Closing Chapters – Re-visioning your future (part 4 of 4)

“I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, even as your soul prospers.”

3 John 1:2

This is God’s desire for you for 2021. Is this what you expect?

You want to start 2021 on a clean slate, with fresh excitement for the year.  This could be difficult, especially when the new year begins with the same challenges of the old year. In the previous posts, we said that we wrap up 2020 by making a memory and finding its meaning. We look back to review the year’s highs and lows, recognizing the blessings and progress. A fresh start requires a bold look inside to release those who hurt us and also own our share in the pain. After dealing with the past, we need to reconsider our destination and re-vision path.

[A brief video transcript of this post is available below].

Why a need to re-vision my future?

Bluntly stated, you are not the same person you were twelve months ago. Your experience has carved a profound and lasting impact on your life. We like to say experience makes us wiser, but it leaves you more than a data bank of case studies.  Your circumstance changes you.

  • Circumstance impacts your core convictions. My experiences continually test my core convictions to confirm or refine those bedrock assumptions I build my understanding of life upon. These core convictions make up my self-view (who I am, where I belong), my God-view (who He is and how he relates to me), and my world-view (how things work spiritually, socially, and physically). The convictions that hold up are strengthened, while the assumptions that fail are adjusted. These challenge my most profound sense of significance and security, and call for revising my beliefs about who I am, how I relate to God and how the world works.
  • Circumstance impacts your cravings. My desires are shaped by my experience and by the desires of those around us. As I live, I learn that those things I desired do not satisfy, and it loses its appeal.  Moreover, my desires are essentially mimetic, meaning “I desire according to the other” (Rene Girard). We see this in toddlers fighting over toys, in the fashion sense of teenagers and suburban families striving to keep up with the Jones’. The point is that my desires are not static – what I live through impacts not only my head but also my hearts. And as my heart sets the course of my life, it must be examined and recalibrated.
  • Circumstance impacts your calling. What I describe as my life calling, my purpose, or the vision for my future is not static either.  My sense of purpose grows and changes with my understanding of myself, God, and the world. It changes with my desires. And it is informed and inspired by my experiences.  Often my calling is birthed from the pain in my circumstances.
Your experience has a profound impact on your calling.

Therefore, before you embark on writing your new life chapter this year, reconsider where you are now and recalibrate where you want to be headed. Seek for a clear and compelling vision that directs your affections and actions.

God has a vision for your life

You have been created by God, for God (Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:15-16). God has purposed and prepared a path set with good works for you (Ephesians 2:10; compare Jeremiah 1:5) and although your understanding of it grows, God’s purpose for you life does not change (Romans 11:29). Moreover, you were redeemed by God at an incredible price; you belong to Him, and your life is for Him (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Christ’s act of redemption does not only save you from the punishment of your sins – he redeemed you from a destructive life of selfishness to a partnership with Him in the regeneration and renewal of all creation (Colossians 1:18-20; Revelation 21:5).

Your life has meaning, significance. You have been carefully crafted to fulfil a significant part of God’s redemptive purpose of the world, to display and disperse his goodness in this world. In and through you, God is renewing and reconciling all things to Himself, bringing it under His benevolent reign.

Can you picture the good works God prepared for you in this year?

Aristotle said, “a soul never thinks without a picture.” What do you envision for this new year? What is your mental image of “a blessed and prosperous 2021”?  This is the essence of hope: a picture that paints the good things to come. Fear is the opposite of hope: an image that depicts the expectation of bad things.  Our news feeds and conversations overflow with such pictures of doom, filling the world with fear to expect only depression and disaster in 2021.  How do I cultivate hope in such an environment?

The Bible abounds with historical accounts that mirror our own dark days’ sense of dread and despair. Yet time and time again, we see God’s prophets sketch visions of hope that inspire faith-filled acts of courage to bring life to communities in crisis. Renewal always starts with a clear and compelling picture of what could be, fueled by a conviction that it should be. This is the definition of God-breathed vision. Such an image will stir your imagination and engage your will to walk in the good works God has prepared for you.

The power of a clear vision (from Andy Stanley)

Often good ideas and even necessary things go undone due to a lack of a good, clear vision. Andy Stanley states the benefits of a clearly articulated vision (Visioneering, 1999).

  • Vision awakens our passions and unleashes our drive to pursue this promise. A picture of what could be, tugs at my heart and energizes me to make this dream a reality.
  • Vision provides motivation and endurance for the hard work necessary to embody this preferred future. It moves me from dreaming to doing.
  • Vision sets direction, prioritizes values and parameters for decision-making. A clear vision unclutters my life to discern what is important and immanent, and what is not.
  • Vision translates into purpose. A clear and compelling vision gives meaning to everyday life’s mundane tasks.  It gives context to the costly sacrifices required to live the life I want to live.
Purpose arrow

You’ve had dreams and desires which never materialezed. Yet vision is different from such wishes in that it feels like a moral imperativeI ought to pursue this! This type of vision for your begins with a concern – a deep stirring in your spirit that urges you to respond. It fills your mind, overflows in your conversations, and cries out in your prayers. Such a vision is an invitation to partner with God in His work of renewal of all things.

Crafting and pursuing your vision for 2021

In the troubling time leading up to Jerusalem’s fall in 586BC, the prophet Habakkuk set time aside to wait on God for a clear and compelling vision for his people. He resolved:

“I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.”

The Lord answered: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.”

Habakkuk 2:1-2

A compelling vision begins with a concern, a problem that needs fixing. Vision goes beyond what could happen but describes what should happen – with the conviction that God invites you to act with Him.  These three practical points will help you crystalize such a mental picture of your future.

Vision starts with imagining what could be.
  1. Consider your vision for the year. Take time to dream about the year prayerfully. What does a prosperous 2021 look like for you? If God were to make all things new in your life this year, what would that look like? Briefly describe this transformed future for (a) your work life, (b) your family life, (c) your social life, (d) your spiritual life, (e) finances, and (f) any significant pursuit you have such as studies, sports, or some society. Don’t bother with HOW this will happen – describe WHAT your future should look like. Paint the picture with words.
  2. Clarify your vision. Prayerfully reduce these descriptions to a single, memorable statement of what you dream of embodying in each life facet this year. Can you write it as a solution to a problem?
  3. Chase your vision. Put these vision statements up somewhere you will see daily to pray daily for opportunities to realize this dream. Nehemiah, the cupbearer to Persian king Artaxerxes, prayed this way about his vision to see Jerusalem restored: “O Lord… give me success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” (Nehemiah 1:11) When the opportunity came, he saw it and confidently seized it as an answer from the Lord.

Heads up: God’s plans for you are “that you may prosper in all things and be in health, [and that] your soul prospers.” (3 John 1:2) After all, “God delights in the prosperity of His saints!” (Psalm 35:27). You can confidently dream about 2021, knowing that God has prepared good works for you.  Carve these dreams into vision statements that evoke your passion, motivate your actions and direct your efforts. Then hold these daily before God in prayer for boldness and opportunities to renew every area of your life.

Closing Chapters: Wrapping up 2020 (part 1 of 4)

2020 was a surprisingly rough year.  It still is.  How do you muster hope and confidence for a new year after one so tumultuous as this?

From discovering a new Coronavirus strain far away in Wuhan City, China, 12 months ago a global pandemic culminated in the simultaneous lockdown of more than 200 countries just six months later. The lockdowns confined people to their homes, shutting down schools, businesses and all social gatherings.  Governments banned all travel, calling for a state of disaster, restricting countries under martial law.  And now a second wave is in full swing.

The global pandemic pressure exposed the fault lines in vulnerable economies, politics, and social fibres worldwide.  Newsfeeds flooded with reports of large-scale corruption, election rigging, racial tension and wild conspiracy theories.    These compounding disruptions also highlighted the vulnerabilities in societies’ emotional-spiritual wellness, resulting in heightened anxieties, widespread domestic violence and unhealthy coping mechanisms.  No-one escaped the sting of this pandemic.

At several moments during this year, I hoped for someone to call an end to the year, to reset the calendar and start afresh.  I waited for some referee to recognize our fatigue, to throw in the towel or count us out.  At long last, the year is over, but now the entrance into 2021 looks very similar to the exit of 2020.  The difference is: (a) now we know what to expect, and (b) 2020 has had a significant physical, emotional and spiritual impact on each of us.  For that reason, many of us face the new year with a sense of dread.  

Why bother with the past ?

There is a need to properly wrap up the old year and bring meaning to a particular season before starting afresh.  Failure to conclude a life chapter can cause one to get stuck in a destructive cycle.  Trying to move on with unresolved disappointments, hurts, trauma or even blind spots and character flaws will likely cause one to live reactively to past events.  The past will repeat itself like a bad nightmare. There has to be some resolve, some closure before your story can continue in a new chapter.

Biblical books at the end of seasons

It is noteworthy to consider that all the history books in the Bible – from Genesis to Ester in the OT and the Gospels to Acts in the NT – were recorded at critical moments in God’s people’s history.  These records are not merely cold recordings of history.  Each history book is a prophetic reinterpretation of the events God’s people went through, written to help make sense of God’s redemptive purposes through these periods.  It aims to affirm the first readers’ identity and purpose as God’s covenant people.  As such, each of these books is a means to “close a chapter” in a particular people’s history, giving God’s people resolve to move on, helping them understand why they had to endure this.  

What is a life chapter?

Consider every memorable story, and you will conclude that hard times shaped the character and beautify his/her account. Samuel anointed David to be king, but many difficult chapters fill the years before becoming Israel’s beloved king. Yet his story is memorable because these middle chapters tell of familial rejection, battle with a giant, fleeing a vengeful monarch, harsh years in exile, uniting a divided Israel, and later attempted patricide and exile again, to name a few highlights.  God’s journey with him through valleys of shadows of death makes his story beautiful and inspirational.

God promised Joseph prominence and power, and the fulfilment thereof was beyond his wildest imagination.  His story brings encouragement 3800 years later because God’s promise prevailed despite familial betrayal, enslavement, wrongful imprisonment, and neglect of a companion. In particular, his story endures because he could look his brothers loving in the eyes and declare “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) That is why and how you close a life chapter: make sense of a season to affirm your identity and purpose in the light of God’s presence and providence.

A life chapter brings a conclusion to a season characterized in some unique way.  Some chapters close naturally, like when you progress from primary school to high school or graduate from college or end an internship.  Other life chapters might require help to resolve, due to an unfair dismissal from work, an abrupt end to a long relationship, or a sudden relocating with the family.  Especially after a season of hardship, we struggle to move on because these tend to impact us emotionally and spiritually – leaving lasting scars on our identity (affecting our self-view), relationships and confidence (impacting our purpose and potential).  Such seasons have the power to hold us back or alter the course of our lives – for the good or the bad.  As such, reflection and resolve is paramount. Closing life chapters means making memories and finding meaning in it. Our challenge is to do a personal, prophetic reinterpretation of our experience to discern God’s presence and work in, through and for us.  In particular, it affirms our identity, reforms our relationships and refines our purpose in life. 

How do we properly close life chapters?

We say that “experience makes us wiser.”  But observation tells us that this is not true.  Experience often leaves us poorer, tired, hurt, or lonely. If we’re lucky, experience leaves us happy, enriched or loved.  We tend to repeat past mistakes, suffering the same painful results – unless we intentionally reflect and learn from our experience.  A more accurate statement reads, “evaluated experience makes us wiser.” 

In her book Rooted in Love Margaret Blackie sketches her life as a plant rooted in rich soil. The plant symbolizes her life, flourishing. The roots seek security and nourishment in the fertile soil. The ground, enriched by the processed plant matter, represents reflected past experiences.  Together, this image powerfully portrays how our lives flourish when anchored and nourished by our awareness of God’s presence and purpose with our everyday lives.  Therefore, closing a life chapter aims to root us securely in the rich soil of the previous season, ready to bloom in the next season.

We close the chapter on 2020 by making a memory and find its meaning in the light of our life’s trajectory as a whole.  First, we look back to review the highs and lows of the year.  Second, we look up to recognize and give thanks for God’s goodness in the past season.  Third, we reflect on the losses, hurts and disappointments by look inward; we own our share in the pain and release those who caused us harm.  Lastly, we look forward as we revision the next leg our of our journey with hope.  We will work through each of these points in subsequent blog posts.

So what do you expect to take with you out of 2020? You might be surprised at the insights and hopeful energy gained from such a reflection.

Expecting the miracle in your marriage – hope for tomorrow

What do you do when your relationship is lifeless, communication is strained, interaction is difficult? Your partner feels like an estranged friend, someone you once shared life with, but now there is nothing left to share. There has been too many disappointments, too much pain.  Hearts have become hardened and the passion is long gone.  In fact, the affections are directed elsewhere. The marriage is on the rocks. All the signs are there: there is no coming back from this; it is THE END.  You are beyond hope.


What is hope? And why bother? 

Hope, simply put, is the anticipation of good. Hope, or vision, or a dream, is something desirable that you believe to be possible for you – those “plans to prosper… a good future” (Jeremiah 29:11).  It is best captured by the imagination, illustrated in a picture, or envisioned in a story.  It is an end-state that draws your affections and invites you to dream with.  We have seen the power of phrases such as “offspring as many as the stars above you and sand below you” and “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Genesis 15:1; Exodus 33:3).  Hope is powerful.

Hope is the attitude that looks up and dares to believe that this journey I am on is leading to something beautiful, something desirable, something worthwhile. That the best is yet to come!

Hope is like the architects drawing of the beautiful house in which you will have your kids and the two of you can grow old together, sitting on the veranda as the sun sets peacefully.  Although the house is not built yet, these lines on the paper is the catalyst of desire which will make you build the house.  But more, this picture (hope) is also the reason and clear direction for every inch of effort that will go into making that drawing into your dream home. (Refer to Hebrews 11:1). Indeed, hope is very powerful.

Why is hope powerful?

Hope makes hard times bearable, because as you hold onto the belief in a good future you understand these troubles are temporal, and the hope you long for gives meaning to the things you suffer on the way there.  A lack of confidence of a good future (or hope) is the cause for companies to close their doors, marathon athletes exit the race and couples end up in divorce court. We give up when we loose hope.  Conversely, hope gives athletes strength to endure pain in order to gain the reward, what makes the soldier survive his wounds to see his wife again, and what causes the mother with cancer to keep on fighting and see her children grow up.  Hope, the confident expectation of a beautiful future together, is the reason to endure hard times and helps to see meaning in the daily grind. (See Romans 8:28).

Secondly this hope (a clear vision of a good future) helps us to navigate life’s challenges because it sets priorities in our activities and the direction of our efforts – in both good times and in bad.  We know that the Christian hope of eternal life builds resistance to temptation, is the standard for our relational growth and gives strength to push through endure hard times. Similarly the marital hope of our beautiful and meaningful life together keeps us faithful, helps us grow closer and helps us overcome obstacles together.

Why can I have hope?

If everything in your relationship point to failure and hopelessness, why could you trust that all will be well soon? How could you be persuaded of a joyful, meaningful future together?  Indeed a fair question.  If one has tried everything to keep the relationship alive and nothing seemed to work, you have come to the end of yourself, allowing a sense of hopelessness to set in.

But for the Christian, the end of oneself is not the end of a matter. With God there is always hope: our success or failure does not depend on our efforts alone, but we hope in God (or “trust in God”) as the Psalmists frequently sing (eg Psalm 39:7; 62:5; see Ephesians 2:13-14). When nothing seems to help we are confident of a good outcome because of God’s character, his love for us and his ability. To say “I hope in God” means to trust that God is indeed merciful, trustworthy and powerful enough to help me, and that he is certain to hear my pleas and help me from this seemingly hopeless situation.  We further hope in God because of the hope intrinsic in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, showing that no situation is every truly hopeless to God who brings even the dead to lifer. No situation is ever too late, too hopeless, because “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27)

How does hope work in practice?

Hope works best in pictures and stories – something you can look at or recall in your imagination. Something that best illustrates the good future you desire.

So find or draw a picture like the stars above Abraham and the sand beneath his feet which reminded him daily of God’s promise that “so will your offspring be.”  What he saw reassured him that his will have offspring – and many.  These visual depictions of God’s promise motivated him to be intimate with his wife, reminded him daily that God was at work in his daily actions, and comforted them both every month Sarah discovered she was not pregnant. It also intended to prevent them from giving up altogether from the hope of a child together by finding other women to provide offspring.   You need a picture like this – it can even be a picture of your wedding day or honeymoon when you were happy together.

Stories are also powerful sources of hope – the Bible is filled with those for a reason!  If you marriage is in a tough spot, then consider finding the story of a couple who were about to give up and God turned it all around beautifully.  Stories are very potent because you can identify with their suffering, and wish to share in their success.  Look for these people, talk or write to them.  Read their blogs and buy their books.  Go to their seminars and workshops where you can listen to their stories, cry about their pain, celebrate their restoration and gain hope!  Ask them to encourage you and pray for you.  Because what God has done for the he will do for you. These stories are filled with hope because these people live the dreams you have – these people embody the hope you need.

These images and stories stir our imagination, and our God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). So, like Abraham was invited to picture his offspring as numerous as the stars in the sky and the dessert sand between his sandals – so image your marriage in it’s prime. Imagine the greatest marital bliss, joy filled home, carefree moments of intimate pleasure, sweet companionship and potent partnership.  Imagine what God can make of your marriage – with all his wisdom and all his might – what could God do in and through the two of you.  What type of marital relationship between you and your spouse would bring God glory, would showcase his loving goodness to the world? Picture that!

I encourage you to “write out the vision and make it clear” as God told Habakkuk (2:2). Talk to your spouse about it, pray about it.  Tell your friends what you dream about. The challenge is to allow the hope (confidence of your good future) to overpower your anxieties (fearful expectation of failure and pain).  Deliberately dwell on the good of your spouse and what you have in your marriage, while you also pray about what makes you anxious or sad, “casting your cares on the Lord, for he cares for you” (Philippians 4:6-8; 1 Peter 5:7).

If you really cannot see a future because you are so aware of the challenges and pain, do what Elisha did when his servant was only aware of the Syrian army surrounding them. ’Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ’Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.’ the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:14-17). Then the servant was not intimidated by the challenge they faced, because he was aware of The Lord of Heavens Armies who was right there with them.

You are never walk alone – God is right here with you in your marital crisis. And he is in the business of saving!

Let this be a reminder today that although your relational journey might be laden with disappointments, miscommunication and frustration that left you both hurt and hopeless, with God there is always hope. Nothing is too hard for him (Jeremiah 32:17)! He is close to all who call on him, and look – picture it – he makes all things new! (Revelation 21:5)

So what is the most ideal picture of your marriage? What could your story be? What is your hope?