How are you feeling about the year that's just begun? Are you optimistic and ready for its demands? Or are you anxious and stressed, worried that you won't be able to cope with the months ahead?
I've been regarding this year with trepidation. Normally by early January, I've reflected on the year that's passed and the one that's coming. I've thought about what areas of godliness I want to work on, and written a list of resolutions to be observed or ignored, as the case may be. I've drawn up a budget, and typed out a daily and weekly plan. But an overly busy December and illness during our post-Christmas vacation left little time for reflection and planning. What's more, last year was a hard year, which scared me a little. I've been anxious about my ability to cope with the unknown, and worried that the known will look all too familiar.
That's how I was feeling until I picked up my Bible the other morning. I turned the pages to the well-known words of Psalm 23, and read each sentence slowly and prayerfully.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
My fear and anxiety show what’s in my heart. At some level, I've been thinking, “‘He restores my soul’—but only if I've had enough rest during our vacation. ‘He leads me in paths of righteousness’—but only if I write a list of New Year's resolutions. ‘I will fear no evil’—but only if I tick everything on my ‘To Do’ list before the kids go back to school. ‘Surely goodness and mercy will follow me’—but only if I plan my year with the precision of a US Marines Operation. ” But God’s sovereign care for his people has no contingency clauses.
Yes, God can work through my wise plans. Plans help me to prioritize what's important, resolutions can be useful aids to holiness, and routines enable me to use my time well. But if I depend on plans to give me peace when I'm anxious, on resolutions to relieve my guilt, and on routines to make me feel in control, I'm on dangerous ground. The day I trust in my plans is the day I stop trusting in God. No plans can avert disaster, ensure growth or guarantee happiness this year.
I don't know what the year will hold. I don't even know what will happen tomorrow (Jas 4:13-17)! I don't know if I’ll cope with ministry and motherhood, if my son will settle into his first year of school or if my family will stay healthy. I don't even know if I, or those close to me, will be alive by the end of this year.
What I do know is the one thing I need to know: God's goodness and mercy to me in Jesus.
I know that God is good to his people (Ps 73:1). I know that in my Good Shepherd's sheep fold, there is protection and pasture (John 10:1-18). I know that every morning I will wake to new mercies (Lam 3:22-23). I know that all things work together for good to make me more like Jesus (Rom 8:28-29). I know that I need fear no evil, even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps 23:4). I know that God leads me in paths of righteousness for his glory (Ps 23:3). I know that goodness and mercy will pursue me every day and into eternity (Ps 23:6). I have nothing to fear, and everything to hope for.
And so, every time I feel anxious about this year, I repent of my unbelief, preach the following words to myself, and choose once again, with God's help, to believe them: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever”. Amen.