Thoughts on starting the new year right
On 12 January 2015, it felt like I had found God for the first time, as if His breath made my lungs its home at last. I offered my whole heart during a church retreat, emptying its cracks of dormant lies, fear, and doubt; I also allowed Him to repair it carefully.
As my alabaster jar laid shattered before God, a seemingly indestructible desire for Him also broke free in my spirit: I left the room pining for the Word and Presence of God. I told myself that I was going to commit to communing daily with Him for 1.5 hours.
However, it took only a few months before transitions in life held onto my skin like cling wrap. I slipped into an endless string of activity — completing my thesis, planning for my graduation trip, hunting for a job, juggling between career and ministry — and my life soon spun out of control. 2015 became sheathed in a translucent haze of indifference.
While God had revealed to me that it was a year dedicated to laying my life down, I couldn’t help but covertly pick up the things of the world, one after another, and refusing to let go. When a couple of situations did not turn out like how I had expected, a cold carapace formed around the flesh of my beating heart.
My love for God grew distant, as questions (rather than faith) filled the gaping hole between Him and me. My eyes were veiled with worry and doubt, and my heart lusted for the material rather than the eternal.
As the end of the year drew close, I knew that I wasn’t in a good place, but it felt comfortable coasting at a lacklustre pace, oblivious that it would eventually lead to death. Life felt insipid, like the lethargy that envelops you on a warm and humid afternoon.
In December, I finally caught my breath when I took some time out to head to Indonesia with a few close friends. It was also a trip dedicated to reflecting on the past year, and it wasn’t long before I realised I had not grown much spiritually. The more I flipped through the back pages of my journal, the more startling it became that my spirit man had become stale, stuck in a state of stagnation.
A sadness started to weigh upon my nonchalant heart. I felt heavy from being the sum of all my mistakes: apathy, busyness, inauthenticity, doubt, pride. There was also an immense sense of waste as I had started 2015 so well — in fact, never this well — only to throw it all away as the year trundled on.
I grew disappointed and very little of me wanted to give Him praise; out of 10,000 reasons, I could barely find 5. Yet, God still cared enough to wade through the ennui and self-pity to find me.
On the final day of 2015, He spoke to me with a steadfast assurance, “Joseph, I am a God of second chances.” Isaiah 43:18-19 reflects His heart for my life, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
I have learnt that the only way to leave 2015 behind is to begin by understanding grace. God was teaching me a lesson in grace when He encouraged me on to try again. Grace is us being given one chance, two chances, three chances, and still never coming up short.
We can often find the concept of grace — of needing to earn nothing in order to attain hope and salvation — so incredulous that we keep it at it at bay. One arm’s length away please.
However, when I started to accept that I am caught up in this gentle avalanche, I grasped how God remains firmly in control in spite of our failings. Even when the night hangs on, I know that as unfaltering as His mercies are, the sun will find the courage to rise in the morning.
Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. (Psalm 73:23 NLT)
Trusting God to turn things around is built on the truth that we belong to God and no one else. Nothing can get in the way of this blood-washed relationship. As His children, we can be confident that there is purpose for the pain and that He knows where exactly the fractured pieces have fallen. Our loving Father is faithful through the spurt and the slump, wholeness and brokenness.
When I felt ready to rebuild my life and start 2016 afresh, God bestowed to me a vision: Instead of me pacing across the ambling shoreline, I finally dared to dive deep into the ocean, eager with anticipation that new lands were to be discovered.
If 2015 was a difficult year for you — you could have lost a loved one or had to fight through a trying transition — may you be ready to leave it behind. Let God wring out the regrets of yesteryear and lay it out newly fresh to dry, allowing your life to return to where it used to be. In 2016, may your heart be light as you bathe in His perfect and pleasing will.