In the run-up to January 1st, social media often looks like everyone got everything on their prayer list got checked off. However, if you've ever faced the reality of not getting what you've prayed and worked hard for, sometimes hoping for the future feels like a hopeless task.
While my 2019 was rich and I am extremely grateful, that didn't stop the questions coming in at my annual end-of-year small group fellowship. Some members wondered whether it was worth sharing big hopes for the New Year, when some plans and prayers from last year went unanswered.
-- What about that thing I felt like was going to happen but suddenly it didn't?
-- If I 'got it wrong', does that mean God doesn't speak to me?
-- What's the point of praying and dreaming again, if I can find myself here a year later with unanswered questions?
These are very real, and valid questions, and having a safe, judgement-free space to share what's really on your mind matters. You usually find that you're not alone and somewhere in the discussion, encouragement springs up.
Have you ever thought these thoughts? I'd be lying if I said I hadn't. I'd be lying if I said that as recently as last month, these thoughts crept into my head and an internal dialogue began. In my process of questioning, I learned two essential concepts to carry with you in 2020, that will empower you to become that person who "laughs without fear of the future" (Proverbs 31:25, NLT).
First, don't forget when everything fell into place.
Sometimes we're hardwired to focus only on the areas that feel lacking. When one of my biggest prayers for 2019 not only went unanswered, but it was confirmed that it would never happen, I was tempted to question whether God really spoke to me in the first place. Maybe I was delusional, maybe I was making it up.
Yet, almost immediately, I remembered all the many times where I believe God spoke to me, and everything He said came to pass... and then some. It was a response to my doubt.
In that process I learned this: never let one disappointment, no matter how painful or profound, invalidate your entire journey so far. Disappointments are going to happen, we are going to make mistakes. But is that disappointment enough to throw everything you've seen and experienced away? You've come so far on your journey, you've grown so much in wisdom, strength and experience, you’ve had some testimonies -- surely this isn't enough to make you retire permanently.
Besides, you were made to dream big, pray big prayers and keep trusting. You were made for this.
"For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline." (2 Timothy 1:6-7, NIV) [emphasis added]
Growing up in church, this verse was mentioned to encourage kids to not be afraid of the dark, bullies and scary movies. As we develop into adulthood, it's clear that what Paul is encouraging Timothy to do goes way beyond that, as described in Romans 8:
God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” (Romans 8:14-15, MSG)
As God's Spirit lives within and guides us, we have an adventure that awaits. There are things to do and places to go. We may feel and experience disappointment, but we don't have to live in it forever. Doing things and going places cannot happen if we’re stagnant and grave-tending our doubt and fear. With God's spirit, with the gift of God that we fan into flame, we have been given the power, love and self-discipline to be brave enough to have hope.
The 'dark' can simply be disappointment, doubt and uncertainty. But as we fan into flame God in us -- through prayer, the Word and following Jesus, we're empowered to lean into the dark moments and know that that they don't shape us. We can lean into 'the dark' and believe for a better future in the face of our unanswered questions.
So as you make yourself comfortable in this new year, this new decade, excitedly ask God "what's next?", because in Him the future is full of rich, beautiful, opportunity.