On the threshold of a new decade in our new millennium, there is a pervasive mood among God’s people: uncertainty.
We hear it weekly from clergy and laity alike, usually around a specific concern regarding employment or finances or conflict or planning.
There is anxiety in the air, and this lack of confidence and clarity about the future leads some of us to try to control the future. We become more and more severe, and less and less gracious as we use a heavy hand to get what we think we want. Others become defensive or passive, and do as little as possible to avoid making things worse.
Of course, these behaviors only exacerbate the problem, and our congregations begin a downward cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.
While we crave certainty, I believe what we most need in this new year is to embrace the uncertainty before us and see it as a gift, not a curse.
In his 1935 devotional classic “My Utmost for His Highest,” Oswald Chambers includes these thoughts for April 29: “Certainty is the mark of the common-sense life, gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life.”
He goes on to suggest that the nature of spiritual life is that we can be certain in our uncertainty, that we are certain in God, and God alone.
That theme permeates Scripture, doesn’t it?
Re-read Psalm 23.
While life is filled with enemies and the valley of the shadow, God overwhelms them all, and his follower finds comfort and assurance in Him. Jesus reassured his disciples that he would not abandon them. In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul declares: “We look not at what can be seen” (what is certain), “but at what cannot be seen, for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” His bottom line? “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
American culture promotes a common-sense life that wants events to work out with certainty, while the life of biblical faith declares that regardless what comes our way, God alone is a sure thing. Gracious uncertainty is the way of God’s people across the ages.
Here is what you can know about the year before you:
- There are going to be some things you are going to hear and see that are going to stop you in your tracks.
- There will be things that will make your knees buckle, that will cause you to weep.
- There will also be things that will cause you to shout for joy, and there will be moments that lead you to scratch your head in puzzlement.
- There are people here today who will not be here a year from today.
- There are marriages intact today that will break apart, businesses that will fail, careers that will shift dramatically.
- Over this coming year, there will also be weddings that will take place, babies that will be born, careers that will take off, businesses that will soar.
- There will be political events that will shake us and terrorist attacks that will frighten us.
- Your church is going to undergo significant shifts, your community is going to change, your life will not be the same at the close of this year as it is today.
Hear this clearly: All of this uncertainty is a blessing. If our lives were as sure and certain as we think we want them to be, there would be no need for God, and there would be boredom and a lack of joy and passion.
Chambers said that the fact that we do not know what a day will bring is often said with a sigh of sadness, but that for the Christian it should be “an expression of breathless anticipation.”
What is God going to do today? This year? Surprise is God’s gift to you.
Chambers concluded: “We are not uncertain of God, but uncertain of what He is going to do next. If we are only certain in our beliefs, we get dignified and severe and have the bane of finality about our views; but when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.”
That is how I pray 2011 is for you. Uncertainty is inevitable. What is up to us is our response. I pray that your life will be so aligned with God that 2011 is truly a year of gracious uncertainty.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Healthy Churches (CHC) housed at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.