It’s the end of one year, as of the writing of this, 2017. 2018 is so close, so near to our thoughts and ideas, it is like 2018 is already here. We’re busy thinking about what is to come, some are constructing resolutions, some are making plans and setting goals, and others are just resting in the free renewal of the feeling that they get that chance to start over again.
Ultimately, I think that is what most take reassurance in, each and every new year: the chance to start again. This time, we can do it right. We can resolve, and hopefully, it will be so. We’ll make it so, or at least give it our best try.
Many in the church look for “a word” around this time, something that specifically prophesies or foretells what we should do, or look for, in the upcoming year. I’m not into that whole fad. Honestly, it bores me. It’s the same stuff, year after year. Nowadays we also see a little numerological divination mixed in, as people try to foretell what will happen in any give year by the last two numbers that appear in each calendar year (such as for 2018, the numbers would be 18, or sometimes, just 8). Let me say, there’s nothing Biblical about their prognostications, nor their methods; God doesn’t submit His timing, nor His being, to our twelve-month calendar. God works as He will, when He will, and however He sees fit, existing outside of our time. Nevertheless, I am asked, every year, by different people – “What’s the word for next year?”
I don’t know if I would call it a word for 2018, so much as a word for God’s people, in general, in this specific season. I’m giving it now because it came up now. The word is:
DO HARD THINGS.
During a recent Seminary class, my students and I were finishing up our month-long study on HIV ministry, when the words “do hard things” stumbled out of my mouth. We’ve come to reach a point in church where we like easy things, and we like hearing about easy things. We divine the numbers of a year, because it’s easy. We want a word in January for the year, because it’s easy. The ravages and challenges of life, those just aren’t things we are interested in. We want to pray away everything at the altar and hope for the best, and we don’t take the time, nor make the investment, in the things of life that are not easy. We don’t like the things that don’t have a quick, nor a simple, answer. When we don’t have an answer, we often falter and flail about, and completely lose sight of what we are supposed to be doing.
I told my Seminarians that God desires us to do hard things. We aren’t here for the easy things, the things with quick answers, the things that seem obvious; we are here for the things that are the exact opposite. God has placed us here to handle the things that don’t have quick answers, to stand with those who hurt, to encourage others through the hard, difficult questions, to be voices of reason and challenge in a world that seldom makes sense, and frequently leaves discomfort. Rather than avoiding those things, we need to do the work of ministry that is hard. Stop looking for easy answers, and start doing hard things.
We often complain that we don’t see the spiritual movement of God like we have in years past. There’s all sorts of speculation as to why, but I believe we don’t see God move like we desire because we are unwilling to do the genuine, serious work of God. Walking with God, Kingdom work, as many call it now, isn’t running around the church when the keyboardist changes chords or singing fun music. Sure, praise and worship is awesome, and yes, we should do those things, but those things are expressions of our relationship with God. They don’t define our work in this world, however, and that means what we do – and who we are – is what defines our experience. How much you get out of your faith dictates how much you will reap from it, and if all you are doing is sitting back, waiting for a song to cause you to jump and shout, as easy things parade around you, then you aren’t going to reap much from that.
On that day after Jesus went out of the house, He sat by the lake. And such a large crowd gathered around Him that He got into a boat to sit while the whole crowd stood on the shore. He told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground where they did not have much soil. They sprang up quickly because the soil was not deep. But when the sun came up, they were scorched, and because they did not have sufficient root, they withered. Other seeds fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked them. But other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty. The one who has ears had better listen!” (NET)
The parable of the sower is interpreted to mean so many things to different people, but if we look at it without a lot of attachment, it is a story that teaches us about doing difficult things well, as well as however much we are willing to put into our situations is what we will get back. It takes time and effort to grow plants, and to grow them so they’ll live, and flourish. It’s not as simple as throwing some seeds somewhere, hoping they will grow. The evidence of that is seen in the parable: some seed just falls wherever it will, some seed falls where the soil isn’t deep enough, some fell on the rocks, some grew up amongst thorns. Some fell where the wind carried it, and it was easy for it to land there.
Nothing that fell where it was easy, just blowing with the wind, lived unto harvest. None of those plants even made it to rooting. The conditions just weren’t right. It was the seed, planted in good soil, that brought about a harvest. Everything had to be just so, just purposed, maintained, monitored, and carefully observed, to bring about the desired harvest.
So many of us go into each new year, resolute that this one will be different…only for them to constantly be the same. The word we have received, that easy, carefree word, never took root because it was just there to produce something on the surface. We felt our emotions, we got stirred up until the next thing came along, and we hoped those feelings, those emotions, would last us through each and every storm…but they can’t. Emotions can’t carry us through our seasons, because emotions, like ease, have a way of changing and fleeing. We can scream and cry at the altar a million times, for a million Watchnight and New Year’s Eve services, but the breakthrough doesn’t come when we keep doing the same things, holding onto the same false and surface promises, and responding to everything in the same way. Easy isn’t getting us anywhere as a church! If we want to break through our faith, we need to stop seeking the easy road out for everything, because God hasn’t called us to remain in the world to do things that are easy and casual. He’s put us here for hard things. We will find our purpose in hard things, if we are willing to rise to the challenge. The Spirit of God flows when it’s difficult, because the Spirit hovers and moves in dark places. Such was true at Creation, at Pentecost, and now. The release, the breakthrough, comes only when we are willing to break, because we have allowed that which is hard to change us.
I once saw a saying: “Sometimes the things we cannot change end up changing us.” That’s their purpose: for things to get hard, and for us to change ourselves. The change we seek, within and without, is in those hard places, in those things that force us to grow up and grow in God, and only when we are willing to take them on, will we find the change we seek.
Whether you take my advice today, or you take it in this new year, or you take it whenever you are poised and ready to do so, heed the call: do hard things. The easy way out might seem easier today, but in the whole of your life, you will keep failing if you never confront, nor take on, the challenge of that which is hard.
(c) 2017 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.