As we start a New Year (2021), we tend to reflect on what has gone before (and 2020 was such an unusual year, this may take longer than normal!) as well as look ahead, making plans and resolutions. The end of one year and the beginning of another – actually nothing more than an exercise in dating – still holds significance for many people, even though for different cultures this happens at different points in time.
One of the things people tend to do in January is to make plans for the coming year. It is true, however, that ‘many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.’ (Prov 19:21) One of the things we must constantly do is allow God to search our hearts and to direct our paths (see Prov 3:5-6), for if 2020 taught us anything, it was that plans can change in a moment and we are definitely not in control of our lives and of life itself in the way we often like to pretend we are.
Paul, when giving his testimony before hostile crowds in Jerusalem (Acts 21:37-22:21), spoke of how God intervened in his life, giving him an encounter with the risen Jesus which he had never expected or anticipated. That encounter changed him completely, for until that point, he had been zealous for God, but his zeal had led him to persecute followers of Jesus and thus Jesus Himself. Being a Jew himself, it seems logical that God would use him to reach other Jews with the Gospel, but in fact, God called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15, Acts 22:21). Paul found this surprising (see Acts 22:19-20), but he faithfully followed this call and so many of the churches in the Gentile world were founded as a result of his obedience.
Paul’s life as an apostle was far from comfortable (see 2 Cor 11:23-29). His commissioning by God and his deep sense of calling (which he would later tell the Romans was irrevocable, Rom 11:29) were the hallmarks of how he lived. We too can live comfortable lives – or we can choose to hear God’s commission and live for something greater than our own pleasures and comfort. As we start 2021, may our ears hear once again that ‘Great Commission’ to ‘go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ (Matt 28:19-20) This needs to be the hallmark which defines all we do and how we live.