I don’t know about you, but this year I’ve found it much harder than normal to set goals or make plans for the year ahead. Everything still seems so uncertain, and I think 2020 taught many of us that no matter how well we plan there are no guarantees.
For the last five years though, I’ve had a word for the year. Initially I was a bit sceptical about the concept, but I have found it helpful, and it has been interesting to see how God has used the word each year, often in ways I didn’t expect.
Over the last couple of months, a phrase has been repeatedly going round in my mind, and so for 2021, I want to focus on that phrase and on one word of it in particular.
The phrase is “the call is to faithfulness, not to success.” There’s a lot to explore in that, and I hope to do that this year, and the particular word I am going to focus on is “Faithfulness.”
I have already found it interesting to consider this theme in the Bible. As I was reading the Christmas Story, one particular verse stopped me in my tracks. It’s strange how often when you re-read a familiar Bible passage you discover something fresh and new.
The verse is Luke 1:25, and it is Elizabeth’s exclamation on discovering that God has heard her prayers and that she is going to have a baby: “How kind the Lord is,” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.”
As I read that verse, I just wanted to give Elizabeth a hug. Of course I could understand her joy at her prayer being answered after all those years, at the prospect of giving birth to this precious new life, but I ached for the sense of disgrace she had obviously experienced over her childlessness.
I don’t know how much of that sense of disgrace came from others and how much came from Elizabeth herself. Because children were seen as a blessing from God, childlessness was seen as a sign of judgement – perhaps an indication of infidelity or of another sin. Maybe others speculated about the reasons behind Elizabeth’s childless state, and I’m sure she wondered herself. It seems that the sense that she wasn’t meeting people’s expectations, or fulfilling what was considered “normal” was a heavy burden for her to bear.
Elizabeth wasn’t seen as a success by those around her, and she probably didn’t view herself as a success, but she was faithful – she was incredibly faithful.
“Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commands and regulations.” (Luke 1:6 NLT)
Her lack of a child certainly wasn’t the result of unfaithfulness, or judgement because of sin. In fact, no real explanation is given apart from the most basic one.
“They had no children, because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.” (Luke 1:7 NLT)
My first lesson for this year of “faithfulness” is that faithfulness is not an easy calling. It’s not glamorous or exciting, and it doesn’t necessarily lead to success in the eyes of others, or in our own eyes, but I do think God sees it as a success.
I think God must have been pleased with Elizabeth during all those years of quiet devotion to him, as she battled with her unfulfilled longing, but still chose repeatedly to obey. Wherever the sense of disgrace she felt came from, I don’t believe that was the way God viewed her.
So, this year I hope to learn from others who have shown faithfulness to God, and I want to grow in faithfulness myself. Interestingly, my church is beginning a series on spiritual disciplines next week and that is also the topic beginning today at She Reads Truth, which is the plan I most often use for daily Bible reading, so this seems to be where God is leading me to start exploring.
I also want to learn to trust more in God’s faithfulness this year. As I said, there is a lot that looks uncertain, but one thing we can be certain of is God’s faithfulness. This song by Brian Doerksen has been a helpful reminder for me in the past.
“I don’t know what this day will bring.
Will it be disappointing, or filled with longed-for things?
No, I don’t know what tomorrow holds,
But I know I can trust your faithfulness.”
What about you? Do you have a word for the year, or have you set goals or made resolutions?
Feel free to share in the comments.