I don’t want to be one of those kinds of Christians, hyper-critical and disrupting cherished beliefs simply because I see problems with it. I recognize that some of our practices, rightly or wrongly, can become so ingrained because of teaching that has influenced us, that animosity will possibly result from anyone who tries to knock it out of our hands.
But there’s something I do want to address, that runs rampant in some Christian circles, some more than others. I’m not addressing this merely because I believe it’s inconsistent with the whole counsel of Scripture, which it is or because I disagree, but because of the implications that it can have especially for those young in the faith.
It is simply this: declaring what God is going to do in the new year. This typically comes in the language of “breakthrough” – answers to prayers, financial gain, better circumstances, overcoming sinful patterns or bad habits – basically a change because you declare it to be so. Often this is prompted by the proclamations of church leaders under the guise of prophecy, that this is “your year.” My friend Ekemini said it best in her excellent piece at Reformed Margins;
[T]his is the time of year that our social media timelines, news feeds, and even television commercials teem with declarations from false prophets who boldly prognosticate about the impending new year.
They “decree and declare”—through memes no less—that 2016 is your year! Deceptively they tell their followers to simply “Claim riches, health, and prosperity! Bind death, destruction, and poverty. Do this and 2016 will be yours!” Never mind that they said the same about 2015, 2014, and so on. God is doing a “new thing” in 2016!
Now before I go on and discuss why I think we need to re-think this “tradition,” please hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying we should not expect for God to move in our lives. I’m not saying that we should not hope for answered prayers. I’m not saying don’t hope for change. Yes, let’s hope, pray and expect.
But it’s something else to impose upon God’s agenda what he will do in your life. I hate to bust bubbles, but we really don’t know what’s going to happen in the way of breakthroughs. People can declare and decree that 2016 will be their year, that won’t change God’s sovereign hand. Yes, pray for change, pray for open doors, pray for those trials and circumstances. But also pray that you might know Christ better, that you might know the power of his resurrection, and that you might serve his body more faithfully.
While I’m at it, where did this language of breakthrough come from and how did it come to dominate our Christian walk? Yes, God can and does do the “suddenlies” in the lives of his people. But when we rest our hope on God giving you your year because you declared it instead of what he’s already done through his Son, this can not only set us up for crushing disappointment but deter us from a fruitful walk. And definitely when it comes to our progress in sanctification, dropping sinful patterns and bad habits typically are not zapped away. As I wrote, in Deliver us from Deliverance, your breakthroughs don’t come from a one time emotional experience or because we “speak” something but from being transformed in the renewing of our mind through the work of the Spirit and diligent practice. The Bible doesn’t give us too much in the way of breakthroughs but it says much about walkthroughs (or workthroughs), “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you both to work and will for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).
But what is even worse and I dare so irresponsible, is when that pastor or worship leader makes these sweeping declarations to a whole congregation as if God’s process is uniform for each individual. For instance, I saw this statement on Facebook recently from a very well known preacher, “God is about to position you in strategic places to change things. He’s about to make some moves and open up doors.” Really? For everybody all at once? It reminds me of Israel Houghton’s New Season, where he declares before his audience that “God is about to lift the roof off the heavenlies.” (Newsflash, he already did with the life, death and resurrection of Christ.) Ok, that’s an old example but is indicative of the type of generic declarations directed to whole groups of people.
Aside from the fact that they simply don’t know, think of how devastating this would be for that saint that has trusted in this proclamation and continues to experience the same trial, or the same income, or the same employment situation, or the same difficult home situation, or the falls short of kicking that pattern or habit. Or could experience a worsening. Too often, this failure is attributed to something he or she did not do or believe rather than the fact that God is having his way in that persons life. This is the same as putting a millstone around the neck of a person and throwing them in the ocean. Jesus definitely had some words for that.
In fact, who has not experienced this but yet keeps making these kinds of declarations? How many “this is your year”s disruptions do we need to experience before realizing that God’s ways with his people don’t work like that? Yes, some years we encounter unexpected joyous events, open doors, promotions and increased opportunities. And some years, we might see just the opposite. If we put our trust in declarations of the “this year” what does this do to our Christian walk, especially for that babe in Christ?
This why I believe firmly that we need to abandon this declaration of what God will do and walk in what he has already done through his Son. If there’s is any declaration to be made, it’s that Jesus is Lord and will one day return to set everything right. Set goals, make a plan, strive for faithfulness and let God be God and do what he does.
Christian, 2016 is your year, just like every year before, a year to walk humbly before your God, to trust in the completed work of Christ, to address detrimental areas in your life, to grow together with fellow citizens of the kingdom, to bear witness to the King, to know that this is not all there is. Yes, God is doing a new thing because he already did it through Christ. You are a new creation regardless of the year and each flip of the calendar provides an opportunity to walk in it.