Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Pressing On into the New Year

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21, ESV)

The last week of the year is typically a time of reflection and anticipation, but too often for me, those days become filled with regret and dread--resolutions unmet and so much work left undone, particularly in my roles as mother and home educator. There has so often been a tension between feeling as though it all isn’t working out despite my best-laid plans, and remaining convinced that if I try just a little harder I can emerge from this slump to accomplish greater things on my boys’ behalf. Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas—seasons of grace, hope, and celebration—offer sweet diversions, but then, typically, the respite draws to an abrupt close. The turn of the year potentially offers a clean slate, but the gray days of winter deal a preemptive strength-sapping blow. I start the New Year feeling uncertain and vulnerable.

I’m in that space again, and 2015 has had its share of failed ventures to bemoan. Nothing’s quite where I want it to be at home. I am still weak, and lurking again is the temptation to fret, to self-condemn, to give up. But I won’t. I find this year that I have been challenged by the truths of Scripture and find my heart at rest in a way that is new and comforting.  I’ve spent this past summer and fall, and now into the winter, completing a study through a single epistle—the book of Philippians. It was meant to be a ten-week venture, but life, distractions, and competing demands have extended that threefold. The extended time with Paul’s words has proven to be good for me. Over the course of these six months, I’ve come to see God’s power to transform heart and mind into conformity with his, and to strengthen resolve towards perseverance in faith and mission, even in the face of persecution and great trial. It was true for Paul and the Philippian believers in their mission to proclaim Christ and stand firm in the faith; it is true for me as I seek to live out the gospel in the mundanities of life.

In several ways, this Hebrews 13 benediction summarizes the truths that Paul expands upon in Philippians: It tells of the great grace of God to us through Jesus Christ. The grace that transformed Paul’s life and ministry is the same grace that meets us in our weakness and stagnation to accomplish through us the very will of God for his glory. The word of God reminds me that I am eternally reconciled with God. He is near and active in my life—in the crucible of caring for a child with autism, while teaching my little ones, and when counseling my young adult children. He gives strength and wisdom, for these are among the good works he has willed for me. Jesus is my living and active Shepherd, and so at the beginning of this New Year, I remember that I am not directionless and not left to my own devices. He is the guiding force in my children’s lives, in my husband’s, and in mine, and I can never be so inept as to frustrate his plans for any of us. Knowing these truths—that I do not work alone but in union with Christ, that God himself equips me and is the very energy at work to do his will—becomes the confidence and motivation to press on, all the while, praying for his strength and counsel, and the full supply of the Holy Spirit. Like Paul, I am working towards eternity and for the glory of God, and I work knowing that in God’s hands it is sanctifying effort, transforming me into his very image.

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