life is a vapor; it appears for a moment, then vanishes away.  So we can make all the plans we want, and talk about what we’re going to do in 2024, but James reminds us that there’s no guarantee for any of us.  “You do not know what tomorrow will bring.” (James 4:14).

            So that’s why at whatever place on the scale of time we find ourselves, it’s important that we use every opportunity as a moment for the glory of God.  Walk carefully, looking for opportunities.

            Paul goes on in verse 16 to qualify what he means, “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”  Now there’s a lot of ways to look at that, but I think we would all agree that time isn’t always our friend.  I’m reminded of that every time I look in the mirror — time has not been my friend.  

            But do you realize that Satan is a thief?  He wants to rob what’s in your life.  The Bible says he wants to kill, to steal, to destroy.  And one of the things Satan wants to steal from you is your time – he wants to get you to waste your time.

            Think how much of our time is wasted – saying stupid stuff, gossiping, petty arguments, holding onto grudges.  And it’s not always bad things or sinful things that waste our time.  Sometimes even good things can waste our time.

            I think about the story of Martha.  Jesus comes over for dinner and Martha is cooking a meal while her sister Mary is just sitting at the feet of Jesus, soaking it all in.  And you know how the story goes, Martha complains to Jesus, “Tell my sister to come and help me. I’m doing all the work by myself.”

            And Jesus said, “Martha, you are distracted and worried about so many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:41-42).  Now, we all understand that it wasn’t a sin for Martha to be cooking a meal for Jesus.  But perhaps she became so preoccupied with what she was doing, she forgot: “The Son of God is here with me in my living room. I need to take advantage of this moment.”

            And all of us are tempted to do that every single day.  We get so caught up with things in our lives that need to be done, good things that need to be done, but in the process, we lose sight of what’s truly most important. So, we need to watch for those opportunities as they arise.

            Walk carefully; watch for opportunities.  And then, the third pole in the harbor to navigate this coming new year is this…

III.       Do God’s Will

            Verse 17, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” 

            And so, the question we always want to ask is, “How do I know what God’s will is?”  I’ve discovered, and I’m sure you have too, that God’s will is revealed in God’s Word.  And if you want to live a wise life, you need to follow the life-governing principles that come from Scripture, which God has revealed to us.  

            We sometimes refer to this as God’s general will.  But if we know what God’s general will is, we often find that the particular will of God for any situation will just take care of itself.

            We usually get hung up on things like: “What is God’s will for where I move, or where I go to school, or what house to buy, or which car to buy?”  But those are the kinds of decisions that don’t matter all that much.  Instead, we ought to be focused on the things that God tells us do matter.

            So let me close by sharing with you five things that scripture tells us are a part of God’s will for your life.

            1. God wants unsaved people to become saved people. That’s God’s will. He wants unsaved people to become saved people.  2 Peter 3:9, “[God] is not willing that any should perish.”   I Timothy 2:4, “[He] desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”  So, we can be absolutely certain that it is God’s will for unsaved people to become saved people.

            2.  God wants saved people to become holy people, especially in the area of their sexual morality.  I Thessalonians 4:3 (NLT), “God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin.”  We can be absolutely certain that this is the will of God , #1 that God wants unsaved people saved, #2, he wants saved people to become holy people

            Here’s the third: God wants holy people to be humble people, submissive to their spiritual authority, and submissive to governmental authority.  I Peter 2:13, “For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed.. . . For this is the will of God.”

            So, God wants unsaved people saved.  He wants saved people to become holy people.  He wants holy people to become humble people.  Here’s a fourth thing that may shock some of you: Sometimes God wants saved, holy, humble people to suffer.  Why would he do that?  Because God loves us.  He doesn’t want our faith to be shallow.  He wants us to grow stronger and he knows that suffering is a part of that process.  I Peter 3:17, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”

            And number five — God wants all people to be thankful.  I Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Now, if we were to focus on these five things this year, we would find that all of those other areas of our lives, like where we should move or what house we should buy, that’ll just take care of itself.

            George Mueller founded the Bristol orphanage years ago in England and over the years, managed to serve ten thousand orphans.  Much of that time, Mueller didn’t have any money but he always had faith that God would provide what he needed, and he always did.  Mueller once said, “Ninety percent of our problems are solved when we are ready to do the will of God whatever it might be.”

            And so, I got to thinking that if we, as a church, made a commitment that in 2024 we would concentrate on these five things and nothing else, what a difference it would make.

            Because what that would mean is that we would focus on sharing Jesus with lost people, we would become more holy and set apart for Jesus Christ, we would become humble and submissive and honoring people around us, we would not complain no matter what we’re going through because we would be thankful in all things — folks, that would be revolutionary!

            So, we don’t know what this next year holds, but we know who holds this next year.  We’re navigating some waters that are pretty rocky, but if we can just keep these three principles lined up, we’ll arrive safely at our destination.

            I want to close with something I found, it’s an Irish blessing.  Sometimes when you find an Irish blessing, it’s rather humorous.  Like, “May you make it to heaven a half hour before the devil knows you’re dead.”

            But I found this blessing that I want to share with you all this morning:  “During the new year, may you have enough happiness to keep you sweet, enough trials to keep you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human, enough hope to keep you happy, enough failure to keep you humble, enough success to keep you eager, enough friends to give you comfort, enough wealth to meet your needs, enough enthusiasm to make you look forward, enough faith to banish depression,  enough determination to make each day better than yesterday, and enough love to pass around.”

            So here we are at the beginning of 2024.  As we begin this new year, may be commit ourselves to be very careful about where we walk and what we do, to look at the events of this coming year as opportunities, and to seize the moment when those opportunities arise.  And may we all work for God, knowing what God’s will is for our lives because he has revealed certain principles to us that we hope and pray will become a part of the fabric of who we are.

            There may be someone here this morning who has never made a public decision to commit their lives to Jesus Christ.  This is your opportunity to bring to reality the first in that list of five things that God wants – for unsaved people to become saved people.  If you’re here this morning and you’ve never surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, now is your moment, your kairos time, your opportunity.


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