AT THE close of the old year and the beginning of the new year, it is good for us as Christians to take an accounting, to balance our books, so to speak, to note carefully our gains and our losses, and to make plans for the new year, hoping for greater success in our Christian vocation. Thus we can profit from our past failures and be strengthened by our achievements, made by the Lord’s grace. The coming of a new year is a good time to start over, to forget “those things which are behind [including past mistakes and failures], and reaching forth unto those things which are before,” with stronger determination by God’s promised grace to attain our goal (Philippians 3: 13, 14). It is a good thing to make a new start, with holy resolutions, as did God’s servants of old. Note a few examples:
When Jacob was fleeing for his life from the wrath of his brother Esau, God gave him a wonderful dream, and confirmed to him the great Abrahamic Covenant, saying, among other things, “In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 28: 14). To Jacob it was a hallowed place and experience. He erected a monument there, calling the name of the place Beth-el (House of God); and he made certain vows unto God (Genesis 28: 16-22).
After Jacob had gone through many adverse experiences, in connection with Laban, his brother Esau and with the defiling of his daughter Dinah and the treachery of his sons (Genesis 34), God gave him, as it were, a new start. He told him to “Arise, go up to Beth-el, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother” (Genesis 35: 1). In making proper preparation for this renewed approach unto God, “Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: and let us arise, and go up to Beth-el; and I will make there an altar unto God” (vs. 2, 3). It was here again at Beth-el, that God renewed His covenant with Jacob, and confirmed his new name: “Thy name shall not be called any more Jacob [supplanter], but Israel [a prince of God, or ruling with God]” (v. 10, comp. 32: 28). Jacob erected another pillar in memory of the sacred occasion; “and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon” (v. 14), for God spoke with him there. What a wonderful new start and strengthening Jacob there received for his future trials!
God also gave a fresh start to Moses. Some might think of the first 80 years of his life as a failure. At 40 he resigned his title to the throne of Egypt, then the greatest nation in the world; he “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (Hebrews 11: 24). Though “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds” (Acts 7: 22), he chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God,” and esteemed “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11: 25, 26). But his own people, then enslaved, rejected him, so he fled from Egypt to save his life. Then in the desert country of Midian, he spent his next 40 years feeding and caring for sheep.
He probably became very disillusioned, and perhaps disappointed, thinking that his life was more or less a failure. At one time he thought he could lead the children of Israel out of their bondage, but now he trembled at the thought and made many excuses. But God encouraged him and assured him of success, giving him all the help that could be asked for (Exodus 3; 4). At 80 Moses made a new start, and with God’s promised help prevailed in freeing His people and leading them through many trialsome experiences, to Caanan, the promised land.
Samson made many mistakes, as a result of which his hair was cut off in his sleep, his Nazarite relationship with God was broken, his strength went from him, his eyes were put out, he was bound and imprisoned and made to grind corn for his and God’s enemies, while they made sport of him and dishonored his God. Thus for a time God’s favor “departed from him” (Judges 16: 20).
With the passing of time Samson’s hair began to grow again (v. 22). On one occasion the Philistines gathered “to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god” (v. 23); and they called for Samson, and set him between the pillars that supported the building, that he might make sport for them. The lad that led him in his blindness, showed him, at his request, the pillars. Then Samson prayed, “O LORD God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes” (v. 28). God answered his prayer and gave him the needed strength. The two supporting pillars gave way, and thousands were killed. “So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life” (v. 30). Samson reasserted his loyalty to God and died gloriously after earlier failures in his life.
God told Jonah to “Arise, go to Ninevah, that great city, and cry against it” (Jonah 1: 2). But Jonah disobeyed God; he evaded the issue by boarding a ship going to Tarshish, which was in the opposite direction. He paid his fare, went down into the hold and went to sleep. God then “sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken” (v. 4). When Jonah was finally discovered, awakened and questioned, he confessed, recognized that God was punishing him, and told the others that if they would take him up and cast him into the sea, all would be well (v. 12). This was done, and the sea became quiet; whereupon the men turned unto the true God.
Jonah made a miserable failure, however, God in his mercy gave him a second chance, and a new start, and Jonah did better: “And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Ninevah, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. So Jonah arose, and [obediently] went unto Ninevah, according to the word of the LORD” (Jonah 3: 1-3). And what a wonderful success he had! Ninevah also repented, and God gave to them also a new start (Jonah 3: 5-10).
Simon Peter also needed to make a new start. He made a very grievous mistake. After Jesus was arrested, Peter, despite his determination never to be offended because of His Master, was under difficult circumstances overcome with fear and denied three times that he ever knew Jesus (Matthew 26: 33, 69-75). He was crushed over his failure and wept bitterly. But Jesus freely forgave him; and after three times testing him with questions as to his love, Jesus restored Peter to the Apostleship and the feeding of His lambs and sheep (John 21: 15-17). Peter was given a new start. Soon thereafter the Lord greatly blessed his ministry, starting at Pentecost, when about 3,000 were added to the church.
Finally, note the wrong course pursued by Saul of Tarsus, who consented to the stoning to death of Stephen and “made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling [dragging] men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8: 1-3; 9: 1, 2). Though once “ignorantly in unbelief” he was “a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious,” Paul (his new name) “obtained mercy” and “the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1: 13, 14). With his corrected course of action Paul became the greatest of all the Apostles and was given the privilege of writing most of the New Testament. He was given a new start.
As we enter the new year God graciously gives us an opportunity to profit by past mistakes and to strive to do better. Let us then at the beginning of the new year make a new start. Despite the frailties of our flesh and mistakes already made and yet to be made, let us make new resolutions and earnestly endeavor to carry them out. Thus we will ever and constantly attain to greater heights and go on from victory to victory, and from glory to glory, in the strength of the Lord.