Notice I didn’t ask what will happen in 2018. The more I’ve been wondering what the year ahead holds for us, the more I realize that our particular circumstances will be profoundly less important than how we deal with them. Because how we address our circumstances tends to reveal the state of our souls.

Let me share with you the historical context of 1 Chronicles 12. David and his handful of loyal followers had been living in exile in Ziklag (Philistine territory) for over a year. This was because King Saul, obsessed with keeping the throne, was paranoid – thinking that David aspired to unseat him. Nothing could be further from the truth. David was waiting patiently for things to run their course according to the will of God. In fact, there were at least two instances in which David could easily have slain Saul, but refused to lift up his hands against the king of Israel. But Saul’s murderous paranoia forced David to flee Israeli territory.

1 Chronicles chapters 10 and 11 tell of the tragic death of King Saul and his sons in a war with the Philistines, and of David being invited to return to the Land and take his rightful place as king.

But we have something very interesting show up in chapter 12. It’s a list of the men, some mentioned by name, who came to David to show their support while he was still outside of Israel, in Ziklag. It’s one thing to show loyalty to a man who’s already in power. That’s just being pragmatic; you don’t want to tick off someone who can have you executed. It’s quite another thing to throw your support behind a man about whom there is a promise of future kingship, but who for the moment is living on the outskirts, unwelcome in his own land. That takes faith and courage.

1 Chronicles chapter 12 is there for two reasons: the first, because now that David is firmly established on the throne, it is right to acknowledge those who had been loyal to him when it was costly to do so. These men had sacrificed any semblance of comfort and safety, living on the run with David. Proverbs 17:17 says A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. You know who your true friends are when they stay with you through unpopularity and opposition.

The second reason is because David is a type of Messiah. Yeshua’s rightful place is on the throne of Israel, and over all the nations of the world, and we have the promise of that. But right now, aside from meaningless lip service paid him by some, most of the nations of the world consider Him an enemy. And, because for now He is away from the Earth and we don’t see Him, it is as though, like David, Yeshua is in exile; ‘outside the camp’. And how many are willing to go outside the camp and bear the reproach along with Him?

Just like King Saul, the ‘god of this world’ – Satan, knows that his own time is short, and will stop at nothing to prevent the realization of that promise – as if he could. There is, of course, no way to prevent God’s promise from coming to pass, but it is clear from Scripture that Satan will make our lives as uncomfortable and perilous as he can in the meantime.

So, the question that faces us is: what will we ourselves be in 2018? Will our lives be characterized by pragmatism – going along in order to get along; or by courage and faith – openly identifying with “The Despised One” as Messiah is called in Isaiah 49:7 – the one abhorred by His own nation?

And, in the midst of that list of loyal followers of David in 1 Chronicles 12, we have mention of the entire tribe of Issachar, described as men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do. From the other tribes there are specific, finite numbers. But it appears the entire tribe of Issachar followed the lead of their chiefs and threw their full support behind David.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I want to be like one of those men from Issachar; discerning and wise, understanding the times, and prepared to do the right thing for the sake of Messiah Yeshua, and for the sake of Israel, despite the raging of the nations. Do you want that for yourself as well? Then let’s consider what it will take to persevere in 2018 and to the end. The things we will need include direction, renewal (especially renewal of our minds), cleansing and courage.

To illustrate these things, let me us the analogy of careful, intentional maintenance of your car. If certain things aren’t periodically replaced, and other things recalibrated, your car will deteriorate much more quickly and dramatically, and it can be costly. I found that out the hard way as a college freshman with my first car. Despite good advice from my father and my siblings, I just never checked the oil. The engine burned out one day when it was my turn to drive our carpool group to the campus. It was embarrassing, and cost me the equivalent of a month’s work to replace the engine.

Let’s talk about direction. Periodically you are supposed to rotate your tires, and check the alignment of your wheels, correcting it, if necessary. Otherwise your car will tend to pull to the right or the left, and you’ll wear out your tires more quickly. We need God to realign our wheels, as it were. When we lose focus on who and what is important, we begin to veer off-course, and we can end up going in a bad direction spiritually. It rarely happens overnight. Like wheels that gradually go out of alignment, the shipwreck of people’s faith results gradually, and from a series of smaller bad decisions.

How do we allow God to realign our lives? It comes through the ancient and time-tested spiritual disciplines of daily time spent in prayer and in reading Scripture, so that we are very clear on the direction we are supposed to go. Realignment also happens when we hold ourselves accountable to one another. Generally, other people are better at recognizing our shortcomings than we are. We need to have the kinds of relationships that value honesty, and invite brothers or sisters whom we trust to bring correction when they see we need it. Short of implementing these things, you and I will inevitably begin to drift, and not in a good direction.

Let’s talk about renewal. Cars are very sophisticated these days. When you pull into the dealership for scheduled service, the first thing they do is run a diagnostic of your car’s on-board computer. If there are any malfunctions or inefficiencies, that on-board computer will report on it, and the service technician can get right on it. There is very little guess work these days. Recalibration is easy and precise.

In a like manner, your thought processes need to be subject to recalibration. Your mind is like that computer. If you have been filling it with unsavory things, it needs to be cleansed and recalibrated. Romans 12:2 says, Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Once again, cultivating the spiritual discipline of setting aside quite time daily for the reading of Scripture will be a big part of renewing your thought processes, and having sound thinking will be a big part of your perseverance in 2018 and beyond.

A car needs oil to circulate in its engine in order to protect that engine from being destroyed by the intense heat and friction it produces. The rebellion of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, which we refer to as the Fall, has left us living in a sin-saturated world in which we are beset by various temptations. And, humanity has been deeply affected by the Fall, so that there is plenty of friction between people on account of the sinful inclination that’s within us. Yeshua’s followers enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit, who not only gives us strength to walk with God, but also helps us to grow in love and humility.

If we will obey the Scriptures, especially the admonition to be filled with the Spirit, then the fruit He produces in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control will dramatically reduce the friction that naturally occurs between fallen human beings. This is another aspect of the renewal we will need if we are to grow and persevere.

Let’s talk about cleansing and courage, using the analogy of the fuel we put in our cars. Gasoline isn’t a pure thing. There are corrosive elements in it that produce wear and tear on an engine. And there are additives the companies put in it, in order to reduce emissions that also adversely affects engine performance (and don’t even get me started on Ethanol). Have you ever been driving, and noticed a slight knocking sound in the engine, or the engine hesitated when you pressed on the accelerator? While that misfiring could be caused by a few other things, it may be nothing more complicated than that you got a bad batch of gasoline. One of the ways to correct it is to use higher octane gas at your next fill up, or simply add some fuel conditioner to the present tank of gas.

If we’ll regularly examine our hearts before God, confess our sins to Him and to one another as it is needed, He will not only forgive our sin, but also cleanse us from unrighteousness – the corrosive effect of the various sins that accumulate in our lives. Confessing our sins to Him and to one another on a regular basis will keep us running stronger, and with less hesitation about serving Him.

A clear conscience is one of the keys to walking in courage. It’s hard to be bold for Yeshua when you have some sin in your life that you’ve neither confessed nor abandoned. If you want more courage to live out your convictions, then add that fuel conditioner of confession and repentance to your life on a consistent basis.

In closing, let me return to the example of the men of Issachar, whom the Scripture describes as having understanding of the times, and knowledge of what Israel ought to do. We who are followers of Jesus the Messiah are called to have that same kind of wisdom and moral courage.

During Yeshua’s last discourse, which took place on the Mount of Olives, He outlined the events that would take place leading up to the End of the Age and His Second Coming. He made it very clear that the world would grow more wicked and violent near the end. And then He said this:

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door…”

The fig tree was, and is, a symbol of Israel. The increase of wickedness all around us, coupled with the rebirth of the nation of Israel, are clear signals to us that Messiah’s return is very near. He didn’t tell us the precise time, but He promised to return, and His promise is a guarantee.

He went on to say, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

We don’t live in a static world. Things are changing around us, and if we would be wise and discerning like the men of Issachar, we cannot go about our lives as though it’s ‘business as usual’. What kind of people will we be in 2018? If you and I are no different in 2018 than we were in 2017, that will be tragic. We need a greater sense of God’s direction. We need frequent renewal. We need frequent cleansing. And if we’ll do the few but necessary things, we’ll walk in greater courage and power. Frankly, we cannot afford to do otherwise. For the days that are coming are perilous, and they will try us.

Lord our God, and God of our Fathers, Yeshua told us that the Last Days would be times of great peril, and that many would fall away from the Faith. Already our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are experiencing persecution of a kind not seen since the early Church. We believe Yeshua’s words, and we know we need a closer and stronger walk with You in order to persevere. Please help us to go into 2018 with more discipline to pray, to read Your Word, to congregate together – to do all those things that make us stronger. Help us to be sons and daughters of whom You can be proud. In Yeshua’s name.