By D. Stuart Briscoe
Have you ever wondered how many seconds in this year you’ll be unhappy? Have you ever thought how much can happen in a second? When you say, “Happy New Year!” you’re saying a remarkable thing. If we’re going to talk about having a happy new year, there are a few things we need to bear in mind.
We’re not always sure what happiness is.
For a lot of people, happiness depends on their happenings. If their happenings don’t happen the way they want them to happen, they’re unhappy! Some people spend their time organizing their happenings to make sure everything happens the way they want it to happen. The assumption is this: if they can make everything happen the way they want, they’ll be happy. There are two problems with that: you can’t do it; even if you could, you’d probably be bored.
Alexander the Great got everything his way. He conquered everything and then sat down to cry, because he was so young and there was nothing left to conquer. For people who get everything they want, life is good. They have everything, and they don’t know what to do with it.
The Greeks had a word for happiness: makarios. This word described what they perceived as being the experience of the gods. The Greeks had lots of gods, and the gods were sort of magnified human beings; they had all the failings of human beings and all the strengths. For Greeks, the idea of the gods was that they had everything made. The word makarios found its way into the New Testament, and it is translated “blessed” or “happy.”
Jesus picked up on this word, and said some stuff that will absolutely blow your mind. Listen to what he said:
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.
Jesus is saying that happiness, or makarios—having everything just wonderful—comes not from having everything; it can come through being poor, through mourning, through hungering, through thirsting. It can come through being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. That’s exactly the opposite of what we think is the road to happiness.
So Happy New Year! But remember two things. Define happiness correctly. Happiness is not just getting all your happenings to happen the way you want them to happen. Secondly, make certain you’re thinking through all the possibilities of this year. You’ve got to reckon that you may not always be able to control them.
There’s a time for everything.
With that in mind, let’s turn to a passage from Ecclesiastes.
“There’s a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.”
In Hebrew, this is poetry. Translators picked up on the repetition of the word “time.” There’s a rhythm to it that’s not accidental. It gives the reader a feeling of time going on relentlessly. The poet says there is a year full of seconds stretching ahead of us. When we begin to think of being happy in this new year, we’ve got to reckon that this year will be full of inevitable and irresistible events.
One of the great myths about humanity is that we are in charge. It is a most pernicious myth, because nothing could be further from the truth. I can prove it to you very simply. The second verse of this passage says, “There’s a time to be born and a time to die.” Those are the two biggest events of our experience, and both of them are totally outside our control. We are not masters of our own destiny.
It only takes a second for irresistible, inevitable circumstances to occur. If we’re trying to organize these circumstances—if our happiness depends on things happening the way we want them to happen—we have our work cut out for us. How on earth are we going to make sure we never mourn and always dance? How can we make sure we always laugh but never weep? Unfortunately, we can’t do it.
Burdens direct us to God.
In Ecclesiastes 3:9–10, we read, “What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men.” Now the writer has a very keen eye for what’s going on, and he has a very deep faith. He’s a fascinating fellow, because he marries a jaundiced, skeptical view of life to a deep faith in God. That’s a healthy combination. As he does this, he says: I have looked at the way people are living, and I’ve looked at the way I’ve lived my life. There are a lot of inevitable, irresistible things happening there, and this is really burdensome to men.
What’s the nature of the burden? There are things we cannot regulate, and things from which we cannot escape. Why would God put that burden upon us? Because God allows the circumstances of life to help us recognize there is something greater and grander and richer about life. That burden is upon us in order to make us aware of the transcendent. In verse 14 the writer explains, “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.”
When people recognize the frailty of their humanity and the limitations of their own ingenuity, when men and women recognize they cannot regulate or escape the irresistible, inevitable factors of life, God is waiting. He says: Hey, look this way a minute. How about me? How about recognizing that if there’s any sense, if there’s any rhyme, if there’s any reason to life, it’s because there is a transcendent God who is working in these circumstances so that the greater good might be resolved.
If nothing transcends the circumstances of life, if this life is all we’ve got and we can only find happiness by manipulating and escaping irresistible, inevitable events, we’ll wear ourselves out. That’s the tragedy of our society today. We are becoming blatant secularists in outlook. We have forgotten that we can turn to God and learn to revere him. We can’t handle ourselves in the immensity and the awesomeness of life. We cannot escape or regulate this burden. And that’s just the point. The reason for the burden is that we might learn to revere God.
God has done two other things. Verse 11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” There are two reasons, then, why we would turn to him: God’s Word tells us there is a beauty in all the things that happen in time, and God has set eternity in people’s hearts.
When I begin to recognize that God can work in and through and despite all the irresistible, inevitable things of life, I realize the possibility of a deeply rooted sense of well-being far greater than the superficial happiness that comes from having things happen the way you want them to happen. If I can learn to revere God and begin to recognize that he can bring a certain beauty into all the circumstances of life, there’s hope for a happy new year.
God laid aside his glory, stepped down from his throne, and assumed our humanity. He lived with our pain and circumstances and learned to laugh and mourn, weep and dance. God shared our life. God is not remote and untouched. He is a God who loves us so much he comes right alongside and says: I understand; I care; I know. Trust me. Revere me and discover in me real joy.
Those are the ingredients of a happy New Year, as I understand them from Scripture. Happy New Year!
Stuart Briscoe was born in the north of England in 1930. After leaving school, he embarked on a banking career, served in the Royal Marines during the Korean War, and at 17 years of age, preached his first sermon. Since that time, Stuart has ministered on every continent, written more than 40 books, pastored a church for 30 years, and founded a media ministry called Telling the Truth which now broadcasts daily worldwide. He has been married to Jill for more than 55 years and has three children and thirteen grandchildren.