Pastoral Perspectives

Standing at the Gate of the New Year

Dear Brothers and Sisters of True Way Presbyterian Church,

I greet all of you in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! Also, I want to wish all of you a very blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year. It is my great privilege to write this final perspective for the year as we stand before the year 2022.

These past 2 years have been trying, for everyone. Since the discovery of the COVID-19 virus in 2019, reliable news as to what to expect is in short supply. Each new development, whether good or bad, is blasted loudly over the media, shared relentlessly on social media and has dominated people’s conversations. Each time when things seem to be settling and we can relax a bit, something new emerges once again. What does 2022 hold in store for us? Will there really be the opening up of countries once again like we’ve all been waiting for? Will life return to some semblance of normal, albeit with suitable precautions? What does this all mean for the Church and our Mission? The truth is, no one really knows what will happen next nor how long this will last.

Again and again, we have been reminded just how little we know about the future. Expert opinion, while guided by data and research, is based on evidence of what has been recorded in the past. It cannot reliably predict what will yet come. What then can we do to settle our nerves? What hope do we have?

Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34, where Jesus tells his disciples to not be anxious in anything are good words to meditate on at this time.

Jesus’ words in verse 31-33 (emphasis mine) are dearly needed words of comfort in these trying times:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

As humans we cannot help but look for things that will satisfy our daily needs. In these trying times, I have found myself seeking out familiarity, whether it is a regular schedule, or an inkling of how things used to be. My security often comes from being able to predict what will happen next. As you can imagine this kind of predictability and reliability is in short supply right now.

When I was schooling, each year we would receive a school diary for the year. Inside the front page was a poem which read,

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: 
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” 
And he replied: 
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. 
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

The poem is titled God knows’ and was written by Minnie Louise Haskins in 1908 and became famous in 1939 when King George quoted it in his Christmas Broadcast to the British Empire. At the time it resonated with the public because the nation was facing the uncertainty of World War 2. Much like us today, no one knew how things would turn out in the end.

Though I didn’t think of it much then, these words have been coming to my mind again and again whenever I am faced with the New Year. They are an apt reminder of how God, our provider, is infinitely more secure than any human device we might rely on with which to see our way in the dark. While a light might illuminate one area of the darkness before us, guiding us to make decisions with some measure of security. But God, on the other hand, knows every part of the darkness before us, meaning He can (and will, if we would just trust Him!) guide us not just safely, but where we need to go.

The poem isn’t long and the verse below is my favourite:

*God knows. His will 
Is best. The stretch of years 
Which wind ahead, so dim 
To our imperfect vision, 
Are clear to God. Our fears 
Are premature; In Him, 
All time hath full provision.*

Like the man, standing at the gate of the year, we too long for something that will give us security or assurance as we lay out our plans for the New Year. We may not be able to see where God is leading us even as we clasp His hand tightly. However, we have the knowledge that our God loves us. The truth is that God is the one holding us. His presence, guidance and provision in our lives is indeed something that we can rely on even as we face uncertain times. We need to let our first impulse be to seek Him first… everything else will be given to us as He provides.

However, as a body of believers, we do not just have God’s hand to hold on to. We have each other, we are not alone in this journey. Together we can remind one another of the precious hope we have in Christ, rejoicing in good times but also supporting one another in times of despair. As God’s family, we can also point each other towards the certainty and promise we have in God as we grow in faith. As frail people, we cannot help being anxious, but with one hand clasped tightly in the Lord’s, and the other holding tightly to our brothers and sisters, together we can get through this. Not only will this experience give us security, but I pray that our faith and hope will be strengthened in the process. I pray this blessing upon all of us as we face the New Year together!

God blessings be upon each and every one of you. The grace and love of Christ encourage us and the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit be with us all through the New Year. Amen!

Sean Tan (Missionary in Japan)

December 26, 2021