2016. What a year! For me, it held the birth of my first child, learning how to balance motherhood, marriage, and work, the death of two grandparents, wrestling with loneliness away from my family and friends, excitement and gratitude over new friendships, lots of traveling with my husband and working on the road, very little sleep, and, let’s be honest, a TON of coffee. On a larger scale, 2016 brought the devastation of numerous earthquakes and hurricanes across the world, the spread of the Zika virus, terrorist attacks, the Summer Olympics in Brazil, a heated US presidential election, 135,858,636 births, and 56,893,923 deaths.
Every year, December naturally ushers in a season of reflection. The Thanksgiving leftovers are finally gone, the Christmas trees are being undressed, your extended family has gone back home, and you are frantically attempting to remember what New Year’s resolutions you made last January 1 to evaluate what kind of last minute work you need to accomplish. Maybe you can lose that 5 pounds if you run two times every day until New Year’s Day. Did you say you would read six new books this year? You definitely meant two. Okay, now you’re ready to find the courage to ask your boss for that raise. Maybe this past year was everything you dreamed of, but what if 2016 didn’t turn out like you’d hoped it would? If 2016 was a year of disappointment, unmet expectations, or devastating loss and pain for you, take heart in this truth: God is still sovereign.
Sovereignty is defined as “supreme power or authority.” When we say that God is sovereign, we are referring to the Biblical teaching that all things are under God’s rule and control, and that nothing happens without His direction or permission. God is sovereign over His creation, the affairs of man, and our salvation, sanctification, and glorification; nothing and no one can thwart His sovereign plans. The gravity of this knowledge can feel heavy as you grasp the ramifications: In addition to the blessings and favor He shows you, God allows and even orchestrates the disappointments and tragedies in your life.
The Bible teaches us that God is good, faithful, loving, and merciful. He orchestrates each of our lives through the lens of these characteristics as well. But how is the tragedy that He allows good? 1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” The purity of your faith is more important to God than your comfort, the achievement of your dreams, your avoidance of tragedy, or the weight of your wallet. This makes sense, of course, because our faith affects our eternity, unlike our earthly circumstances. When gold passes through fire, the impurities are burned, leaving the gold refined and shining more brightly. Pastor John Piper believes that this “praise, glory, and honor” mentioned in 1 Peter 1 is yours, and not God’s. Jesus says, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). God praises your still imperfect faith, and that moment is more valuable to Him than your comfort or even your life.
So, how do you respond if you look back at 2016 and see nothing but failure, shattered dreams, broken relationships, and disappointments? You pray for a spirit of thankfulness. It seems counterintuitive to be thankful for the things we perceive as negative, but we must remind ourselves that God is working for our good. As He refines our faith, He molds us to look more like Him, He encourages us, and He uses us for His glory. Everything He does in our lives is done in love. These are things to be thankful for! Without fire, the gold will never shine as brightly. Even when we don’t always understand why things happen the way they do, we can rest in the knowledge that we will be okay because God is in control, and He is good. Now, “okay” may look different than we expect. “Okay” may mean that you still have cancer, or that your husband still loses his job. But, according to Romans 8, we know that “God works for the good of those who love Him.”
Sometimes talking about the sovereignty of God can make Him feel distant or maybe just too big to be concerned with our problems. Do not let Satan convince you of this lie! God is close: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). God is in your midst and rejoicing over you: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Nothing can separate you from God’s love: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39). Write these truths down around your house, recite them every morning, put them to melodies and sing them throughout the day – whatever you need to do to combat Satan’s deception and discouragement.
As we prepare to ring in the new year, remember who is in control. There is nothing wrong with New Year’s resolutions and setting expectations for the future, but we must not think too highly of our own wills. If 2017 unfolds exactly how you want it to, praise God. And if it blows up in your face, praise God. He can see the bigger picture in it all, and we must trust Him, regardless of our circumstances. Embrace the refining process when your faith is tested and rejoice in His perfect plan for you!
Paul Anderson Youth Home