Growing up, my family and I always followed the New Year’s Tradition of making a New Year’s resolution. My family were not Christians, so I never thought to include God in this decision nor in making him the focal point of my New Year’s Resolution.
It wasn’t until I was working as a tentmaker as teacher in JET Japan that a group of missionary friends introduced me to the tradition of choosing a Bible verse to focus on for the coming year.
Since then I have kept up that tradition.
However, last year two passages I didn’t select at the start of the year—I Thessalonian 5:16-18 and James 1:19-22—have been repeating themselves in my mind and heart. So they will be my focus for the coming year.
Each month of 2017 brought some new trial, conflict, and/or challenge for me and both churches where I serve. The pastor of both churches unexpectedly resigned in April. Then, soon after, the advisor pastor’s wife had a stroke. The three churches are now trying to navigate through an unstable present towards an unseen future.
It was only my first year as a full-time missionary and what a year! I had to remind myself daily of how God desires us—his children and his church—to walk thru such trials.
In I Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul gives us advise about how to navigate through trials: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (NKJV). Even when things are not going well and it feels as if the storm may destroy everything, we must remember to rejoice, pray, and give thanks.
Also, we missionaries are to remember the church is not our church but God’s and its path is to be decided by him and his children. As we have had meeting after meeting, I continuously remind myself that I am a vessel and a servant here. That the Japanese have and will continue to be the ones who remain here, so it is for them and God to decide what becomes of the three churches.
James discusses such storm-abiding qualities: “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:19-22 NJKV).
Missions work can be muddy, tiring, and the future unclear but our God is faithful.
I hope each of us as we move into the New Year can turn our eyes away from ourselves—our own hopes, desires, and plans—and focus on him. I pray that we will serve and trust him, dedicate our lives to him, and work in this new year for God and his glory.
“Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us— to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21 HCSB).
Will you pray for Japan?
- Pray for churches struggling without pastors.
- Pray for missionaries to know how to wisely work with Japanese churches.
- Pray for new missionaries as they struggle with many things, pray that they would keep their eyes on God, the source of their strength and help.