There is something exciting about beginnings. For example, as a college student there was the excitement of beginning a new semester. In fact, so exciting was it beginning a new semester, that after just a month into the new semester you were already preparing to register for the next semester’s classes!
Of course, here at the beginning of a New Year we certainly have the excitement of starting a fresh year. Resolutions and new goals bring the hope of change and improvements in our lives.
For book lovers out there, there is the excitement of beginning a new book. And with how many books there are, often we are better at starting book after book rather than finishing.
In my Bible study plan (that I just began 😊), I was in Genesis—which means beginning. And of course, the beginning of the beginning—Genesis 1—is of incredible importance. It’s the beginning of history. It’s the account of how everything that came to be, came to be!
But something caught my eye in Genesis 1 that I hadn’t really given much thought before. But it’s something that I believe can help us not only begin well—which many of us seem to do just fine—but will also help us continue and finish well. After all the promise of heaven is for those who finish, not for those who begin…(cf. 2 Tim. 4:7, 1 Cor. 9:24–27, Heb. 10:35–39, Matt. 13:18–23).
Repetition In Genesis 1
Through the creation account in Genesis 1 there are a number of repeated words and phrases. All of them giving us very valuable worldview information about God, the created world and ourselves. Some of the words like, “good” that is repeated 7x is fairly easy to interpret and apply—although there is still more depth to that word than many of us probably realize!
Other words might not be as noticeable because they are not as obviously important. Like the phrase, “and God said” which is repeated 10x. Is this significant or is that mundane and insignificant like the number of times “the” is repeated in Genesis 1? We believe that “God said” is of utmost importance. The meaning changes DRAMATICALLY if the way God created was, “And God thought.” After all, it’s not like God had to speak to create. He could have just thought and created. But he chose to speak. Since God “speaking” isn’t the point of this blog I’ll leave you to ponder the significance but will reiterate again that it is indeed very significant!
7x Genesis 1 repeats the phrase “God saw.” It is usually followed up with “…that it was good.” The question that needs to be asked is, “Is there significance to ‘God SAW that it was good’ versus the simple statement and ‘it was good’?” Does that the fact that “God saw” make any significant difference to who God is, and how this should apply to our life?
You can already guess my answer to the question by the fact that I’m writing this blog! But I believe that there is significance for our understanding of God and how this applies to our life.
The fact that we have a seeing God is a major theme throughout Scripture. Our God is a seeing and watching God (cf. Psalm 146:9, Prv. 22:12, 24:12). But I think there is more here than he just observes. God creates something each day—he works—and then after he has created and done what he intended to do he stops and observes. Or as the text says, “And God saw.” On each day after he creates (except the 2nd day and the 7th day), he looks at what he has created and done and declares “that it was good.”
I began reading in Genesis because that’s where my reading plan had me at the beginning of the year. But along with that, I was thinking about goals for the new year, thinking about goals I had for last year, and in counseling, discipleship and teaching with others we had been talking about goals. One of the common themes in talking about goals at the end of the year in all those groups is how it’s easy to make goals but it’s hard to consistently persist in those goals throughout the year. Inevitably, it’s a common experience to be reminded of a goal you had made for the previous year that you didn’t complete or carry out as you’re thinking about new goals for the upcoming year! While this is a common experience, most of us probably acknowledge that this is a problem that we would like to solve.
Well, in order to solve the problem we need to first diagnose the root of the problem. And for so many of us, the problem seems to be hinted at by our constant surprise at how fast the year went (i.e. how fast time moves). By the time February hits we are saying to each other, “We are already 1 month into the year! Have you made one month’s progress on your goals?” And usually by the end of February we aren’t even talking about our goals anymore because the new year threw so many other things our way that we’ve forgotten those goals and moved on. But then at the end of the year (and sometimes at points throughout the year) we are shocked at how fast the year is going, and hopefully if we look at our goals throughout the year, we are convicted that we need to put some real effort towards those goals. And for many of us, busyness is one of the most common descriptors we’d use to describe our life.
So what problem does not remembering goals, being surprised by how fast time goes and busyness all point to? It is probably either a prideful presumption of the future (James 4:13–17) or a prideful fear of the future (Matthew 6:25–34).
Prideful Presumption of The Future
The arrogant, proud person that is denounced in James 4:13–17 is the person that looks to the future with hope for good things in this life. Specifically in this text he is motivated to go to places in order to do business and to make a profit (v.13). The problem is stated in v.14, “yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
This person is not necessarily just the person in the world who doesn’t claim to be a Christian. This may be the person coming to church every week, who makes spiritual goals and fills out the stewardship commitments in November, but forgets his spiritual goals quickly. Maybe he sets out to read the Bible in a year, but then after a good couple weeks, the busyness of the new year crowds out his spiritual ambitions to grow. This is the kind of person that probably can tell you their business/career goals and is diligent to follow through on learning, skills growth and achieving income goals throughout the year. But as far as spiritual growth is concerned, although goals may be made, they get crowded out and forgotten by a proud presumption of good things in this life in the future. This person doesn’t know their life is but a mist! They presume on the future.
Prideful Fear of The Future
Jesus talks about a different future focus problem in Matthew 6:25–34. It’s not a hopeful presumption, but a fearful, anxious focus on the future. Jesus highlights the problem in v.25 saying, “…do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Jesus grounds the problem squarely in a “lack of faith” (v.30). And their lack of faith leads them to worry about tomorrow and neglect “seek[ing] first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” today (v.33). For many, that fear causes them to fill their life with all kinds of busyness that distracts from seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. The busyness may be good things, like work and learning. But it may also be lots of frivolous pointless distractions like entertainment, video games, social media, etc. Interestingly enough, like the presumptuous person, this person also doesn’t know that their life is a mist! They worry about tomorrow and neglect today, which shows a similar kind of presumption that tomorrow is coming. Jesus asks an important rhetorical question in v.27, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” The clear answer is no one!
How Does “God Saw” Help?
Maybe presumption of the future or fear of the future seem like strange rabbit trails. But let me try and wrap this together back to what I wanted to consider at the beginning of this blog. How does “GOD SAW” in Genesis 1 supposed to help with these problems that cause us to forget our goals, be surprised at how fast life is moving, and being swept up by busyness? God gives us a pattern for DAILY pausing to take an inventory of what we have done and then evaluate what we’ve done. There is nothing that God does that isn’t good. Therefore, it seems ridiculous that God would pause and observe what he’s done and then evaluate it. But God doesn’t just race from one thing to the next thing. He intentionally acts, and then he observes what he has done and he evaluates. Then the next day he intentionally acts, and then he observes what he has done and he evaluates.
The question I want to pose to you is, “Do you follow God’s DAILY (at least 5 out of 7 days) pattern of intentionally acting, then observing and evaluating what you’ve done?”
I’m guessing many of us would say we need to get better at this.
One other point that I think highlights how important this is for us, is the fact that God can only do good! Nothing he does is ever bad, wrong, or unjust. That is dramatically different than us! And yet, we find God pausing to observe and then evaluate. We need to pause and evaluate what we are doing, so that we can make sure that we are seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33). Or as Eph. 5:15–16 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time because the days are evil.” But if we are going to live those verses out, then we need to make sure we 1) set spiritual goals to grow AND remember them 2) be presently aware that life is short, rather than presuming or fearing the future and 3) not be characterized by busyness but purpose.
I believe to accomplish that this year, the pattern of God in Genesis 1 highlighted by “GOD SAW” can really help us.
QUESTION: What habit can you implement daily to pause and observe and then evaluate?
- Here are a couple suggestions:
- Do a daily journal.
- Have a standing question at dinner each day like, “What did you do today and was that what you intended to do today? Was deviating from your intention honoring to Jesus or not?”
- Perhaps a pre-req to the one above is make a daily sit-down dinner with your spouse, family, or a friend a habit.
- During mundane chores where you can do the chore well and exercise your mind (i.e. laundry, dishes, vacuuming, mowing, etc.) pray and talk to God about your day rather than music, or TV or something else.
What suggestions do you have that might help others pause and evaluate like God did in Genesis 1?