However, today I wanted to post a few short reflections on the transition from 2011 to 2012, as I appreciate the sense of a fresh start and goal-setting we often experience around New Year's Day.
The first half of 2011, for me, was overshadowed by the process of diagnosis & treatment for stage 2 breast cancer - which, I am happy to say, was completely eliminated with very low risk of recurrence. Walking through that season taught me the importance of rest, of valuing simplicity and clarity in how I spend my time and energy, not taking things for granted but living with a greater degree of thankfulness and thoughtfulness than I had before. It was also interesting to me that the Lord had already given me my teaching topic for this January - joy! - in December 2010. I had thought 2011 would be a "fun" year - and it was, in many ways - but I think what I discovered most through the trials and difficulties of those first 6 months is that spiritual joy doesn't depend on circumstances at all. God's joy flows in your spirit, i.e., where God lives, and I learned through those months how to tap into a sense of happiness and contentment and delight that runs far deeper than simply "what happens."
The second half of 2011 involved transitioning from a church fellowship of which I'd been a part for 14 years to a new place of worship with a lot less traditional structure. It was difficult, at first - often, when it's time to let go of something familiar in favor of something unknown, it can be tempting to "look back," to compare or criticize - eventually I realized that no one is "wrong" or "right" about everything, sometimes God is just moving us into a new season of growth and closer alignment with His plans for us. Having worshipped at The Gate (www.thegatedc.com) since August 20, I have experienced a deeper, richer sense of God's Presence in everything I do (not just "church" activities), and greater freedom & joy in following the Holy Spirit than I've ever known before. Other than the place I worship on the weekends, "who I am" - including friendships, activities, and core values - has not changed all that much, except that I feel I am beginning a new season of spiritual growth, challenged to go deeper with God in every area of my life, with greater peace and freedom, a sense of delight and connectedness to the family of God all over the earth, and - yes - fresh joy in the goodness of God. :)
As the New Year's weekend began, I found myself thinking of typical goals for 2012 - improving health, diet & exercise, spending habits, personal organization in my home... but as I attended a wonderful worship service on New Year's Eve, I closed my eyes and "saw" Jesus standing above us, at the peak of the sanctuary ceiling, as if He was about to take a step down from heaven into the room. I was reminded again of a verse that's been coming to me often in the past week or so: "Of the increase of His government and peace, there will be no end" [Isaiah 9:7a NIV]. I realized that I needed to lay aside my own goals (and self-focus!) in favor of looking to Him, inviting Him to come and order my life, my thoughts, my plans, etc. And that sense of Jesus being about to "step down" into the room? All of history, all of our activities as God's children, all point to the day when Jesus will, in fact, return to earth - how should that focus order our priorities and what we plan to do with our lives in the coming year?
Of course, each of us has a unique place and purpose in the unfolding of God's will on earth - for me, there's a simple "mission statement" I've felt God speaking to me over the past several years from Isaiah 58:7 (below). My understanding of this verse, and how I live it out from day to day, grows deeper as I learn and walk with Him. As I packed over 100 lbs of gifts & clothing for Nicaragua in December, and continue to prepare my heart and teaching notes so He can release His joy through me to others on that trip - even as I am learning to carry His love & joy, just as faithfully and fervently, into my all of my work and relationships here at home - His instructions continue to speak to me:
I want you to share your food with the hungry and to welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
[Isaiah 58:7 NLT]
What about you? Is there a verse or a theme God is speaking to your heart? Are you allowing Him to deepen your relationship with Him and your understanding of how to let Him work His will in & through you in the year ahead?
May each of you find your unique place in the Body of Christ and a sense of belonging to God's family throughout the earth. May you know the joy of hearing Him speak to your heart of His Love for you and others - each and every day in 2012, and beyond.
Happy New Year!
Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.
[Psalm 37:4 NIV]