November arrived, but the calendar in my head hasn’t caught up. It seems like everything in our lives came to a standstill way back in August, when LeRoy first entered the hospital. The world has moved on, summer ended and school semesters started, but in some ways, LeRoy and I are stuck in a “timeless” and somewhat solitary season.
But even though I’ve been stuck back in August, the calendar tells me that fall arrived more than a month ago. And I don’t want to miss it. Fall is my favorite time of year, I love this season more than any other.
The Mums on my porch are telling me that, yes, it really is autumn. It really is time for harvest parties with bonfires, roasted marshmallows, and steaming mugs of hot cocoa. The cool arrived this week, and I’m welcoming that old friend with open arms!
Reflecting and Preparing ~
Maybe it has something to do with being born in the “Giving-Thanks” month, but for me, this season is always a time of reflecting and anticipating what’s ahead. I take stock of the past year and prepare for the next by asking God to confirm what spiritual focus He wants me to have for the coming year. Every fall, as I seek Him for this specific answer, God lays on my heart the topic that He knows I’ll need to dive into for that year. (I love that He’s not only omniscient, but He’s also a gracious teacher!)
And every fall, I give you the same challenge: “Begin seeking God for what your spiritual focus should be next year!” I lovingly offer that challenge in the fall, so you have time to pray and seek God to confirm what direction He has for you in the coming year. I encourage you to have a spiritual focus for the year, because an intentional pursuit of God brings the joy of knowing Him more intimately. And there is nothing better than that.
You don’t have to adopt a “spiritual focus” for the year in order to pursue God or cultivate a more intimate relationship with Him, but I’ve found that it helps to have a map that guides you toward a worthy goal. The yearly Scripture passage becomes my map and provides me with a course for the year. Setting the heart toward a certain destination will produce greater results than wandering aimlessly.
As I look back over the focus God led me through the past two years, it testifies to the fact of His loving care in preparing me for what He knew was coming.
In 2016, there was a word (and action) that stayed on my heart throughout the year: surrender. 2016 was to be the year of the yielded heart, surrendering all to Him. Living the “Not my will, but Yours” life—moment by moment. Not that I mastered that, but God led me through some serious lessons to prepare my heart for greater degrees of surrender than I’d yet walked.
Thus, each day of 2016 began with this journal entry:
[box]So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(2 Cor. 4:16–18)[/box]
This passage was the foundation for my spiritual focus for 2016. Day in and day out, each morning started with inscribing this passage on a fresh day’s journal page—while also engraving it on my heart. As these words poured out on paper, I voiced prayers for those who’ve been living this passage: For moms and wives who’ve released a loved one to the “unseen and eternal” but are left waiting for that day when they will be reunited. For those of us who need a “sight readjustment” to see beyond the temporary, and for loved ones who are bodily wasting away, while needing that inner renewal.
Almost every day of 2016 I challenged myself (and friends) to look to the unseen, the eternal, rather than staying fixated on the transient. I was pressed that year to step into that area of faith that involves mystery: where I trust God’s character and know that He is good and all powerful—even when witnessing horrific events.
Being pressed into faith in 2016 helped prepare me for 2017, which held the greatest challenge LeRoy and I have ever faced.
Not Losing Heart!
Read again the first sentence of my Scripture passage for 2016: “So we do not lose heart.” This is the key to not losing heart—surrendering the heart to God’s sovereign plans. Knowing that whatever affliction a year may hold, it is temporary. The affliction is temporary, but the eternal weight of glory that is formed through that affliction is eternal.
And is eternal glory not worth more than all the temporary affliction?
In knowing His character, there is joy in the surrender. His character is good and merciful. His mode of operation is redemption! These days, as our lives look much different than we could’ve imagined, I often remind myself of this statement that God impressed on me back in the fall of 2015:
If I truly desire God’s glory, I will embrace every affliction God appoints for me.
Little did I know then what affliction was awaiting us. But God brings afflictions and He brings abundant delights. In all of it, He is working out a beautiful plan—an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
Last fall, a year ago now, when I began asking God what Scripture passage He would have me focus on for 2017, He quickly brought this one to mind:
[box]Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart (2 Corinthians 3:17–4:1).[/box]
This has been my Scripture passage for 2017. This has served as my guiding “map” for the spiritual journey God has us on this year. This is the Scripture passage I inscribe on my journal page each morning as I begin my time in the Word and prayer.
Read again the last five words of this passage.
It’s interesting to me that the same phrase is found in both last year’s focus passage and this year’s: “. . . do not lose heart.” As this wonderful year—filled with loss, joys, pain, laughter, sorrows, grace, the birth of a precious little one, unexpected surprises and disappointments—comes to a close, I’ve struggled with “losing heart.” I’ve felt overwhelmed as I see that there are greater needs surrounding me than time to meet them. I’ve been bone-dead weary and felt much older than my years.
But in surrender, there is peace and even joy.
The word, surrender, is actually an antonym for “not losing heart.”
I’m intrigued by that. We’re called to surrender all, but not lose heart in doing that. In surrender, relinquishing all control to the Savior, we find hope. And hope is a synonym for “not losing heart.”
Hope. That is the word that keeps coming to mind, and I’m thankful. Hope is filled with confident and delightful expectation. Hope is a beautiful word to wake up to in the morning. Hope is the anchor that holds in the fiercest storm.
(Several years ago I considered writing a book on hope—perhaps one day.)
But today, I’m taking to heart the truths from this passage, and continue preaching them to myself—and possibly to you dear readers who will listen. Today, I take from it the promise of freedom. I do not have to be enslaved by the fears, doubts, and overwhelming needs that threaten to take me down. There is freedom as I walk under the Spirit’s command.
There is joy in surrender, and hope gives reason to “not lose heart” as the surrender grows more difficult.
Will you join me?
Will you begin asking God to lead you, as you seek out what should be your spiritual focus for 2018? He knows what you will need to learn in 2018. Just as He’s been teaching me and preparing me in the passages He led me to adopt as my focus, He has a Scripture passage for you, perhaps just a word that will require action on your part—fueled by His grace.
Will you join me?