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Opinions of Saturday, 2 January 2010

Columnist: Anyimadu-Ahenkae, Augustine

New Year, New Wine, New Wineskins - A New Year Reflection

By Augustine Anyimadu-Ahenkae

Another new year is on our hands again, thanks to the almighty, and we are rightly filled with joy for the chance given us to restart anew and make something better of our lives.

As individuals, families, groups, communities, and nations, we like to go back to the drawing board to retrace our steps from the old year, see what was not done well, and how we can better it this time round. Most frequently, however, we like to draw up resolutions, new resolutions listing achievements we want to attain this new year. For many others, the new year just renews our hopes that God will make things better for us. We are accustomed to look at the new year as a kind of superman with lots of miraculous powers, who will come to solve all our problems and help us achieve our wildest dreams, just like a little child sees his parents as able to do everything the child can ask or think of.

In one important respect, we are not wrong; we are very right to view the new year as able to do all. Why? Because the new year means new time, new graces, new opportunity to use these graces and blessings of God, new beginnings, new chance to do better things for ourselves in spite of old failures, new reason to forgive hurts, pains and forget and move on, new chances to build new relationships, opportunity for new accomplishments – oh what an abundance of new opportunities! The question, however, is why is it that every new year comes and goes and for much of the time we still seem to be at the same point, or at least we make just a little progress? For sure, we have been here before. At the beginning of last year we said the same things we are saying today, and in spite of the super-abundance of opportunities available to us, we still achieved little. So what was the problem, and how can we ensure that this time round the majority of us will, together with the very few who really actualize their resolutions, be smiling all the way come December 31st?

The problem is, progress, development, achievements and all, are two sided coins, but most often we fail to really look at both sides. We often focus on one side or the other alone, hence attain little or no development. We put new wines into old wineskins, or old wines into new wineskins, rather than correctly putting the new wines into new wineskins. I’ll turn to this shortly. Sociologists Doner and Seers defined development as (1) the availability of opportunities and (2) the capacity to use them. They couldn’t have been more right. For our lives to progress as individuals, families, nation, there must first and foremost be – either existing already or we now creating them- availability of opportunities. Thankfully, for all of us, God our father through his son Jesus Christ has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms”(Eph 1:3), and when on the cross Jesus said “it is finished” he had really completed the work of our redemption. The original Greek word used’ “TETELESTHAI” in that phrase, signifies a complete and total payment of a ransom, a ransom which as Isaiah 53 describes vividly as winning for us complete forgiveness of sins, he taking the punishment for our sins, giving us total healing, deliverance, peace, and everything that comes with the word peace. Oh yes, there are abundance of opportunities for us in the new year, because God has promised us so, and he is unchanging – the same yesterday, today and for ever (Heb 13:8). Fact is, he has filled the world, through Jesus his son, and made available to us, super-abundance of graces, opportunities, blessings – the necessary condition needed for our breakthrough. As individuals, families and nation, we are endowed with many talents some of which we know, but many others of which we are not even aware of. Within our very inner selves lie many opportunities which we can exploit for our development.

Availability of opportunities alone, however, is not sufficient for development, though necessary. There must also be our capacity to use these opportunities. This includes both our potentialities and our actual actions. This is where, for most of us, the problem lies. God’s graces have always been there. His miracles have always been happening. It is only when we begin to open up to these graces and miracles that something good start happening to us. So it is not like God has forgotten us. Rather, we are not opening up effectively or willingly enough to use these graces of God which few other people are using. He is not a respecter of persons. He will not bless some and leave others, just like St. Peter realized in Acts 10:34-35. Since he is always there, unchanging, ever loving, ever merciful, anytime we begin to increase our capacity to love, to pray, to believe, to act on the faith, to think and speak and act positively, to dare to speak the truth, to tread the path of justice, we open up to cooperate with him and receive more of him who is good and love. We increase our capacity to use the blessings he has already poured on us through his son.

However, when at the beginning of the year like this we just pray and ask God to bless us this year and afterwards go back to sleep and don’t do much about it, or even when we intermittently fast and pray and relax and don’t persevere in it, we end up the same, because we fail to utilize the other side of the progress coin. So that has been our story, our problem – hoping to have new progress with the same old habits, putting new wines into old wineskins.

NEW WINES INTO NEW WINESKINS

The context of this saying of Jesus as recorded in all three synoptic gospels- Mathew 9:17, Mk 2:22, Lk 5:37-39 – was that the Jews queried Jesus why his disciples did not fast and wash their hands and feet like John’s disciples did, and Jesus told them : “No one puts new wine into old wineskins, or else the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the wineskins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put in fresh wineskins, and both are preserved….”(Matt 9:17) . The new wine brings in new power, open new frontiers as it ferments, and the old wineskin cannot contain that new burst of energy. What did Jesus want to tell them? Many things. One was that in Jesus the old habits can no longer sustain or save the people, since He brings a new power to save, to open new frontiers. The morale of it all, however, is that one cannot expect to do the same old things and expect new results. In other words, as we usher into the new year, since we want new and better results for our individual lives, families, groups, nation, we must be prepared to shed the old habits which we know did not help us, and dare to reach out into new frontiers, and see what results we will get. Our catch word is ACTION – opening up to increase our capacity to receive. For far too long we have just resigned ourselves to fate, thinking, “God knows it all, God sees it all’ and we relax. Yes God knows it all, yet he asks us to pray. For many of us, we pray and when we don’t get answers, we settle down with: “God’s time is the best”. Sure, God’s time is the best, but how do we know whether this is God’s time, but that we are rather not persistent enough or increasing our faith? Jesus, praising the persistence of the woman who got what she wanted from the unrighteous judge, equated her persistence with faith, saying ‘when the son of man comes will he find faith on earth?’

If 2010 will be a better year for us, it will be so because it will be the year that we started taking charge, opening our mouths wide for God to fill them, not giving up, daring, praying ceaselessly, acting, stepping forward, knowing more, and taking mighty steps towards accomplishing what desires God has put in our hearts, knowing that “it is he himself who works in us both to will and to accomplish” (Phil 2:13).It will be a year when we begin to put the new wine of graces, opportunities and talents –not into the old wineskins of fear, indifference, hopelessness, negative criticisms, hatred, gossips and character assassinations, corruptions, lack of faith, ignorance, and unwillingness to forgive others- but into the new wineskins of hope, faith, courage, love, vision, knowledge, fervent prayer, persistence, desire to accomplish, and above all, ACTION! Happy New year. May we all experience this year our best years yet –as individuals, families, beloved nation Ghana! AFEHYIA PA !