Well, Christmas has come and gone, it was a time of joy, love, giving and excitement.

  1. The shopping is over except for a few sales, and those who are exchanging Christmas gifts.
  2. In a few days the decorations will be down and stored away for next year.
  3. Now we turn our attention to the New Year and the reality of our daily lives.  It’s time for recalling the accomplishments and failures of the past year.  TV and magazines will be running articles about what happened in 2012.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that each year almost all major news magazines put out an issue with special pictorial sections recalling people and events that made news during the previous year.

Many magazines also include articles by experts predicting what they expect to see happening in the New Year ahead.  Some even go so far as to make predictions covering 10 ,20 or more years in the future.  In the past a few of these predictions have proven amazingly accurate, while others couldn’t have been more wrong.

For example:  Back in 1967, experts predicted that by the turn of the century, technology would have taken over so much of the work we do that the average American work week would be only 22 hours long, and that we would work only 27 weeks a year.  As a result, one of our biggest problems would be in deciding what to do with all our leisure time.

Well, I don’t know about you but that prediction certainly missed the mark as far as my life was concerned!  In fact, most of us seem to be very busy.  We’re always in a hurry.  We walk fast, talk fast and eat fast and all too often, we stand up and say, “Excuse me. I’ve gotta run.”

So here we are, the first Sunday of 2013.  I wonder how we’ll do this year. Will we be as busy?  Will we make any better use of our time?  In 359 days, when this year is over, will we be looking back with joy or with regret?  Will we be looking at the future with anticipation or with dread?

There is a passage of Scripture that I believe can be of help to us as we look forward to the rest of 2013, if we’ll listen to it.  The passage is Ephesians 5:15-17, here is what it says, “Be very careful then, how you live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

I think in this passage the Apostle Paul presents some important lessons that we need to consider.

  1. OUR TIME ON THIS EARTH IS LIMITED

First of all, we must be careful how we live because our time on this earth is limited.

The Psalmist wrote, “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.” (Psalm 39:4)  And again, “The length of our days is 70 or 80, if we have the strength…they quickly pass, and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10)

Now,  I realize that for some of you younger folk, 70 or 80 years sounds lake a long, long time.  In fact, I can remember when I thought anyone over 40 was ancient, but no longer.  It is all relative, right?

For example:  For teenagers in love talking together in the car, an hour or two seems like a blink of an eye.  But for Mom and Dad worrying about what’s going on out in that car, an hour or two seems like an eternity.

Second, the Psalmist also tells us to number our days so that we will develop a heart of wisdom.

A few years ago, People Magazine published an article entitled “Dead Ahead” telling about a new clock that keeps track of how much time you have left to live.  It calculates an average life span of 75 years for men and 80 years for women.  So you program sex and age into the clock, and from then on it will tell you how much time you have left.  It sold for $99.95.  I did’nt buy one, but it is an intriguing idea.  Isn’t that what the Psalmist told us to do to number our days?

In fact, the Bible tells us not to count on tomorrow because tomorrow may not come for you or for me.  All we have is right now.  So our time on this earth is valuable because it is very limited.

2.  MAKE THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY

Paul tells us that we must make “the most of every opportunity.”  And he gives a reason, “because the days are evil.”

Jesus said that Satan is a robber, a thief and one of the things he tries to rob from us is our time because time is a very precious possession.  Just think of the time wasted in sinning.  Think of the time wasted in bars or in gambling casinos or shallow affairs.  Think of the time wasted in gossiping or spreading rumors.  Or think about all the time wasted worrying about the consequences of sins we have committed.  Satan is a thief and a robber!

Jesus went to the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He sat down to teach, and Mary was sitting at His feet just soaking in every word.  Meanwhile, Martha was out in the kitchen preparing dinner.  The story is found in Luke 10.  Martha gets upset because Mary is not helping her and so she complains to Jesus.  She says, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me.”  Jesus answers, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:40-42)

Now was Martha committing a sin by fixing a meal in the kitchen?  No of course not!  But here is the problem, she was so preoccupied with what she was doing that she didn’t realize the importance of what was in her own living room – GOD!

That’s the same mistake you and I make almost every day.  We get caught up in the here and now so we fail to deal with the eternal, the things that will last forever and ever.

Richard Swenson, a medical doctor, wrote a book in which he discusses one of the major maladies of our time – anxiety and stress.  He calls it “overload” and says that people are just plain overloaded.

  1. We’re overloaded with commitments. We’ve committed ourselves to go here and there, to take part in this activity and that social function.  As a result, we soon begin meeting ourselves in the area of commitments.
  2. We’re also overloaded with possessions, he says.  Our closets are full, and our garages are overflowing. We’ve gone into debt to pay for all of these things that we “simply must have.”  And now we’re afraid that someone will steal them.  We are overloaded in the area of possessions.
  3. We have an overload in the area of work.  We get up early, fight traffic to get to work on time because we have too, if we’re going to pay for all that stuff we’ve accumulated.
  4. There is also an information overload.  He said that as a doctor he reads 220 articles a month just to keep up with all the changes in his profession.  Now with the internet, there’s an information superhighway.  The problem is we can’t possibly absorb it all, so we feel an overload in this area, too.

Summary:  Well, I could go on and on, but you get the picture.  There are so many demands on our time, so many good things that need to be done.  But there are just so many hours in this year, and we’ve already used some of them.  We want to make the most of every opportunity, so what are we to do?

3.  UNDERSTAND WHAT THE LORD’S WILL IS

Paul tells us, “…do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

Now, what do you think God’s will is for you in this New Year?  Do you think He wants your mind so saturated with worries and anxieties that you can’t think spiritual thoughts?  Do you think He wants your calendar so crowded that you don’t have time for the important things?  What do you think God’s will is for you this year?

Let me make a couple of suggestions for you to consider.  First of all, establish your priorities.

  1. I’m assuming that since you’re listening this morning that you believe God should be a part of your life.  You have to decide just where He stands in your life.  So ask yourself, “Who or what is most important in my life?”  I’m hoping your answer will be, “My relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, is most important to me.”  Then put this at the top of your list of priorities, and say, “This will affect my decisions, my scheduling, my relationship with others, and my whole outlook on life.” Therefore, when Sunday rolls around neither rain nor shine nor football kickoffs or tee times will interfere with my being in church, because he comes first in my life.  I’ll worship the Lord and nothing will interfere with that.”
  2. You also need to schedule some definite time each day to pray and to read His Word.  Pray for yourself and for your family and for people around you.  Pray for the church, and for  missionaries.  Sometimes they feel so alone and so far away.  You’ll never know how much your prayers will mean to them.  But you’ll be blessed as you grow in your faith and trust in the Lord!
  3. You must spend time with your family.  Every husband here ought to have a date night with his wife.  A time when just the two of you get away with nothing else to interfere. No telephones, no interruptions, just the two of you talking to each other.  Maybe a nice restaurant or maybe at home, wherever it is,  just spend some time together.  Spend time with your children, too, they’re growing up fast.  These are precious moments, don’t let them get away.  Make sure your family is very high on your list.
  4. Now most of us have to work and I think Christians ought to be good workers.  When someone hires a Christian, they ought to know they’re getting someone who will give them an  honest day’s work, and not cheat them. Because we’re Christians, we have a responsibility to the Lord to honor Him even in the marketplace.

The important thing is to establish your priorities.

Next, learn how to live today.  The two greatest enemies of time are regrets for things we did in the past, and anxiety about what will happen to us in the future.  Many of us are living either in the past or in the future.

You know someone said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re making plans to do something else.”  True, isn’t it?  Another year has come and gone.  A new year stretches before us.  Help us Lord, to redeem the time.   So have a happy New Year!

And during the New Year may you have:

Enough happiness to keep you sweet – enough trials to keep you strong,

Enough sorrow to keep you human – enough hope to keep you happy,

Enough failure to keep you humble – enough success to keep you eager,

Enough friends to give you comfort – enough wealth to meet your needs,

Enough enthusiasm – to make each day better than the day before.

Lord, please help us to use the hours of this year the wisest way we can for you, and for your glory.  Romans 13:11,12 says, “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.  So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”