Each year as we approach a new year, I ask God to give me a verse that will sustain and lead me through the new year. In recent years, verses such as Psalm 112:4-8, Isaiah 43:18-19 and Matthew 6:33-34 have really helped to strengthen and guide me.
As I have been meditating on God’s word in recent weeks, the theme that has come through is ‘press on’ and so the verses I am holding onto as we prepare for 2024 are found in Philippians 3:12-14.
In this chapter, Paul lays down his Jewish pedigree and past achievements and speaks of his passion to know Christ more. He admits that he has not arrived at his goal and says ‘I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.’ We often talk about pressing on and following Jesus and about the effort and work that are required. But here, Paul reminds us that we follow Jesus as a response – He took hold of us first! We don’t initiate things as such or have to come up with good ideas; we simply respond to what God starts. That takes a lot of pressure off us!
Paul goes on to say, ‘Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’
Here, we see two aspects of the Christian life which are relevant to all believers. We have to forget what is behind. We have to let go of the past. It cannot be changed. What was good or bad in 2023 can’t be allowed to trip us up in 2024. We have to leave it behind. We must not forget what God has done, of course, but we must neither be haunted by past failures nor frozen in aspic by our successes.
Secondly, we must strain toward what is ahead and press on. There is no room for apathy or indifference in the Christian life. We must move forward. At the recent Barnsley Youth Choir Christmas concert, one of the choirs sang the African song ‘Siyahamba’ (‘We Are Marching In The Light of God’.) The verses move from walking to marching, and in some ways, this is symbolic of how we must be. God wants us to move forward with purpose and intent, confident because He is with us.
What is the goal? What are we marching towards? I believe we here are called to be ‘with God in the community‘ and ‘with God for the community.’ We are called to be conformed to the image of Christ. (Rom 8:29) We are called to be witnesses of Jesus Christ and to make disciples of all nations. We are called to grow. This Christmas, my youngest granddaugher (aged 9 months) sat at the table with us and munched on turkey, potatoes and vegetables. Last Christmas, she wasn’t visible to us! It has been a year of growth! We need to see that same spiritual growth in our churches – new people, a renewed spiritual appetite for God.
Our confidence as we enter 2024 does not arise from economic stability, political acumen or our own prowess. It arises from our hope in God, the God who is calling us heavenward. Today, as I finished reading through the Bible this year, I read Revelation 22, which reminds us that Jesus is the Beginning and the End (Rev 22:13) and that He is preparing a new heaven and new earth, a place where He will dwell with His people forever. We can, therefore, press on with hope in our hearts and a spring in our steps. We can march in the light of God.