At the start of a new year, we often reflect on events that have taken place over the previous year or years. We look back and wonder whether things could/should have been different and we set goals for the future.
Although I don’t bother with new year’s resolutions as I tend to immediately break them, I do reflect and consider whether changes are needed for the new year. I also think about things I have learned from a faith perspective and how they can be applied to my life.
This new year I’m looking back on several years of struggle and disappointments, from a human perspective. Having to leave a mission field I believed I was called to for life due to circumstances beyond my control, long-term health problems, broken relationships and various short term work stints rather than being able to settle into the long term work I was hoping for.
What does it all mean and what was the purpose? More importantly, what happens next? I’ve never been particularly patient or good at waiting for things, but I’m learning.
I’ve moved beyond the “Why has God allowed this to happen to me?” and “Maybe I made a mistake and God is punishing me,” and “Why did God seemingly lead me in one direction only for everything to fall apart?” I’ve been learning that there is always a purpose in everything that happens in the life of a Christian. It’s a lesson that has to be learnt over and over again, in my case.
Our attitudes tend to be shaped by the “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” philosophy which is great until the trials come. I commented on this in a previous post. Actually, the statement is true but as with so many things, our interpretation of it is likely very different to God’s. His wonderful plan is not about earthly happiness or success, it is about making us more like Jesus and fitting us for His service. This process might be painful, even traumatic, but it is ultimately for our good if we love Him. (Romans 8 vs 28.)
When I think about the “trials” I have experienced in recent years, they really pale into insignificance in comparison to what others are going or have gone through. I haven’t lost any family members or close friends to cancer or accidents. I haven’t been arrested for a crime I didn’t commit or placed in prison after a miscarriage of justice. I haven’t been blown up by a terrorist or even been in the vicinity of a bombing/attack. I haven’t lost a job, house or car due to debt. I haven’t suffered from a permanent disability or illness that keeps me house-bound. There are so many other things that haven’t happened to me or from another perspective, that God has protected me from.
I am blessed with financial security, a supportive family and friends, food, clothing and shelter and material things in abundance. I have the ability to read, write and think intelligent thoughts (some of the time.) More importantly God has revealed the truth about His Son Jesus Christ to me and has rescued me from a life of sin and an eternity in hell.
My “trials”, when measured on this scale are barely worthy of mention especially when I think that God is allowing them for my good and to make me better able to serve Him. I should be grateful that He bothers to refine me whilst I am protesting. Actually, I am blessed and it’s all about perspective.
Maybe we need to take a leaf out of Job’s book when he cried “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” It is easy to serve God when everything appears to be going right but we grow spiritually in the tough times. There are always people in situations far worse than our own—all those who aren’t yet saved for a start.
We don’t want to be like the seed on the rocky ground that grew up quickly but withered and died when it was scorched by the sun. (Matthew 13) Why did that happen? The Bible tells us it was because the soil was shallow and the seed had no root. When trouble or persecution came because of the Word, they quickly fell away.
We don’t want to be like the seed that fell amongst thorns either. The worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choked the Word, making it unfruitful. Worrying and becoming anxious about things may be a natural human response but we have a Father in heaven who cares for us more than sparrows…
As we mature spiritually, our response to trials should be different. Instead of complaining and wondering “why me”, we will seek to learn the lessons and to be obedient despite the circumstances. Then we will ask the question, what next?
It is our response to the trial that is important. We can be effective witnesses to non-believers at these times. They are watching closely to see how real our faith is—whether God will really sustain us in the difficulty. If we throw up our hands in horror or give up and turn our backs on God the probably correct assumption by onlookers will be that our faith wasn’t genuine in the first place. Our faith is proved by the tests that we endure.
At the start of a new year, let us ask ourselves whether we are prepared for new challenges and trials. Let us be ready for them, whatever form they might take trusting that God is faithful and knows what He is doing.
Let us ensure that our anchors in Jesus will hold in 2017.
Have a blessed and peaceful New Year!