I love Psalm 107. It recounts various ways in which God’s people got into a mess- often as a result of their sin. In each situation the people cry out to God for mercy. The Lord hears and rescues. The intended response is repeated throughout the Psalm: “Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men.” To look back, reflect on God’s love and give thanks is the sign of wisdom- “Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.” Remembering what God is done is vital for spiritual health and ongoing joy. In many ways that is the theme of Deuteronomy- 16 times the people are called to remember the Lord and what He has done.
It is one of the reasons why I am fond of one of our church traditions. We use the final evening service of the year as a testimony time, giving members of the congregation an opportunity to share what God has done over the past year. To be honest, it is a nerve wracking service to lead as you wonder who is going to be the first one to speak. It would be slightly embarrassing to end the service after fifteen minutes! However, there was plenty to keep us going on Sunday night and I found it an encouraging time.
There was a significant degree of honesty- a number of people have been through very difficult times. However, this was not a time of depressing introspection. Rather people were giving testimony to the way in which the Lord had loved them and sustained them through the difficulties. That really is tremendous. I try to make it a habit to thank the Lord at the end of each year that I am still a Christian. You see I know my heart is fickle and I know there is a cost to being a Christian- despite the great joys of being a Christian, there is sometimes the temptation to give up. The reason I- and others who have faced challenges this year- keep going is because He holds us by His right hand and will not let us go. The very fact of our perseverance as Christians is enough reason to give thanks to God for His love.
Others have had easier years and it was good to hear people give thanks to God for the good things He has given- in some cases after a number of years of waiting.
I think this is a year when we have abundant reasons as a church to give thanks to God. Of course, we would rejoice in God even if He hadn’t blessed us in particular ways- but I think this year we have seen the Lord at work to do us good. Our vision verse for the year was from 1 Peter 2:9- God has chosen us to be His people so that we may declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvellous light.
I preached on that verse at the beginning of 2014 when we were still meeting in St.Edward’s School Chapel. I recall two elements of that verse striking me. Firstly, it was a corporate vision. We are a people and a nation. As I look back over the past year I am so thankful that the Lord has enabled us to be a people who work together. Of course, we are not perfect and we have room to grow, but it is a delight to see a body of people with different gifts serving together. And there was plenty this year that could have threatened our unity. Building projects are not easy: a few of us had nightmares that we would have a nice new building but wouldn’t be speaking to each other when we got into it because of the potential strains of the project. As it is, we are in a lovely new building and, so far as I can tell, we are speaking to each other! We have made some changes to our style on Sunday morning. I know this has been painful for some but, again, I am thankful that we have come through it. Likewise, our Relationships series had potential to cause difficulty and I am personally very thankful for the way we have come through that as a church. In all these areas, it isn’t necessarily the case that we have always agreed with each other. However, what has happened- and this is more important- is that we have seen our love for one another and shared commitment to Christ as more significant than the issues we have not always agreed on. I think that means we are united as a church. The Lord has done that over the past year and it has been marvellous in our eyes.
But secondly, the vision of 1 Peter 2:9 is outward looking. God has brought His church together so that we might declare to the world how great He is. And I think that we have seen more of that going on this year than ever before. It has been good to hear of conversations church members have had with friends and colleagues. We have seen far more people than before at our Guest Services and Guest Events. Praise God- we have seen baptisms and others who have come to know the Lord in the last year. It is not a flood- but nevertheless each individual who comes to know Christ leads to rejoicing in heaven and we have seen more than one new Christian. Perhaps the highlight of my year was the first evening of Christianity Explored in October. I wasn’t involved in leading the group but I happened to be in the building when it was starting. As various people wandered in, it dawned on me that the group was probably three times the size of any group I have seen during my time at the church. Not everybody reached the end of the course but there were real encouragements in it. How did that come about? I am not really sure- save for a general sense of the Lord’s hand being on us.
There has been lots to give thanks for in the past year. But as we give thanks for what is past, we look to the Lord for what is to come which is why we are holding a week of prayer starting on Monday. It would be great if we had even more to look back on come the end of 2015…