This New Year, I have a great sense of gratitude to the God who has made me who I am, and brought me to where I am.
When I was young, my church emphasised that God has a plan for each of our lives, and that we need discernment in finding, and fulfilling that plan. The impression I received was of one, definitive future which would be revealed to us in an almost magical way if we asked with sufficient persistence.
Well, it wasn’t like that for me. Not normally. There was one job advertisement which leapt off the page, kindling an unexpected enthusiasm in me. I applied. After long delays, there was a phone call at just the right time, and I got a job, though not the one I’d originally applied for. That was how God’s guidance should work, I thought.
But there was also the time the young woman I’d dreamed of the night before came into the office. Surely it’s a sign, I thought? And there was the moment in a crowded Kentish Town living room I just knew God was calling me to be a Baptist minister. Well, in time I realised that the girl was not the ‘one for me’, and that my personality was unsuited to church ministry.
At times I was driven by an obsessive and unhealthy sense of what I felt God expected of me. I’d do stuff which I thought would please God, like handing out gospel tracts on a windswept street corner in an attempt to atone for what I regarded as my failures. The idea of God’s guidance was destroying me rather than liberating me.
But I now look back with thankfulness. I am now doing a job I love in IT, a job which was scarcely imaginable when I left school. I am enormously grateful for wife, and family, for home and friends and churches. I am grateful for the degree of self-knowledge I’ve been given.
And looking back, I can see in these things a ‘givenness’. There was nothing magical, or obviously supernatural. I went through life, pushing on doors when I came to them, sometimes seeking to discern that still inner voice which I believe is the voice of God, sometimes ignoring it. There have been jobs I applied for and didn’t get, and later realised they would have destroyed me. God, it seems, knows my needs better than I do myself.
I wondered how could write about thankfulness and God’s creative prompting without giving the sense I’ve in some way arrived, and thereby hurting those who are suffering.
Well, even now, there are days of numbness and shadow, God-absent days. And looking back over five decades, I recall many times of darkness: those long, sad Christmases, those years beset by anxiety and the fear of being suicidal, those years before I came north spent in jobs I found so difficult that I regularly dreamed of the office being burnt to a smouldering shell.
Days when there was no joy, no feeling of thankfulness, only a stubborn resolve, encouraged by intermittent glimpses of God, to choose joy, to choose hope believing in the coming of daylight and springtime.
So I think it’s OK to write about thankfulness, because I am not a stranger to pain. I know darkness, not as much as many, but enough to understand the despair some of us experience. And I attribute everything I am and have to the love of a gracious God who over the years has revealed to me who I am, and helped me become more fully myself.
So I believe I have been guided by God, but not along a fixed, predestined path, at least not in any sense which rules out my freedom to choose. The God who knows our ending from our beginning presents us daily with a range of possibilities. We make our choices, listening (or not) to that inner voice, and each choice we make will open up a new range of possibilities. This is flexible, creative, God-by-your-side guidance – even when we make terribly wrong choices, there are still creative options, still hope, still grace.
New Year is about looking forward as well as looking back. And this calls for courage as we face the unknown, the challenge of our limited view of the possibilities, the complacency which makes us more comfortable staying where we are rather than continuing to learn and grow. And for some of us this New Year holds very specific fears.
But as Christians, we can face 2015 with hope, trusting the God whose face we see in Jesus, the God whose severe love calls us not to scurry past the beckoning doors, but to be open to our own best futures.
(Christian Viewpoint from the Highland News dated 1st January 2015)