What Story will This New Year Tell?
by Leslie Vernick
Last year I sent you a newsletter in January with this same title. Never in a million years did any of us expect the year we had. A bad guy named Corona Virus invaded our world in early 2020. His mission? To kill and destroy whatever he could. Our physical health, our economy, our mental health, our education, our trust in a benevolent and good God, our governments and our trust in our fellow human beings. He’s been busy and he’s not defeated yet. As we start this new year, his mission remains the same. He’s powerful and wily; we’re scared of him.
In most epic stories, whether in film or book, fiction or non-fiction there are always bad guys who seek to take over and destroy the good. The writer of Proverbs speaks of this when it says, “For evil people can’t sleep until they’ve done their evil deed for the day. They can’t rest until they’ve caused someone to stumble.” (Proverbs 4:16)
The Bible is full of these kinds of stories. Good versus evil. Right fighting wrong. For example, Genesis tells the story of Joseph. His brothers were jealous and tried to destroy him by selling him into slavery. Later, his boss’s wife tried to seduce him and when that didn’t work she lied about him and he ended up in jail. In Exodus, Pharaoh felt threatened by the fertility of the Jews and ordered all baby boys to be killed. In Esther, Haman wanted to exterminate the Jews. Nehemiah had perpetual mockers and accusers who tried to intimate him to stop rebuilding the walls. Judas betrayed Jesus.
Remember this important truth. You do not know the outcome of your story while you are in the middle of it. But you do have choices on how your character is going to respond to the unfolding drama. Are you going to trust God? Persevere in doing the next right thing? Help and serve others? Grow stronger?
Or, become angry. Despondent. Fall apart. Give up. Cry uncle. Get mean and selfish with your resources? Blame life’s circumstances for your life story?
Joseph’s story, Moses’ story, Daniel’s story, Esther’s story, Abagail’s story, and Ruth’s story are not unlike your story. These ordinary human beings faced extraordinary challenges. But how the characters in these stories handled themselves and their challenges impacted many other people’s life stories as well. And so do you.
As you enter into this New Year of 2021, we don’t know what’s around the corner. There is a lot of uncertainty and change ahead. Therefore, I want to issue you a challenge. Is essentially the same challenge I gave you last year, but now I want you to understand how important it is that you take action now.
Maybe you’ve never recognized that God has given you an opportunity to co-partner with Him in writing your story within HIS larger story. Like Joseph, Esther, Abagail, Daniel, Moses, Deborah, and Mary the mother of Jesus.
God allowed some of them to be in horrible life circumstances, but they still recognized that they had choices about how they were going to live out those circumstances. And their choices made all the difference in how their story played out. History bears witness to their impact on future generations.
Sometimes when you or I are in the midst of difficult or unfair life circumstances like COVID-19, or political unrest, or unwanted divorce, we lose our way. Instead of allowing God to build the virtues he wants us to develop to accomplish his purposes. we let life circumstances and our emotions determine the outcome of our story (See 2 Peter 1:3-10).
During this past Christmas, I watched the Nativity Story movie with my granddaughters. Mary is pregnant and Joseph knows the baby is not his. Mary tells this wild story about God visiting her, which makes her crazy or a liar. And then Joseph has a dream where an angel confirms Mary’s story. Still, uncertainty reigns. Was that dream a real angel or just wishful thinking? Joseph had a choice to make. Was he going to believe God? Believe Mary? Joseph felt confused, perhaps even betrayed by circumstances, but chose to act virtuously. He didn’t understand everything about what was going on. He embraced his situation by faith and cooperated with God. That mindset gave him the strength to write his part of the story differently than he would have had he written it out of his painful or confused feelings.
We all feel anxious and worn out about now, but I want to remind you that you can create a different ending to your life story.
1. Rely on God’s love for you. He may have allowed tough circumstances in your life. Situations that you would never volunteer for. Understand, he always has a bigger purpose than you can see right now. Right now is not the end of your story or legacy.
2. Embrace God’s sovereignty and cooperate with his plan to mature you through it. Doing so will empower you to write a new chapter to your life story in 2021. You’re not in charge of all the obstacles, challenges or characters in your story. But will you be the hero, the victim, or the villain? The one who handles adversity with strength and courage or the one who runs away from it or becomes defeated by it?
3. What kind of person do you want to be at the end of 2021? Make a list of three desired virtues. Write them down. For example, I wrote down, Wise, Generous, and Compassionate. Every day ask yourself how would this wise, generous compassionate version of yourself handle this moment? And then do it. Don’t let your feelings decide. Because I promise you, you will not always feel wise, generous, or compassionate. Let your godly virtues build spiritual muscles internally so that your life is a light to others in dark places.
Don’t let another year go passively allowing your life story to be written by default. Instead, decide. Then take action, one small step at a time. How do you want to live your precious life, even in the midst of hard?