Scripture: Ephesians 5:15-17
Most of us have noticed that about this time of every year the major news magazines and the major news networks have specials that recall the people and the events of the previous year. Many of the specials also include predictions by experts regarding what they expect to see happening in the years ahead. Some of these persons will go as far as to make long-range predictions that go 10 or 20 years, perhaps even longer, into the future. A few of the past predictions have proven accurate, while others have been dead wrong. For example, back in 1967 experts predicted that by 1985 technology would have taken over so much of the work we do that the average American work week would be only 22 hours long, and that we would work only 27 weeks a year. As a result, one of our biggest problems would be deciding what to do with our leisure time. I’m not sure about the rest of us, but that prediction doesn’t apply to me! Actually, most of us are very busy people. We’re always in a hurry. We walk fast, we talk fast, and we eat fast. After we eat, too often we say, “Excuse me, but I’ve got to run.” Someone once observed, “We are the only country in the world that has a mountain named ‘Rushmore.’” Comedian Steve Wright says he bought a microwave fireplace. As a result, he can spend a whole evening relaxing in front of the fire in only 8 minutes. So as we stand at the threshold of 2013, how will we do in the coming year? Will we be as busy? Will we make any better use of our time? In 368 days from now, when 2012 is history, will we look back with joy or with regret? Are we be looking at 2013 with anticipation, or with dread? There is a passage of Scripture that will help us make the best of the new year, if we follow its advice. The passage is Ephesians 5:15-17. It says to us, 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. To be full of life in the coming year, we must follow the instruction God provides for us here.
First of all, to make the most of the new year, we must realize our life’s weakness. Our passage says, Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, Our life here on this earth is a frail thing. Our life’s greatest weakness is that we are fragile. We are here one moment, and may be gone the next. King David wrote in Psalm 39:4, “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Again, Psalm 90:10 says to us, The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Now for some of us who are younger, 70 or 80 years sounds like a long time. Actually, I can remember when I thought someone who was 40 years old was ancient. At this point in my life I see 40 as rather young. It is really all a matter of our perspective. For example, from the perspective of two teenagers in love talking in the driveway at the end of a date, an hour or two seems like a blink of an eye. From the perspective of Mom and Dad, however, who are waiting inside and worrying about what is happening in that car with their daughter, one or two hours seems like an eternity. The Psalmist tells us to number our days so that we will develop a heart of wisdom. A few years ago People Magazine published an article entitled “Dead Ahead.” The article described a new clock that keeps track of how much time we have left to live. It calculates an average life span of 75 years for men and 80 years for women. All we have to do is to program our gender and age into the clock, and from that point forward it will count down how much time we have left to live. I understand the clock sold for $99.95. I haven’t gone shopping yet to purchase one. None of us likes to be reminded that our lives are frail, and that death could be just around the corner. The Psalmist, however, tells us to have that very mindset, to realize that our days are numbered. Actually, we have no guarantees that tomorrow will be here for us. All we have is the present. Listen to what James says in James 4:13-14, Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. To make the most of the new year, we must first realize our life’s weakness.
Second, to make the most of the new year, we must redeem our life’s worth. Verse 16 says, “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Jesus has told us that Satan is a robber and a thief. One of the things he will try to steal from us is our time, because time is an extremely precious possession. In our day and age, time is becoming more and more valuable. If we really want to show we care for someone, giving them our time is now a greater gift than giving them our money. How much time did we waste in 2012 doing things that were not pleasing to our Lord? What lessons can we learn from 2012 to apply to 2013? Sometimes we can make a poor use of our time by trying to be productive. For example, Jesus went to the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He sat down to teach, and Mary was sitting at his feet absorbing every word. Meanwhile, Martha was in the kitchen cooking supper. Most of us know the story. Martha gets upset because Mary isn’t in the kitchen with her. Finally she complains to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40) Jesus answered, But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Now was Martha sinning by cooking supper? Certainly not. Her problem is that she was preoccupied with the task at hand that she didn’t realize who was sitting in her living room. The point is that Martha’s mistake is often our mistake today. We get so preoccupied with the here-and-now that we fail to deal with the eternal, the things that will last forever and ever. Richard Swenson, a medical doctor, has written a book in which he discusses one of the major ailments of our time – overload. We are overloaded with commitments. We commit ourselves to go here and there, to take part in this activity and that function. As a result we soon begin meeting ourselves going and coming because we simply have too many things to do. We are overloaded with possessions. Our closets are full, our garages are overflowing. We’ve gone into debt to pay for all of the things we “simply MUST have.” Now we are fearful that someone might steal them. We are overloaded with work. We get up early and go to bed late. We fight rush-hour traffic. We tolerate difficult working conditions, often because we have to pay for all the possessions we have accumulated. I have read a few bumper stickers which say, “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.” We are overloaded with information. Dr. Swenson says he has to read 220 articles a month just to keep up with the changes in his profession. Now many of us are also on the information superhighway of the internet. The problem is, there are so many roads of information to travel, we don’t know where to head first. It is overwhelming. So the point is that there are many, many demands upon our time. The problem is that there will be only 8,760 hours in 2013. We want to make the most of every opportunity, but there are so many opportunities available to us, so what do we do? We must redeem our life’s worth, and the next verse of our passage tells us how to do so.
To make the most of the new year, we must recognize our Lord’s will. Verse 17 says, Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. What do we think God’s will is for you in this coming year? Does he want your mind so saturated with worries and anxieties that you can’t think spiritual thoughts? Does he want your calendar so crowded with various events that you have no time for things that are really important? As we seek God’s will for 2013, there are a couple of things we need to keep in mind. First, we have to establish our priorities. Since we are in church this morning, we obviously feel God needs to be a part of our lives. Unless, however, we were coerced to come to church by a parent, a child or a spouse. If that is the case, we need to understand that getting our relationship with Jesus in order really is important. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Who or what is most important in my life?” We need to be honest with our answer, identifying who or what really is most important, not what SHOULD be most important. Once we have found our answer, it is then we commit ourselves to making our relationship with Jesus Christ our highest priority. To make the most of the new year we need to say, “I will fit every other area of my life around my relationship with Jesus Christ. My decisions, my scheduling, my relationships with others, my finances and my whole outlook on life will revolve around my relationship with Him.” Therefore, when Sunday arrives, neither rain nor shine nor longing for sleep will prevent me from being with God’s people when they meet together. We will also plan to spend some time each day in God’s word. We will spend time praying for ourselves, for our families, for our church, and for lost persons around us. We will pray for our missionaries. Then, it will be a priority for us to spend time with our families. Husbands, we need to make a point of having at least one or two dates a week with our wives. It may be lunch together, or dinner. Make it a time when just the two of you can get together and talk. Parents, we need to make a priority of spending time with our kids. I honestly don’t think much of the notion of “quality time.” What we need as fathers and mothers is “quantity time” with our kids. Our children will be grown and out of the house before we know what is happening. We need to spend time with them now. To recognize our Lord’s will, we need to establish our priorities. Then, to recognize our Lord’s will, we need to learn how to live in the present and to enjoy the present. The greatest two enemies of our contentment in the present are our regrets over the past and our anxiety over the future. We live in a society that bombards us with messages of unhappiness. The message in essence is, “If only I had this new set of clothes, a big screen TV, a larger house, a nicer car, THEN I would be happy.” The whole goal is to make us discontent so we will try to restore our happiness. Many of us are tempted to live by the motto, “Wouldn’t it be great IF….” Wouldn’t it be great if it were next week. Wouldn’t it be great if it were next month. Wouldn’t it be great if this day was over. Wouldn’t it be great if I didn’t have to go to school. Wouldn’t it be great if I didn’t have to work at this awful job. This last week I read a story about a girl who went to college and hated it. She finally told herself, “If I can get out of college, get married, and have children, I know then I’ll finally be able to enjoy life.” So she stuck to her plan. She went to classes everyday and finally graduated. She got married, had children, and discovered that children are a lot of work. Then she told herself, “If I can just get these kids raised, then I’ll be able to relax and enjoy life.” About the time her kids were entering high school, her husband said, “Guess what? We don’t have enough money to send our kids to college. I guess you’re going to have to get a job.” Well, she didn’t want to do so, but she felt it was the right thing to do. Since they needed the money, she got a job. She hated it, but she told herself, “If I can just get these kids through college and get all the bills paid, then I can quit work and really enjoy life.” Finally, the last child graduated from college and all the bills were paid. She walked into her employer’s office and said, “I quit.” He said, “Oh you don’t want to quit now. If you with us just another eight years, you will have a pension for the rest of your life.” She thought, “Well, I don’t want to work another 8 years, but there is all that money at stake, and I can’t turn down the opportunity.” So, she worked for another 8 years. Finally she and her husband retired at the same time. They sold their home and bought a retirement cottage. They then spent hour after hour sitting on the front porch swing, looking at the family picture album and dreaming about the good ole days. To make the most of the new year, we have to recognize God’s will in the present. Romans 13:12 says, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”