I’m not big on resolutions for the start of a new calendar year. Over the last couple, I’ve promised to write on the Church of England lectionary reading every day (lasted a few months) and write a new song every month (managed one for half the months of the year) so it turns out I’m not too good at keeping to what I promise to do. That’s pretty difficult, humbling thing to admit to.
The end of one year and the beginning of another offers the opportunity for grandiose statements about how great/terrible/abominable the year just ending was and how much better/more hopeful and full of possibility the one to come is. This seems particularly so with 2016 in mind. The combination of seismic political upheaval, the sheer fact that there are myriad celebrities in our aspiration-obsessed culture and therefore more of said celebrities (very sadly) die in any given year (and this will only be more so in the coming years) and the way that we have access to news about virtually everything, all of the time, if we want it, even though we often miss the most important things happening both under our noses and in the forgotten far-reaches of the planet, all of that can combine to make it seem like it’s been a terrible year.
Allied to all of this, it seems to me that I am not a very resilient person. I don’t know about you. You might be. In which case, move on and ignore this paragraph. But the fact remains that, I at least, am learning that I need deeper and deeper wells of resilience that I did not realise would be necessary. How did previous generations deal with, say, the loss of entire families in war, or to diseases like TB, when I can’t cope with not being able to complete my work because my internet connection is intermittent? How are we, for whom, in the West, life expectancy and quality of life is, in the main, longer and better than ever, become so frightened of death, so scared of ‘the other’ that we keep both as far away as possible, when, so we’re told, we have it better than ever before in the whole of human history?
2017 will be a year of change for me. I’ve got a calendar year from midnight to find a new role within the Church of England. Changes of this nature don’t just affect me. They affect my long-suffering wife and our wider family. As I go through the process of applying, if this time is anything like other such junctures in my life, I would not be too surprised to find myself questioning my worth, value, suitability for roles, even though I am trained, qualified, experienced, called, equipped and sent exactly for the kind of roles that I might be looking at in the coming weeks and months. These doubts have assailed me many times and they boil down to two key things: I don’t trust myself, perhaps rightly and, more seriously, I often fail to truly trust God, thinking instead that if I just work harder, longer, better, more sacrificially (those two often seem to equate to the same thing in my head at least) then somehow God will be more pleased with me and therefore elevate me to some kind of ability or situation that would otherwise be beyond me. Working hard is important. Making the most of the gifts we are given is a key facet of the scriptural narrative, but the key, the absolute key, is to know that the heart of those gifts, the giver and effector of them, is God. I have gifts to share with the communities I live in and serve because God gives them to me. I can use or squander them, in partnership (hopefully) with him, but the gifts are given by him. God has brought me to the beginning of 2017 to be someone who points people to Him, who draws people into family and relationship with him, themselves and with other people. I do have to move, to be active, to do ‘the work’, but most of all I have to trust God that when he says he will be with me, when he says he will not leave me, when he says that he will send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to support and encourage me, when he promises miracles, transformations, healings, mercy and grace and all of the other things that we’re told are the promises of God: that those things will come to pass if I walk with him, one step after another, faithfully, as faithfully as I can, day by day. It’s not cool, it’s not sexy, it might not win me a platform, or influence, but it will be what I am invited by God to do in this next year.
I’ve been thinking recently that all the words I can use about God, Church, Faith, and what all of those things are and mean (all of which change on a daily basis) pale into insignificance when placed next to the Word, the coming of Jesus, who was both God and man, into the world that first Christmas time. He is who we need to get to know, to follow, to mimic even, as 2017 dawns. Not just by learning about him, talking about him, what he might think about certain issues, political parties or societal changes, but actually take him at his word that when he said that he would be with us to the end of the age (this one we’re in now) if we asked him to be, that he actually would be and that one of the main tasks, if not the main one, of the Christian life is some form of commitment to actually working out what that relationship of closeness might mean for us, both individually, as Church families and as the whole Church. If we got to know Jesus, what might we see? What might he invite us to do? What might he actually want to do for us, give to us, so that we might pass on the gift to others this year?
So, don’t fall for slogans, or long paragraphs like mine, this new year. Don’t rely on blogs, books, memes, videos on Facebook or even the Huffington Post to tell you what to think this new year. Don’t mindlessly retweet. Even more, don’t beligerently retweet. If you have questions, doubts, fears, if you’re looking for a reason to be hopeful, a reason to be cheerful (part 2017) this new year, then you actually, actually, actually, you actually can do no better than to silence all the words, all the screens, all the arguments, and invite Jesus, the only Word truly worth hearing and listening to, to be live with you, in you, through you and for you this coming year.
You might think this blog, therefore, is a waste of time, shouting into a void, obsolete. Well, yes, maybe, but these are the kinds of words I needed to hear at the end of 2016 and the start of 2017. So I wrote them to myself. What would the Church be like if I, if we, chose to prioritise the things that Jesus chose to prioritise? He gave a priority to love (of God and people), a priority to the poor, a priority to prayer, a priority to telling people about the kingdom of God through sharing stories they could relate to and a priority to building teams of people who could partner with him in his work. Wouldn’t it be great if I lived with these priorities? What could change? What could happen? What mountains might be moved if we joined together in living this way?
Let’s find out in the year to come