Ah, New Years.
That moment where everyone collectively decides this year “will be better” than last.
It’s deceptive in that it feels like a “clean break” or a “fresh start,” but the only difference between last year and this year is the date we write. Still, it feels like a moment where we can look forward with hopefulness.
Part of starting a new year means a lot of people are making goals for this year—i.e., New Year’s Resolutions.
For my whole life, especially when I was a teenager, I didn’t think it was important to have goals. It seemed limiting to me because… what if I changed my mind? I’ve shared that I’m a perfectionist, and that inner voice convinced me long ago that is better to never try than to try and accomplish something I may fail at.
Maybe you feel that too, but maybe you are on the other side of this. You don’t want to set goals because if you set one then you have to try harder. Setting a goal removes from you the option to be passive or lazy even.
Here’s one example from my side of the coin: I played basketball in elementary school. When I got to junior high, I wanted to try out for my school team. I missed try outs, so the coach had me try out during a varsity girls basketball practice after school one day.
The intimidation was fierce. These girls were years down the line in their skills, running drills I had never seen before. I knew my performance was being judged, but the intimidation got the better of me. I think I missed every shot I took.
I didn’t make the team. I never played basketball again.
This was a situation where I gave my best effort and it was literally not good enough. I had to live in the reality that I had failed.
I want to just pause for a second and ask you to think of that moment for you where you most recently had to come face to face with failure, with literally not being good enough. Maybe you didn’t make the team. Maybe dad isn’t pleased with your grades. Maybe you failed your driver’s test (While we’re talking about failure, I also failed my first permit test).
I missed the try out, so if I had just let it go, I would’ve gone on to play volleyball and to cheer and never had face the reality that I wasn’t good enough for basketball.
But because I had tried, I had to come face to face with my failure.
I hate that feeling. I have hated it ever since. I have faced so many situations where I would rather live in the safety of not trying than to try and fail and have to deal with that again.
So I got this idea that if I never identify a target, then I can just move through life only accomplishing the things that I know I can do. Then I never have to face failure again. I have this tendency to change what I hope to accomplish based on whether or not I think I’ll fail. If things aren’t looking good, I can pretend like I never cared and move on.
Or maybe at a time like this we move on simply because it’s a new year.
Truthfully, there are a lot of situations in life where that strategy works out.
We run into issues with flip flopping goals when we’re getting instructions from authority.
Another way to say that is: we have problems with constant change when we are given orders.
When it’s up to us, we get to pick and choose and change whenever we feel the need. When someone else sets the goal for us, that’s that.
Your teacher gets to decide what the homework is.
Your parents get to set your curfew.
Orders are goals we cannot give up on.
Starting a new year is when a lot of us take time to reflect. As I thought through 2023 and some of the most significant things I learned or heard that stood out to me and made a difference in my life, I realized that the most valuable thing I was taking from last year with me into this year is this idea of “orders.”
I was at a conference and the guy got up to speak and he opened with the line:
“Old orders are standing orders.”
Old orders are standing orders.
Here’s what he meant: If God has told you to do something, you must do it, no matter how much time has passed since He asked you.
Running away from what God says doesn’t change the fact that God says it.
When the orders come from God,—let’s think of an order as a goal God sets for you—we can’t switch targets because we feel like we’re going to fail.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you are figuring out how to quiet God’s voice so that you can pick and choose what things you’d like to do. You are strategic about what “orders” you would like to follow and which ones you would like to ignore.
Now, there’s one guy in the Bible who took this to the extreme. We likely know his story. His name is Jonah.
Jonah was a prophet. His job was to listen to God and then do what God said.
One time in particular, Jonah did not respond very well to what God said.
God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell them to repent because they were evil, and God was going to judge them. Jonah didn’t want to! He didn’t like the Ninevites. They were the enemy. They deserved to die. So instead of obeying, he bought a boat ride in the opposite direction.
“He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape the Lord by sailing to Tarshish. But the LORD hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship. But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. So the captain went down after him. ‘How can you sleep at a time like this?’ He shouted. ‘Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.’ …”
Jonah gets up, and as they realize their prayers to their gods are not being answered, they turn to Jonah and give him the third degree. “Who are you? Where did you come from? What God do you serve?” And at the asking of that last question, Jonah responds:
“Jonah answered, ‘I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.’ The sailors were terrified when they heard this, for he had already told them he was running away from the Lord. ‘Oh, why did you do it?’ They groaned.”
I read this a few months ago, and I was honestly shocked to see verse 10! I thought I was familiar with Jonah, but I felt like I hadn’t ever seen this verse before.
They knew he was running from God because He had already told them.
I just imagine these guys on the ship talking about their travel plans and asking “What brings you to Tarshish?” And Jonah’s just like, “Oh, yeah, I’m trying to run away from God because He asked me to do something I don’t want to do.”
And the guys on the ship were like, “Alright.”
We see in these verses that the other guys on this ship had a god to pray to. They knew the storm had resulted from some kind of disfavor. They all started praying, but they were praying to false gods. When Jonah had told them he was running from god, they assumed it was a god like theirs.
Only when Jonah told them that he followed the God of Israel did they realize what a mess they were in. You see, God had a reputation. They knew about God freeing His people from Egypt. They knew about Gideon and his tiny army defeating the Midianites. They knew that Jonah’s God was not a God who messed around. They didn’t care that Jonah was running from God until they realized the consequences it had on them personally.
God had given Jonah orders, and Jonah trying to run away didn’t result in God saying, “Oh okay, I’ll ask someone else.” It resulted in God relentlessly pursuing Jonah even out on the sea. God had a giant fish swallow him and swim him over to Nineveh before spitting him out onto the shore.
Say you’re at a restaurant. If you ask the waitress for a refill on your Dr. Pepper, if she walks away and forgets, you don’t give up because she forgot or got busy with something else. You track her around the restaurant with your eyes until she finally brings you the Dr. Pepper you ordered.
So if we feel this way even on such a small scale, how much more must God feel that way with the orders He gives us?
But following God’s orders can be a struggle. Jonah, a prophet of God ran away intentionally!
Why was he running at all? God gave Him instructions to go give these evil, enemy people who deserved to die a second chance to turn their lives around. Jonah didn’t think that was right or fair. He was not interested in helping the enemy, so He sinned intentionally by disobeying and trying to flee from what God had said. He was extreme about it.
I think we do the same thing. A lot of the times we are not so extreme. We are subtle about it, but we do it for the same reasons. We don’t like what God has said, so we ignore it. This can be something personal God tells us, or it can be something He has said in the Bible.
And I wanted to start our year here because it’s something I struggle with. Here’s my most recent example:
In the summer of 2021, God told me to write a book. He was very clear on what it was supposed to be and say and the story it was supposed to tell. At the time, I jumped on it. I started writing for hours every day, and I got a first draft done within a couple of months.
Then I started working at a church. Then I started grad school. Then I moved to Colorado.
Then I never touched that book.
And last year while I was at that conference and the guy got up and said, “Old orders are standing orders,” all at once I knew that even though I had set that book aside and not finished it, God had never told me it was okay to not finish it. God was still expecting me to obey the order He gave to finish that book. I’ve been working on it ever since, but that was after two years of neglecting what God had asked me to do.
Now, God didn’t send a storm and a big fish to get my attention, and I’m really grateful for that, but He got my attention none the less. So as I walk into 2024, I don’t need to set big new goals or resolutions because I already have my standing orders.
2024 will be the year I publish that book.
What are your standing orders?
Maybe God told you to invite a friend of yours to church and you haven’t yet.
Maybe God has asked you to forgive someone who hurt you, but you’re still holding on to the anger.
Maybe you know you need to breakup with your girlfriend but you haven’t because you like having her around.
Just because we have entered a new year doesn’t mean that the things we never dealt with last year have disappeared.
So again, what are your standing orders?
Maybe you only have one pice of the picture, but God can and will do amazing things through your obedience.
There comes a moment on this ship in the horrible storm where Jonah stops running. He acknowledges his standing orders. He takes responsibility for the storm because it’s a consequence of him running from God. When that happens, when he accepts his standing orders and gets thrown off the boat, look what happens:
“The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.”
I want you to identify your standing orders and obey them this year because…
When we follow God even when it’s hard, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when it’s uncomfortable, even when it goes against our plans, the people around us are awestruck.
I want 2024 to be the year where our friends get saved.
Maybe someone will choose to follow God because of what they read in my book.
Maybe someone will believe God can forgive them because you forgave them.
Maybe someone will experience God for the first time because they accept your invitation to church.
I want this year to be the one where our friends encounter Jesus because we took responsibility for our standing orders and obeyed them. We aren’t setting new goals or brainstorming new things. We’re identifying what God has already said and obeying.
Maybe this year, God will give us orders that go far beyond just us. Maybe this year we will see the people around us falling in love with Jesus, choosing to follow God, because we have completed our standing orders.
I want you to feel hopeful about this year.
I want you to feel hopeful that God has not given up on you.
I want you to feel hopeful that God has amazing ways in which He wants to use you.
I want you to feel hopeful that this could be the year your fiends give their lives to Jesus.
And if you are reading this and you haven’t ever given your life to Jesus, I want you to know that God sees you. God wants you. He loves you before you ever love Him. And if this is the year you choose to give God a chance, He will meet you exactly where you are.