For the New Year

Maybe 2017 was a wonderful year for you, filled with health, happiness, bounty and prosperity.  Perhaps you felt like the psalmist David, so overwhelmed with the blessings of God that he could barely contain himself, singing: “From where the sun rises to where it sets, you inspire shouts of joy” (Psalm 65:8 NLT). And amid those shouts of joy, David closes his psalm with a description that might top them all in summing up a truly great year:  “You crown the year with a bountiful harvest; even the hard pathways overflow with abundance” (Psalm 65:11 NLT).  If that describes your experience in 2017, then good for you.  It is mighty fortunate for one to find that even his or her hardest roads during the year overflowed with an abundance of bounty.

Awake, Lord?

Some of us may have had a different year.  It may have been a year in which we lost our job, or got some terrible news from the doctor.  Our spouse may have left us, or we may have endured the death of someone we loved very dearly.  Maybe we had so many challenging, hurtful and exhausting experiences crammed into our year that we wondered, like Asaph in Psalm 77, if God had abandoned us:

“Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time? (Psalm 77:7-8)

Or we may have instead thought, like the Sons of Korah, that God was sleeping on his job:

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression? (Psalm 44:23-24)

Beyond our Control

The fact is, whatever our experience of 2017, none of us knows what 2018 holds in store.  We may have tried to plan out the year precisely, filled with resolution, will-power and discipline, but we all know that our best plans can change in an instant, derailed by a call from a doctor, or the state trooper, or the late Friday word that “the boss wants to see you” — any or all sorts of contingencies beyond our control.

The Darkness of Uncertainty

And so we stand on the threshold of 2018 shrouded in the darkness of uncertainty, perhaps unsure where to turn.  Some of us may find it very dark, indeed.  David was there once, too, and learned that God is present, even in our darkest hours, and he will dispel our darkness:  “Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Psalm 139:12).  The step of faith into the dark and unknown will be met by his loving hands.  The poet Minnie Haskins captured that truth in these words recited by King George VI to open his Christmas address to Britain in 1939, just a few months after the start of World War II:

“I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year

‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’

And he replied, ‘Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God

That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!’[1]

Welcome, Whatever it Be

Many years ago, someone shared with me a journal entry by Matthew Henry written on January 1, 1701.  I make it a point to read it most years as I am struck by his candid expression of the uncertainty of what the coming year may hold for any of us.  But I am most struck by his bold resolve to surrender himself to the will of the One who holds our future:

Not knowing the things which may befall me this year,
I refer myself to God. Whether it shall be my dying
year or no, I know not; but it is my earnest expectation
and hope that the Lord Jesus Christ shall be magnified
in my body, whether it be by life or death, by health or
sickness, by plenty or poverty, by liberty or restraint, by
preaching or silence, by comfort or sorrow. Welcome,
welcome, the will of God, whatever it be.”[2]

May you step out into the uncertainty of this New Year and firmly grasp the hand of God, finding it to be a better way than you have ever known.

[1] “The Gate of the Year” by Minnie Haskins 1908

[2] Henry, Matthew “Daily Communion with God:….” (U. of Michigan Library 2009)