“How’d you do with your WOTY 2017?” Or, perhaps a better way to phrase that question would be, “What’s God been up to in that area of your life you were wanting to grow in this year?” That rephrasing actually captures better the heart of “Word Of The Year” in that it puts the emphasis on what God is doing in our lives, rather than what we’re mustering up, how we’re going to do better, how we’re going to change ourselves. To be sure, there is human agency involved. We must choose to cooperate with God, to engage in appropriate reflection, avenues of equipping, and scary steps of faith. Just check out 2 Peter 1:5-8! But, in the end, we are unable to significantly change ourselves at a deep, heart level. None of us can. At those depths, only God can operate. Only God can cause us to grow and change from the inside out, to become more and more like Christ. To become more and more who we were meant to be – who we shall be. For indeed that’s what God is up to in the lives of those who love His Son: the very remaking of our true selves unto eternity! Glory, Glory.
So, secure in the knowledge that because of the grace of God operating continually in our lives, we are freed not only to try, but to reflect – to self-examine honestly, without fear. Because the perfect love of God casts out our fear, we can stare ourselves fully in the face and not flinch because we know we are fully known, fully accepted, and fully loved, completely apart from our own efforts, but based solely on Christ’s efforts on our behalf. (Yes, that’s the Gospel!)
So, looking back over the past year, what has God been up to in that area of your life you were wanting to grow in? Has He worked where you’d hoped He would? How you’d hoped He would? Have you been able to discern progress in that area of your life? Do you have any stories of success? Failure? Scary steps of faith taken? Disappointments? Yearnings? Gratitude?
My 2017 WOTY was “Risk.” To help you understand, going a little farther back may be helpful. I’ve been serving on staff at New Hope through a number of difficult transitions in the last ten years. So, over the years, I’ve watched as my anxiety has ramped up. My 2015 WOTY was “Peace” because I greatly longed to grow in my ability to find peace in the midst of my unstable world. My 2016 WOTY was “Self-Care.” This was directly tied into my continued need to manage my anxiety. Then, going into 2017, during one of my times alone with God (tawG) on Friday mornings 6:30-8:30am at Radina’s Bakehouse, I sensed God giving me the strange phrase: “Rest Through Risk.” The more I reflected on that phrase, the more I came to believe it was a word from God and should be my 2017 WOTY. As I continued to meditate on this phrase, this growth theme for my 2017 year, I began to sense He was trying to show me how my ongoing issues with anxiety – my inability to rest well – was intimately connected to my increased unwillingness to risk. For those who don’t know me well, I am a first-born with a type-A personality. I’m details-oriented, quite cautious, risk-averse, and tend to try to control my environment to protect against pain, discomfort, loss, catastrophe, and the end of the world. Some of this is simply how God has wired me, and it contains a core that is good. But God quickly showed me this year that I’d begun operating outside the bounds of simple personality, and began setting up what amounted to idols in my life: especially the idol of control expressed through the management of risk. I’d become TOO risk averse! Ironically, my risk-aversion had led me to anxiety as I began to over-rely on my ability to think through scenarios, get my arms around problems, and control my world. In the end, it was all up to me. To figure out. To fix. To anticipate. To control. No wonder I was anxious! The weight of the world, all the things I cannot control, were on my shoulders. The Christian life is just the opposite, in fact. It foundationally involves so trusting and resting in God’s competence and care that I’d be willing to risk following Him into the unknown – just like Abram did when he followed God’s call nearly 4,000 years ago! So, relatively early in the year, I began to see clearly that God was inviting me to learn to give over control of those things back to Him, and, counterintuitively, in risking doing so, I’d find rest.
I’ve heard it jokingly said that you’re never supposed to pray for patience, because God will answer that prayer! -- by giving you ample opportunities to learn to be patient. I think praying to grow in taking risks to follow Him is similar. This year has been a whirlwind of opportunities to trust Jesus by taking risky, scary, stumbling steps of faith as I try to follow Him into the unknown. I’ll share a little about the biggest risk God has led me to take this year: planting a church! For most of my adult life (going back to high school), I’ve been aware that God has made me to be a leader. And ever since graduating seminary and joining New Hope staff, I’ve continued to desire to grow and develop as a leader within New Hope. Over the years, God has helped me see more clearly that my heart beats to be a pastor: to shepherd through teaching, preaching, and pastoral care. However, throughout the years, there just hasn’t been the opportunity for me to express and live out of those gifts on New Hope staff. Earlier this year, I felt a release by God to take the risk to begin exploring other pastoral jobs outside of New Hope. This was a very difficult decision, but one I sensed God was trying to lead me in. So I shared this journey with Dick and our staff team. And we kept praying. Frustratingly, I never felt a peace about seriously pursuing any of the job opportunities I found – all of which would take me far away from Manhattan. Eventually, I sensed God leading me to reconsider the idea of planting a new church here in our beloved city. I’d somewhat dismissed the idea before, thinking it too inherently risky. But after talking with Ben Deaver, who himself was on a unique yet similar journey, I risked bringing the idea up to Dick, who was very receptive to and excited about the possibility of doing this well together. What a God thing! After this conversation, I experienced my first real bedrock of rest. My anxiety decreased dramatically and nearly instantaneously. Perhaps the Lord is in it!
Now, planting a new church is most definitely not a risk I envisioned taking when I picked “Risk” for my 2017 WOTY. And it’s turned out to be a big one! It involves significant financial risk for our family. I risk being misunderstood. I risk ministry failure on a bigger scale than I’ve yet attempted. But at the end of the day, I’m experiencing rest. Not perfectly. Sometimes it comes and goes. I’m still hoping to grow much stronger in this vital area! But I can say for sure that God has been meeting me in my life in significant ways this year as I pursue rest through risk. It’s even starting to get fun!
If you’d like to chat more about WOTYs or my journey with rest through risk, I’d be delighted! Just let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org or (913) 484-6084. You can also find lots more resources about WOTYs, including a handful of messages, at newhopeks.org/woty.
Why not risk looking back over your year and see what God has done? Why not risk stepping even deeper into the journey of spiritual growth in 2018?
Who knows what God might do?...