If you’re like me, you bought a brand-new planner at the beginning of 2022, full of empty boxes and white spaces to make new plans and new goals. It can be a confusing topic: to set goals or not to set goals—that is the question of the new year. However, aside from setting goals/resolutions/intentions that I may or may not keep, I do try to reflect on the previous year. I do this to see what God has brought me through and to remind myself of His promises.
In the beginning of 2021, I witnessed a close death. My grandfather. He was the first of my immediate extended family to die, and the first death I witnessed as an adult. Two moments remain solidified in my memory from the day of his burial.
I remember how finalizing it was when my grandmother shoveled the first pile of dirt onto her husband’s grave. The thud of the clay-red dirt was like his final heartbeat. It brought fresh tears to those standing beside her. I also remember coming back home from the funeral and walking up the steps to Grandma’s front door. And as I looked to my right, I saw the sun reflecting off the rippling pond waves. It was beautiful. Some might compare it to thousands of diamonds sparkling in the sun. To me, it was the applause of angel’s wings, welcoming my faithful grandpa home. When I reflected on it a year later, those two moments were still the first thing that I thought about, and it discouraged my intentions for the new year. What if another death happens?
When a new year comes, our reflections of the past sometimes hinder our plans for the future. We remember the challenges, the deaths, the setbacks that have occurred, and we wonder why we even raise our expectations for the future.
Setbacks in church, occupations, ministry, and life will happen. Sometimes those setbacks mean the death of our father or grandfather. Sometimes those setbacks mean church congregations shrinking after time, not growing. Sometimes those setbacks mean pushing off our ideal timeline to graduate. Sometimes those setbacks mean searching for years for someone to fulfill a ministry role. Sometimes those setbacks simply mean losing the battle with impatience yet again.
On the same morning that I remembered the death of my grandfather, I read my last Bible reading of the year: Revelation 19-22. “He will make all things new… He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” And I remembered why we continue to make New Year’s plans again and again, despite knowing that setbacks and suffering will come.
It’s because we have hope.
In Colossians 1, the Apostle Paul discusses the “holy triumvirate of spiritual attributes”—faith, love, and hope.1 Those three attributes are found in multiple other places in his writings.2 And while we often emphasize faith or love, we leave out hope.
Hope is the resting foundation of a believer’s life—it is what we base our faith on. We hope in the complete redemption of ourselves and the world that will occur before the throne of our Holy Father in heaven. We have the hope that Jesus will make that redemption come to pass one day. It is because of that hope that we can love each other as Christ loved us. And, it is because of that hope that we can endure the suffering on this side of that redemption. Because, even though we know the redemption will come, it hasn’t yet. Yes, we can only see glimpses of it among the brokenness of suffering around us. But a funeral anniversary reminds us which side of heaven we are on.
But most importantly, it is only because of hope that we can endure the sufferings of the world we’re in.
When Paul mentions hope, he says it is “laid up for us in heaven”.3 We can “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God”.4 How can we rejoice? Because of hope. But we don’t just have joy when we see the good things He’s doing. We can rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that those trials, tribulations, and setbacks will lead to our endurance of character. That will lead to hope, which will not put us to shame. How can we embrace suffering in the daily dying to ourselves? By fixing our eyes on the hope that is to come.
“This hope is the confident expectation of what is ahead for the Christian. It is the daily reminder that this world is not our home and that we must fix our gaze on eternity and on Jesus… Our hope is Jesus, and it is on Him that we fix our gaze”.5
Why do I set goals and plan for the future and try to die to myself? Because of the hope I have that one day my life will help, Lord willing, to expand the kingdom of Jesus. It is because of God’s love for me and my love for the world that I press on today. Today, as I die to myself, I want to rejoice in hope. That hope of what is to come, that hope that everything will one day be perfect is what compels us forward. It is why we open our eyes and face a new day. It is why we throw away our 2021 planners and anticipate the coming of a new year. Oh, we know that the new year will bring hardship. We will face loneliness. We will pour our lives into people who might just take and take and then just leave. But we press on in the mundane because we have the hope of what lies ahead.
Oh, what a day that will be!