Is calling this year “2023” a bit presumptuous?

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Is calling this year “2023” a bit presumptuous?

January 3, 2023 - Jim Denison, PhD

A construction crew lowers a 3 in order to create 2023. © By BillionPhotos.com/stock.adobe.com

A construction crew lowers a 3 in order to create 2023. © By BillionPhotos.com/stock.adobe.com

A construction crew lowers a 3 in order to create 2023. © By BillionPhotos.com/stock.adobe.com

This is the first time I have typed the number “2023” in an article this year. (By the time you read these words, I will have written three Daily Articles in the new year for Denison Forum, but I’m writing this column ahead of time due to travel demands.)

As I type those four numbers, the thought occurs to me that doing so is a bit presumptuous. Who are we to “name” a year? It is God who created the first day (Genesis 1:5) and every day since, not us. It is God who “changes times and seasons” (Daniel 2:21), not us.

I recognize the practical necessity of assigning numbers to years, but I wonder if there’s not something more at work here, a factor that relates directly to our pastoral ministries and personal lives.

Billy Graham was right

After God “formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens” (Genesis 2:19a), he then “brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (v. 19b). Commentators typically note that this act established the authority of Adam and humanity over the other animals.

From then to now, naming things (and years) has been a way we seek to control what we name.

Parents give their children names that will follow (and somewhat characterize) them for the rest of their lives. People often assign nicknames to people they did not have the opportunity to name. Astronomers consider naming a newly discovered star or planet to be a great honor. We want to know the names of stars, plants, and animals, though the stars, plants, and animals in question are rather oblivious to the exercise.

All of this is in part an expression of what Friedrich Nietzsche called the “will the power,” the basic drive in all humans to gain control and authority in life. And the less actual control we have, the more apparent control we seem to seek.

2023 is a case in point.

You and I have no real idea what the economy will do this year, or whether the pandemic (or another pandemic) will wreak havoc again. We don’t know if winter weather will be mild or devastating, whether hurricanes will be few or frequent, or whether earthquakes will be slight or major.

We don’t know if the Lord will return to our world this year or if you or I will go first to him. All we really know about that day is that we are one day closer to it than ever before. And all we really know about this day we call “January 3, 2023” is that this is the only day we have.

Billy Graham was right: “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”

A dash between two dates

So, when we say or write the numbers “2023” this year, let’s reframe them as an opportunity for submission to our Lord and intercession for our lives and world. Let’s begin each day by surrendering that day to the “filling” and control of his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) that he might lead, empower, and use us that day. Let’s walk through the day in communion with our Lord, practicing his presence in our thoughts, words, prayers, and actions.

Let’s look at our lives not as a line on a page but as a dash between two dates—the date we entered this world and the day we will enter the next (if the Lord tarries). And let’s live that “dash” as fully as we can to the honor and glory of our Lord.

As pastors, let’s hold loosely the ministries we have been given, recognizing that humans cannot accomplish anything eternal in human capacity. We cannot convict a single sinner of a single sin or save a single soul. We cannot heal a marriage or repair a home. We cannot bring the spiritual awakening our culture needs so desperately. None of us can do what only the Spirit can do.

By his grace, our Father chooses to use us as his children. But what we call “our” church is actually his (Matthew 16:18). What we call “our” abilities and capacities are actually loaned to us for a season to be used for his glory and our good.

The more we remember that each moment, day, and year belongs to our King, the more we are encouraged to do all we can while trusting him for all we cannot do. And the more we are empowered by our submission to our Lord.

You cannot live tomorrow today

My wife and I recently attended a reception along with one of our great heroes of the faith. We have known her for forty years and have marveled all those years at her incredible drive, passion, and focus on her ministry. She gets into her office every day at 4 a.m. and stays until the last person leaves the campus. She is well into her eighties now but continues to work six days a week with no apparent end in sight.

Her secret is simple: she lives one day at a time. She gives very little thought to next week or next year. She feels that she has enough human need to meet and enough divine resource to meet it for this day. When tomorrow comes, we’ll deal with tomorrow, she often says.

She is absolutely right. The simple fact is, you cannot live tomorrow today or today tomorrow.

If we begin every day of “2023” by remembering that “this is the day that the Lᴏʀᴅ has made” (Psalm 118:24a), we can then say, “let us rejoice and be glad in it” (v 24b).

Are you “glad” in it today?

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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