Originally published Friday, 29 December 2017.
The new year comes bearing gifts.
For some, it is the gift of relief—relief that the last year is over. For others, a new year brings hope—hope for the future and for a better year than the last. A new year can also bring anticipation for what's ahead. Perhaps there's a new adventure to look forward to. Or maybe we have goals for this year and look ahead to their completion.
Often, when we consider our expectations for the new year, we tend to plan for and look forward to good things. We anticipate fun activities, new experiences, and increased blessings. We set goals and make plans to attain the things and experiences we've long desired. We resolve to make things better and improve ourselves and our lives.
Sometimes though, like the ugly sweater or new appliance we never wanted, the new year brings gifts that aren't desired. Fear. Uncertainty. Dread. Just the thought of the unknown future can bring worry or paralyzing fear. If that last year was especially hard, we may dread the thought of another difficult year. Or maybe we do know what to expect in 2018. Maybe we have a dreaded medical test or procedure scheduled. Or we are certain a relationship we've tried so hard to keep together will finally fall apart. Or that bill will finally come due and we know we have no way to pay it.
When I consider my own thoughts about this new year, part of me accepts the gift of sweet anticipation and looks forward to the experiences that lie ahead. Yet another part of me trembles a bit with fear at the unknown. The truth is, I know that life is filled with hardship and challenges. I don't expect 2018 to be easy and carefree. And maybe that's why there's fear, because I know some challenge, obstacle, or hardship likely lie ahead.
But what if this year you and I embrace all that the new year brings? What if we looked forward to everything God wants to do in and through us in 2018?
Even if it's hard?
And even if the story He's written for us this year involves more challenges, obstacles, and trials?
James tells us to "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds." (1:2) As we look ahead into 2018, anticipating what God has planned for us, we need to face that future with joy. Not because trials are fun. Not because we want additional heartache in our life. Rather, we rejoice in what those trials produce in us, "the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:3,4).
We find joy in knowing what trials produce in us. God uses challenges and hardships to make us more and more like Christ. And what did our Savior's life look like? One of suffering. Paul wrote, "I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 4:10-11, NIV). Paul was willing to do whatever it took, even enduring trials, to become like Christ. May that be our goal as well for this year, to pursue Christ and become like him, no matter what it takes.
We face the new year with joy also because we know who rules and reigns over our trials. We can trust that each and every obstacle, whatever trial we endure, and any heartache we face, are all given to us by God for our good. He doesn't use challenges or trials in a willy-nilly way, with no purpose or meaning. He doesn't even do so out of anger and punishment. Rather, he uses trials for our discipline and training. They are used to strip away the remaining sin in us and shape us into the image of Christ. Such trials show us our need for God and his grace. They teach us humility and dependence. They are opportunities for us to grow in faith. They also show to a watching world the power of God in weakness, bringing him honor and glory.
Challenges and trials come to us from a good and righteous Father who only does what is good and right. We can trust his purposes and plans for us because he is holy and just. He knows exactly what we need to teach and train us in the way of righteousness. He knows just what we need to be made holy.
After all, we are his children, adopted through the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. We are his beloved—loved by God as much as he loves the Son. He is gracious to us and no matter what the future holds, we are not left alone in it. He is with us, giving us peace in anxiety, strength in the face of suffering, and grace to endure. He also gives us brothers and sisters to walk with us: encouraging us when we stumble, helping us when we fall, and remaining with us to the finish line.
As we open this gift of a new year, may we accept it with hope and joy, rather than fear and despair. Because we know the sender of all gifts. And since he gave us the greatest gift of all—life through his Son—how can we not trust him with the gift of a new year?
How about you? What are your thoughts about the new year?