This morning at Gateway Church in Austin, I shared a message called “Trajectory.” You can watch or listen to the entire message at www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast. Here are some of the ideas I shared (including 7 ways to make 2013 better than 2012:
A new year gives us a chance to make a new start. A new year allows us the opportunity to pause and re-calibrate where we are and where we are going.
Consider for a moment: what is the trajectory of your life? Are you headed in the best direction? Are you in a better place now than you were a year ago at this time? If not, what are you going to do differently in 2013 to make sure you make progress?
Maybe you are here today with hope for the new year. You really believe this next year can be better. You really will finally break through and make the progress you want to make. At the same time, you may have a tiny bit of doubt. How do I know this next year won’t end the exact same as last year?
Some of you have way more cynicism and skepticism about the new year. You’ve seen it over and over. You never seem to get traction. The people around you never seem to make progress. Once again, you expect you will be disappointed and become even more disillusioned. Lucky 2013 doesn’t have any hope of being a better year.
When we just make superficial changes, we won’t see anything new. What we need this new year is a complete overhaul.
So how do we do that?
There’s a fascinating figure in the Scriptures named Hezekiah that is significant (2 Kings 18, 2 Chronicles 29, and Isaiah 36).
Around 700 years before the birth of Jesus, Israel fell to the Assyrians and yet Judah had remained independent. It was during this time when Hezekiah became king at the age of 25. He ruled for 29 years. Hezekiah’s father was wicked. He followed the ways of the wicked people around them – worshiping their gods which included a brutal practice of sacrificing their children.
Yet Hezekiah was different. He began removing all of the items used to worship the false gods. Child sacrifice was abolished. 2 Chronicles 29:3-10 says the following:
In the first month of the first year of his reign, he opened the doors of the temple of the Lord and repaired them. He brought in the priests… and said: “Listen to me! Consecrate yourselves now and consecrate the temple of the Lord, the God of your ancestors…. Our parents were unfaithful; they did evil in the eyes of the Lord our God and forsook him…. Now I intend to make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, so that his fierce anger will turn away from us. My sons, do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before him and serve him, to minister before him…”
As soon as he had the opportunity (in the first month of his first year), he changed the trajectory of his life and his nation from where his dad had been going. The story continues with Hezekiah reinstating worship at the Temple and even celebrating the Passover holiday. Because of his covenant with God – choosing to commit himself and his decisions to God – Hezekiah began applying the Word of God to his life and to the lives of his people.
1. Forget resolutions!
Make a covenant (commit yourself and your decisions to God).
Throughout the story of Hezekiah, he called the people of Judah to return to the Lord. Over and over he used the phrase: “return.”
If you return to the Lord, then your fellow Israelites and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will return to this land, for the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.” – 2 Chronicles 30:9
2. Return to God and/or trust God in every aspect of life.
In the midst of this is a really remarkable phrase describing Hezekiah:
Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. – 2 Kings 18:5-7
Hezekiah made a covenant with God, an agreement with God. He chose to commit himself and his decisions to God. In doing so, he experienced the full blessing of God. If we stopped there, we would end up being disappointed quite quickly in God if we think: “If I just promise God I will do better, then he will give me success.” We should aspire towards a life described as successful in all that we do, but we have to remember what success in the Scriptures really means.
We think of success as the opposite of failure or the absence of hardship. We define success in our dictionary as “the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.” The Hebrew word used to describe Hezekiah means “to be prudent, be circumspect, wisely understand, prosper.”
3. Redefine success.
Success means making wise choices no matter what circumstances we face.
Hezekiah made wise choices. The reason the trajectory of his life was so different than his father’s life was a direct result of his willingness to make sacrifices in his relationship with God. Wisdom is not some magical way of knowing the future. Wisdom is the ability to connect cause and effect (see Uprising by Erwin McManus). Hezekiah understood that when he made his relationship with God his priority, everything else came together.
When we begin to see the Scriptures as a portal into God’s presence, as a way to understand who God is and what He has for us – our lives will never be the same. The Bible is filled with examples to follow and examples to avoid. When we read the Bible, seek to understand what was happening, and then apply what we are reading to our lives – we will be amazed at the change we experience.
4. Seek God through the Scriptures.
Hezekiah experienced the kind of life we do not have to just imagine or hope for, but the kind of life we can experience starting now in this new year.
Hezekiah removed the things from his life and from his nation that were pointing towards false gods. He removed the things that distracted from the One True God. The result was spiritual awakening!
5. Make the sacrifices to remove the distractions necessary to focus on God.
Hezekiah did not just make temporary and surface level changes like we so often do in the new year. We resolve to do something that we stop doing after a couple of weeks. Rather than making a resolution, he made a covenant with God. He committed himself and his actions to God.
So if Hezekiah was successful in all that he did, then everything went well for him, right?
Hezekiah faced some tremendous challenges in his life. Hezekiah had two moments in his life when his prayers created a new future! Like the new Star Trek movies or the TV show LOST, Hezekiah was able to create a better alternative reality because of his relationship with God.
The Assyrians had never been defeated, and now they threatened Hezekiah and his people. Fear was rampant. The Assyrian field commander shouted out threats. He promised destruction and tried to entice Hezekiah’s top men to betray him. He shouted so that all the people of Judah could hear:
Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me…. Choose life and not death! “Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ – 2 Kings 18:31-32
Hezekiah turned to the Lord for help. He had made a covenant with God. He had surrendered himself and his decisions to God. Now Hezekiah tore his robes and put on sackcloth (a sign of desperation to God and to those who saw Him). He went to the Temple, and he prayed. The end of his prayer included this line:
Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God. – Isaiah 37:20
Hezekiah had come to the place where he asked God to answer his prayer not just to help him and not even just to help his people but to help others he didn’t know. Sometimes our prayers aren’t answered because we aren’t desperate enough. Other times, our prayers aren’t answered because they are too self-centered. Do you pray for others? Do you pray for your enemies? Do you see how God wants to do good in your life AND through your life?!
6. Seek God with desperation and in a selfless way.
After this desperate and selfless prayer, God responded in a most amazing way:
I will protect you. “Because you have prayed to me….” – Isaiah 37:21
Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God’s message of protection continues and ends with this explanation: Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass. – Isaiah 37:26
Now this is a bit mind bending, but this is a moment in the Bible when God’s sovereignty (His plan) interacts in a dynamic way with man’s free will (our plan). The passage seems to be saying: “God had planned to stop the violence of the Assyrians in the future. It has already been planned. It is going to happen, but because of Hezekiah’s prayer God fast forwarded into the future. Their violence against Judah would end now because of Hezekiah’s prayer.”
Is it possible God’s plan can be altered by our prayers and our behavior?
God’s overriding plan will happen, yet there is freedom and flexibility over His specific plan.
Another moment in the Bible, God makes this statement:
And if I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. – Jeremiah 18:9-10
Is it possible God has good intended for us that we could miss? God has good just waiting for us, but we must choose to go down the path He has for us to experience it.
God wants us to experience the fullness of life and freedom and to help others do the same. He offers this to us freely, but He doesn’t force us. He wants to work through us, but if we refuse or debate or delay, He will work through someone else and we will miss that moment and all that comes with a life fully surrendered to Him.
What good from God are you missing because of your choices? What good from God are you missing because you haven’t been desperate enough? What good from God are you missing because your view of life has remained too self-centered? What good from God are you missing because you haven’t even asked?
Is it possible your memories of the past are slowing you down from a better future? Either good memories or bad memories may be holding you back. 2012 was the end of the Mayan calendar – the end of an era. That means 2013 is our chance to start over! We can experience a better future once we make the choices necessary to head into a new direction. What are you willing to sacrifice to put yourself on a new trajectory?
Maybe you need to leave your pride in 2012? Maybe you have been too proud to ask others to help or too proud to follow someone else or too proud to serve others? Maybe you need to leave your bitterness towards someone in 2012? You’ve allowed the past to haunt your present and ruin your future.
7. Don’t allow your past to haunt your present and ruin your future.
What do you need to leave in 2012 so that it won’t ruin 2013? What is the wisest next step for you?