Well, that was 2019. And what a year it was! For Shirin, Sarah, Stephanie, and me, it was one of the most memorable on record, packed with surprises—the good and the bad. Do you remember reading Paul’s list of unexpected events in his life? Thankfully, ours was not close to that!
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).
And that was only in his first year of ministry! Just joking. But it was real, and it was more like an interim report (much more happened in his life later). In fact, it was exactly the suffering Jesus promised Paul would go through for his sake (Acts 9:16).
So how was 2019 for you? Maybe it was the best ever—full of nothing but wonderful blessings, happy days, and great health. Praise God for his graciousness.
But maybe it wasn’t, and you found yourself saying something like, “I didn’t sign on for this!” or asking questions like, “Where is God when I need him?” “Has he forgotten me?” “What did I do to deserve this?” Or you might have wondered when the joy begins. You thought you were following God’s direction, but found yourself lost in a wilderness of doubt, feeling like Joseph tossed into the pit, despairing of ever sensing God’s pleasure, presence, and rescue in your life.
Let’s face it, the Christian life can be as much a roller coaster ride as anyone else’s. We, as Christians, have no immunity to life’s problems or surprises. However, in page after page, the Bible assures us that we do have a faithful God who loves us and goes with us into, and through, each trial. I love this verse from Jeremiah, “The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (31:3). What a powerful testimony to his love and faithfulness for us!
Unfortunately, the thorny path is what we need and what God uses to bring us into the likeness of his Son. So as we pass through each painful experience, we learn to lean on God and, in turn, grow more Christlike, displaying the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
But Paul assures us that whatever setbacks, sadness, or grief we may experience in this life is absolutely nothing—not even to be compared with—the glory that is to be revealed in our permanent future. C.S. Lewis, in his Chronicles of Narnia series portrays our destiny as a book in which every chapter will be better than the one before.
Is all this too good to be true? We could draw this conclusion if God was never actively present in our troubles, and simply let us muddle painfully through them on our own. But the great, amazing fact of the Christian life is what we discover on our darkest days (or soon after), that we are never alone, God has not forgotten us for a single moment, and has surrounded us with his Spirit and his angels to comfort, encourage, bless, and heal.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
– Zephaniah 3:17
So it’s his presence, his answers to prayer, his rescues, his arranging and rearranging of things, and all his surprises, that give us solid, reasonable ground for believing in a better, hope-filled tomorrow. Whatever 2019 was like, we can move into 2020 with the confidence that, no matter what we encounter along the way, God is already there. He will continue to escort us through 2020, and every year thereafter.
I invite you to join with our family and our church family as we move into the next year with the bold, happy confidence that in all our ups and downs, gains and losses, we will never be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 8:38-39
A very happy and blessed 2020 from our home to yours!
Photo credit: Mike Page @KaltenbergMike