For a Truly Happy New Year

For a Truly Happy New Year

(Psalm 16:11)
by Bob Burridge ©2019

At this time of the year we commonly wish one another a “Happy New Year“. We believe we know when we are happy and when we are not. But it’s not easy to understand what causes those feelings in others, or even in ourselves. We’re complicated creatures. Sometimes the same things that cause one person to feel happy are unpleasant to others. Sometimes the things that make us feel happy change. People might get everything they think they want, but still they don’t really feel satisfied or joyful.

Often what we believe is “happiness” is really just the temporary feeling we get when we’re busy doing things or thinking things that block out problems from our minds for awhile. This makes me think of that hit song back in the 1960s by the Rolling Stones which said “I can’t get no satisfaction — ’cause I try, and I try”. Ignoring the double-negative, it was about how having things or doing things people say are good, will not really satisfy us.

Though happiness can mean different things to different people at different times, when a new year starts we’re quick to wish one another happiness. We want the new year to include an inward satisfaction and the feeling of joy, gladness, and peace. We wish for them to feel those outward satisfactions of prosperity, and good circumstances. The New Year is often seen as a fresh beginning with resolutions to correct our shortcomings, bad choices, and faults. Certainly these are not bad things to wish someone.

The tragedy in our traditional greeting is that most people don’t really understand what will bring that inward happiness they long for. They have no promise on which to base their hope of happiness, and they know of no power that can assure them that real happiness can be found.

It’s pure fantasy to imagine that by our own power of resolution we will be able to do this year what so far we’ve failed to do, or that this year will bring what all of history shows never comes. There is no year free from adversity, challenges, or when we get everything we want.

A survey once showed that fewer than half of Americans will even bother to make resolutions for the new year. They know they only end up on the trash heap of past broken resolutions.

The Bible talks a lot about real happiness and the feeling of joy.
Psalm 16:11 is a prayer to God saying, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

The word translated as “joy” in that verse is the Hebrew word “simkhah” (שׂמחה). Basically it means: “joy, gladness, mirth” (Brown, Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon). Simkhah is the inner part of happiness, the part that makes our circumstances bearable. It can even bring a sense of inner joy in the midst of whatever we may be dealing with.

God has clearly promised that his people
can have joy and happiness.

The joy built into our race at creation was lost when mankind fell into sin. Adam represented the whole human race. When he sinned he brought the guilt of sin upon us all. That guilt interrupted our communion with God and our ability to see things as they really are. We aren’t able to fully perceive the evidences of the wonder and glory of God displayed in what’s happening around us. But in mercy God didn’t choose to leave all of mankind to what they deserve. He sent the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to represent his people taking their place in suffering and death, and to restore them to fellowship with their Creator. He came to open their eyes to see more of what’s really there.

God promised to restore that lost joy back into the lives of true believers. It’s an inner blessing he pledges to all his children. Though the Bible uses several synonyms in its original languages of Hebrew and Greek when talking about those feelings of joy, happiness, and gladness, the promise of God is very clear.

There is joy in the confident assurance of restored righteous with which we are clothed by grace through the promised Savior. Proverbs 10:28 assures us that, “The hope of the righteous brings joy …”.

Of course those restored to righteousness in Christ are not without sin during their life here on Earth. They sadly admit their sins, but they also trust in the Savior to remove their guilt, and to restore them to fellowship with God. Scripture makes it very clear that they are the ones who can experience this inward genuine joy.

The Psalms are ancient expressions of worship and praise to God. We would expect to see the theme of joy all through the Psalms. That’s exactly what we find there. Here are a few examples from that book of Scripture.
– Psalm 4:7 “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.”
– Psalm 5:11 “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy…”
– Psalm 51:12 “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
– Psalm 97:12 “Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!”
– Psalm 100:1-2 “… Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!”
– Psalm 118:24 “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Jesus also repeated the promise of real inner joy which he bestows upon his people.
– John 15:11 “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
– John 16:24 “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
– John 17:13 “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”
It was clearly our Savior’s mission to restore his people to union with God. He makes them able to know again the joy the Father promised.

God doesn’t only promise joy, he also supplies the power to make us joyful.
The world expects to find joy by getting the outward things and situations people want. Then when we have those good feelings we will be motivated to live in a good and loving way. That turns everything backwards from the way God made them to be. Good circumstances are not the power that produces good feelings and good behavior.

God tells us that we first need to have our spirit renewed through salvation by Jesus Christ. This makes us able to obey and live honorably. When we humbly and thankfully honor God for his work of grace in us, we should expect that God will grant the blessing of inner joy. It’s that salvation by grace which produces thankful obedience which then makes us perceive the feeling of inner joy. Every good part of our lives is rooted in God’s Saving Grace.

Joy is part of the fruit the Holy Spirit produces in God’s people (Galatians 5:22). The Holy Spirit is the power by which true joy comes. This means that joy is promised to each person who sincerely trusts in Christ, in his promises, and in the salvation he secured.

The worldly mind sees religion as a bunch of rules and rituals that limit our joy. Modern writers present the Pilgrims and the Puritans as being grim and joyless, but their own writings and records show otherwise. Why should history books present such a dishonest view of history? The world imagines there could be no joy in putting God first. It finds joy by indulging in sin, and by putting ourselves and our own desires first. But the opposite is true. Only when we are restored to fellowship with God in Christ can there really be any hope of a happy new year.

How can we bring true God-generated happiness into the lives around us for the New Year?
1. Offer them the true way to happiness. Many who hope for a happy new year are still lost in sin. They still depend on the world’s way to find joy through outward things. That way will always fail. Its a tragic illusion.

Only when a person is restored to fellowship with God through Christ can he have the kind of joy he was created to delight in. The Bible’s promise showing us how to find true joy should be our message in this season. We should help others to sincerely and humbly trust in the price Jesus paid for their guilt. That’s the only source of real joy,

Make sure those you wish a “Happy New Year” know the power of salvation through faith in Christ. Only in him can real happiness be expected.

2. Encourage them to practice hoping in the promises of God. If our thoughts are not grounded in God’s word and promises, we have no sound foundation to expect a joyful new year. Those who still look to circumstances as the cause of joy miss the power of the gospel.

God enables us to experience joy even in difficult circumstances. When King David was running for his life from armies trying to kill him, he was still able to express inner joy: He wrote in Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

When David hid in the sand blasted hills of the wilderness the caves were hot, dangerous, and harsh. Armies searched to kill him. Yet in Psalm 63 he made his continuing joy in those bad circumstances very clear. He wrote, “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips.” (63:5), “for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” (63:7), “the king shall rejoice in God” (63:11). In each of these places he used that Hebrew word “simkhah” to describe his joy.

Paul and Barnabas were persecuted and expelled violently from Antioch. In spite of these horrible circumstances, Acts 13:52 says that as they left the city they were “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

Later, when Paul waited under house arrest in Rome he looked back on his past months held in various jails on false charges. H remembered the beatings, the lies, the nights in dark cells, and the stormy trip to Rome on a prison ship that crashed in the Mediterranean nearly killing him. There in prison he wrote letters to the churches. In those letters he didn’t complain and moan about his terrible treatment and tragic circumstances. He wrote a most encouraging letter about inward joy and peace to the church at Philippi.

How sad that the world imagines that joy depends on our circumstances. When we face the little tragedies we know will come, when life’s complications seem like too much to bear, we need to remember that real joy is independent of circumstances.

Paul reminded the Philippians in 4:8 to think on the blessings and promises of God. Let these good things fill your minds and you will have joy unspeakable.

3. Encourage them to live thankfully. Godly living is essential for enjoying God’s blessings in this life, but our obedience should not be viewed pridefully, or as a way for us to get more things. Obeying should be our thankful recognition that God deserves our honor. Godly living is not our own accomplishment. It’s produced in us by God’s grace in Christ.

Make sure your wish of happiness in the new year includes encouragement to obey God humbly and thankfully, and a reminder to look behind our obedience to remember the grace of God in Christ which produces it in us.

The joy God offers in his work of grace comes by his promise and what was secured for us by our Savior. It’s produced in us by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us to generate that inner joy. That kind of joy supports us through all the circumstances the new year may bring.

If we make resolutions for the new year, they should include the following:
restoration of our lives by being transformed by the work of our Savior, and the continuing power of the Holy Spirit.
renovation of our lives to live under the guidance of the principles God has given us in his word.
reformation of the focus of our lives to be sincerely thankful to God for all our blessings and joy.

The New Year is filled with unknowns. But one known fact is that in Christ there is the promise of true joy. He empowers us to rejoice even in hard times. The best wish of New Year Happiness is a prayerful desire that God would cause our loved ones, friends, and ourselves to grow in these attitudes of thankfully honoring our Lord as we’re enabled by his power and grace. Confidently expect that God will be true to his word.

(Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)

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