Tomorrow we will enter the year 2019.
It doesn’t matter how bad the previous year is, at New Year’s we all hope for better. It’s a time for confetti and champagne and resolutions and hope. It’s funny really. We’ve picked an arbitrary day from our calendar year and agreed to designate it as the day we all make believe everything is going to be okay. Everything is starting over. Everything is fresh and new. Somehow, we will all be changed when the ball drops in Times Square.
What does January 1, 2019, really tell us? This date has come 2019 times since the year of our Lord–and thousands of times before that. If anything, New Year’s Day should be a depressing thing. After an entire year of hard work, trials, and challenges, we have managed to arrive in the very same place we were 365 days ago.
New Year’s Day is our annual reminder that we are all riding a big, blue merry-go-round called Earth.
This is the time of year when people try to recapture a sense of purpose: “I want to make 2019 count.” We make resolutions, committing to pour time and effort into all kinds of human endeavors. Weight loss. Saving. More me time. More reading. Find love. New career.
But can any of these bring deep, abiding, ultimate meaning to our fleeting lives?
The Search for Eternal Meaning.
This is the foundational question behind the book of Ecclesiastes. What brings eternal meaning to the lives of creatures who ride this merry-go-round maybe seventy or eighty times around, and then *POOF* gone?
The author of Ecclesiastes, who calls himself The Preacher, the son of David—if that isn’t a loaded term!—examines every New Year’s Resolution out there:
I sought out every human endeavor, to get to the bottom of it. Could it give my life meaning? I tried getting super smart. I studied and read and filled my head with all kinds of wisdom. But then I realized something: Smart guys and foolish guys all die and are forgotten just the same.
So I poured myself into my work. I built a kingdom and amassed all kinds of wealth and businesses and stock options and mansions and bought out the Apple store. But then I realized something: I will leave this world the same way I entered it, naked as I came. All this wealth I will leave behind for someone else.
So I poured myself into pleasure. I had relationships and parties and pampered myself with luxury and leisure and vacations and expensive foods. But it never seemed to satisfy: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing” (1:8). No matter how much I saw, my eyes wanted more. No matter how much I fed my appetites with pleasure, I always woke up in the morning hungry again.
In Ecclesiastes 3, the Preacher realizes why we are so frustrated in all these vain endeavors: “God has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecc. 3:11). There is a great chasm in our hearts that can only be filled by something eternal, infinite, and enduring. No house on earth—no exercise gym, no bank, no shopping mall, no corporation, no university, no social media app—can fill that black hole. For eternal purpose, we must go to the house of God.
The Preacher writes,
“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2)
The search for eternal meaning ends at the house of God, and it begins with living reverently. “Guard your steps,” he says. Consider whose house you are approaching. Ponder the way. Walk slowly. Think about his holiness, his glory, his righteousness, his infinite power and majesty.
Reverence begins with listening: “To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools.” We don’t barge into the presence of God. We don’t let ourselves in. We don’t crash the party. This is the house of the King and Lord of the universe. It is a house where we listen first—and praise, give, work, worship, pray, serve second. Reverence begins with our ears.
A fool’s sacrifice is the height of irreverence. A fool thinks God is obligated to receive his offering. A fool thinks God is not jealous of all his worship. A fool thinks God is just “happy we came”. A fool thinks God will not judge his sin. A fool thinks his gift is a substitute for repentance. A fool’s sacrifice actually adds to his offenses against the Almighty God. A fool is ignorant of all of these truths because he does not approach the house of God reverently–he does not listen first.
The Apostle Paul points out the necessity of preaching for reverent living: “And how are they to [listen] without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14). God has ordained the folly of preaching to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21). The most foolish thing you can do in 2019 is to not make listening to the preaching of the gospel a regular, necessary, soul-satisfying weekly habit—because reverent living begins with listening.
Let Your Words Be Few.
Secondly, reverent living means knowing your place. That is the Preacher’s point in verse 2: “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.” You are not God. You will never be God. He is in heaven. You live on a tiny little speck of blue orbiting around a giant blazing ball of fire suspended by his merciful power.
God has not promised to baptize our desires, our plans, our dreams. We don’t enter the house of God like so many T.V. preachers tell us to, giving the Lord orders with a word of faith—“I claim that in the name of Jesus! God, get off your butt and give it to me, now!” God is in heaven, and you are on earth. You exist to serve and worship him, not the other way around. Know your place.
Bow Before the One Seated in the House.
The Lord calls us away from the house of idols, out of the things of earth, and drawn us to the house of God in heaven, where we behold the LORD himself, Jesus Christ, seated on the throne.
This is the summons to repent and believe. Repent. Leave behind the houses of earth where you worshipped false gods, where you satisfied your appetites and desires with sin and wickedness, and left unsatisfied. Believe. Come to the house of God. Draw near reverently; draw near with guarded steps; draw near with a listening ear.
The God of Heaven has by his sheer mercy stooped to become the servant of earthbound humanity, dying in the place of mortal sinners like you and me. As we tip-toe to the House of God and crane our ear to the door, the thing we hear the Almighty God say is this: “Your sins are forgiven, and your Crucified and Risen Savior Jesus now sits on the throne…come and worship.”
May we all live reverently in 2019.