Sitting in church during the morning service a week before Christmas, I had a passing thought: This is going to be a spiritually significant year for you.
I attributed the thought to my mental wandering, though it had really come quite out of nowhere. It wasn’t until my church’s Christmas Eve service, when I was really engaged in the music and just generally in the Spirit, that the thought returned. Only it was less a thought than it was a strong and certain impression, words burned into my mind that felt distinctly not-mine and bore no direct relation to anything happening around me: The coming year is going to be a spiritually significant, transformative year for you. It is going to be a year that will form the sort of believer you are going to be from here on – where you will choose the sort of believer you are going to be from here on.
I have had this experience only a handful of other times, the kind of moment when it was clear to me that God was speaking something directly to my heart. I told my husband about it immediately afterward, and I told my mother, and I tucked it away in my heart. I assumed it was a little encouragement of sorts from God, an affirmation of my desire to be closer to Him. Sort of a spiritual thumbs-up.
Now it’s almost the end of January, and a month away from the new year I’ve learned that an unexpected, life-altering career shakeup is coming my way. On the same day I confronted an unrelated longtime fear of mine in unexpected and anxiety-inducing circumstances. And when I stumbled to my prayer journal that evening bewildered and confused, I opened it up to the page where I’d recorded – way back at Christmas – the message I felt I’d received.
It resonated. I sat for a long while looking at it.
I’m the kind of person who lives and dies by plans. I hate being surprised. One of my work colleagues once said, “Wouldn’t it be great if someone just showed up at your work and said, ‘Pack your bags, we’re going to Hawaii’?!” And all I could think was, “No, that sounds horrifying.” I want to know what’s coming and when and to prepare for it as best I can. I always have 52 contingency plans for any given scenario.
But here I sit. What I believe God has shared with me is that this year is going to be…different. And what I know is that a month into it the daily expectations of my life, my routine, and my future have been thrown into complete disarray. Normally this would cause a meltdown. Normally I’d be crying and fretting and drawing up lists. But I’m calm. Everything is possible. Anything is possible.
From this experience, I want to tell you two things:
1. Your relationship with God matters so fundamentally to the person you will be when the unexpected hits. In the past, I have been the type of believer who, blindsided by something or other, runs screaming to God for comfort and help. But over the past five years, in a way that I am only now starting to sense, God has been instilling in me a desire for relationship and a sense of spiritual discipline that wasn’t there before. I don’t have to run screaming to God; I was already standing right there. And this is the first time in my life that, facing something potentially unpleasant or unsettling, I’m not flying off the handle in a panic.
And it occurs to me that this is what 10,000 morning Bible studies and determined little prayers are for. In the moment, they seem like not-much. In the moment, they may not be setting our relationship with Christ on fire or making some immense, fiery difference. But when the testing time comes, that work counts. It shows. God rewards it. So if you are comfortable, if you are well, if everything is going to plan, start the work of love and relationship with God now even more than you have and keep at it consistently. You will be grateful when the time comes.
2. Anything is possible. Truly! That’s what God tells us. I suspect the New Testament church knew this very well. But we have trouble with it, and I have trouble with it, because our lives are so circumscribed by habit, routine, and expectation. We wake up, we eat, we work, we play, we go to bed, we repeat. And sometimes in the dull everyday we forget that God really can do anything – and might, given the chance.
My future is now unexpectedly wide open. I don’t know what will happen. Normally that would devastate me, but in the absence of panic (see #1), I am immensely curious. What will I do? What does God have for me? More of what came before? Is it something I can figure out? Is it something I’d never imagine? I know it won’t always be happiness and confetti; I’m sure I will have moments of sadness and uncertainty. But with God hanging around, and if I keep myself receptive to what He wants, in the fullness of time I am in for quite a journey.
It’s my hope for you that the “great wide open” doesn’t come about in quite the same way that mine has. Unexpected turbulence in life isn’t a lot of fun. But embracing a sense of possibility and wonder about the future – being aware that the center of our plans doesn’t always hold, and wasn’t always meant to – can help us understand and experience God in a new way, and in a trusting one.
I wish you a life-changing year.