The beginning of a new year is a natural time for people to reflect about the future. That reflection often includes searching for a sense of direction from God. As individuals and congregations we search to understand how and where God wants to lead us through the coming year.
While such an exercise is a very worthwhile endeavour I have found that it can also cause us to avoid the obvious. When in the atmosphere of grand discernment, searching for direction of what we do not know, it is easy to overlook and act on that we do know. Future options can seem more exciting than current reality.
When I set aside time to seek God’s direction for the future, I have come to realize that I often already know the answer before I begin the time of prayerful search. Sometimes it is an answer that I am avoiding. Then my time of prayerful discernment is merely a stalling tactic. Sometimes it is an answer I am rejecting. Then my time of prayerful discernment is actually an exercise of disobedience. During such times God has felt silent and distant, turning my time of contemplative prayer into annoyed frustration. But God would not cooperate with my stalling or disobedience. Asking God for direction may well result in becoming aware of what we already know.
A good way to begin a new year might be to take stock of the directives God has already placed in our hearts. In fact our straining economic context and post Christendom societal environment may allow the latent directives of God to become more obvious. Two directives in particular seem obvious to me.
The first is to grow in restraint. This is a particular directive that has remained suppressed by the church in North America for some time. Whether it has been clouded over by the values of materialism or buried under a mountain of misinterpreted blessings, or rising consumer debt and the quickening illness of the earth, God’s call for restraint is becoming more obvious. North American lifestyles of overconsumption should not be justified or encouraged. God calls us to freedom from unbridled appetites. The joy of restraint awaits us.
The second is to grow in compassion. When faith in God is routine in society, the church can afford to dictate boundaries. But when faith in God is sidelined by secular values, the church does not have the luxury to be selective. Survival of faith communities will depend on embracing all who God will call. And when we open ourselves up to this missional reality, we may discover that God never did abide by our boundaries.
As the People of God let us respond to what we already know and determine to grow in restraint and compassion.