Why does Christmas joy turn so quickly into new-year anxiety?
Often, it’s because what felt like joy at Christmas was not anchored very deeply in Christ after all. He was invited and welcome, on our terms, as we were trying to wrap our fears in paper, hide our trials under the tree, and drown our sorrows in eggnog. We thought it was all about baby Jesus, but we were merely covering our burdens for a couple weeks with lights and garlands and activity. We were too afraid to really trust him and cast our anxieties on him.
Then January 1 comes knocking again — responsibilities to resume, decisions to be made, resolutions to be made and kept, procrastination to be forsaken. Anxiety suddenly casts a dark shadow on our joy, and our hearts struggle to withstand it.
The reason many of us feel so insecure and anxious at the end of another year is that we’ve taken gifts meant to lead us to God, and looked to them for the strength, hope, clarity, and purpose only God can give.
Earnestly I Seek You
When King David found himself with a dry and anxious soul, he knew where to go:
My soul thirsts for you like a parched land. (Psalm 143:6)
At his lowest moments, when the future looked bleak and shaky, David didn’t stuff his anxieties under a new gym membership, fad diet, or another short-lived resolution. He crawled to the only well that had ever truly satisfied, looking to drink deeply of living water. He let suffering and opposition and heartache carry him on a stretcher of weakness to God.
If we let our anxieties and thirsts lead us to God himself, he will graciously provide what we truly need at the beginning of another new year. As David testifies in the rest of the psalm, God will give us strength, but not our own; hope, but at great cost; clarity, but not control; and glory, but not for ourselves.
Strength for the Weary
It may feel like the strength we need most today is measured in meals consumed or minutes slept, but the strength we need most will always be a spiritual power and resolve to persevere through trials and war against sin and temptation.
The enemy has pursued my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground;
he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.
Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled.
I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you. (Psalm 143:3–6)
When David ran out of his own resources — worn out by fear and opposition — he didn’t dig deeper in himself. He stretched out his empty hands to the one who had worked and fought for him so many times before.
Hope for the Sinful
David knows he is not merely a victim of sin committed against him, but that he himself deserves God’s anger — not compassion or support — because of sins he has committed.
Answer me quickly, O Lord!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust. (Psalm 143:7–8)
The secret ingredient to David’s joy is his awareness that a sinful man like him should never get to experience this kind of happiness. God would be righteous to turn away from David, but he delights instead to shower David with steadfast love.
Clarity for the Future
David faced a hundred impossible decisions every day, for sure while he was king, but perhaps even more while on the run. He had to exercise wisdom and discernment at all times, and under incredible pressure in the most dangerous situations.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul. . . .
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground! (Psalm 143:8, 10)
The clarity we need to make difficult decisions today, especially as we enter another year, comes not mainly from meticulous planning or budgeting or scheduling, but from lifting our eyes up to God — knowing him more through what he says (in his word), waiting on him in prayer, deepening our joy in him.
Glory for the Father
The most freeing part of David’s joy in God is that it is not ultimately about him. Part of what makes happiness so elusive is that we’re always tempted to try and put ourselves at the center of it. The deepest human happiness, though, has been liberated from that temptation, and loves instead to hide in and behind the living God.
For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
for I am your servant. (Psalm 143:11–12)
Make your name great through me. Show the world how merciful and generous and powerful you can be. Even when David pleads for deliverance and safety, he wants God, not David, to be glorified. He wants his people (and his enemies) to see that God did it. Do you regularly ask God to move in your life — your relationships, your neighborhood, your ministry, your work — in ways that magnify him, and not you? If his greatest glory is our greatest joy, we’ll begin to pray more like David prays.
The end of the year is a great time to remember why we exist, and to re-center our lives practically around that one great purpose. If you’ve found yourself drifting away from God and an appetite for his glory, it’s even more of a joy problem than a discipline problem. Ask what treasures have robbed you of the deeper joy of living for his name’s sake. And as you restore and grow your joy in God — your soul’s thirst for him like a parched land — let it lead you through trials, away from sin, into wisdom and discernment, all for his glory.