2018 has been exceptionally difficult in many ways: My father-in-law passed away, my wife and I moved to a new place, leaving some family and very close friends, and I started seminary, which created new challenges for us. This year was also great for my wife and I for a number of reasons: We travelled to Dublin on vacation, we became members of a great church in Kansas City (Wornall Road Baptist Church), and we met several new friends at church and in our new context.
Throughout this year, God has taught me so much, both through my experiences and the reading of His word. I knew most of these simple truths, but hadn’t fully realized them until this year. I hope these are helpful to you, as they have been for me this year.
1. God really is good.
This year taught me that God really is good, no matter what the current situation is. My life hasn’t been exceptionally hard, but 2018 was different. There were days when I wasn’t sure if God was good or not. I couldn’t understand his goodness or favor, because I couldn’t see it right then and there. This year, I had to learn that God’s goodness to us may not be realized by us on this side of eternity, but we can trust that his word and promises are true. He is faithful to work all things for the good of those who are called according to his purposes.
2. Suffering really does happen.
Thankfully, prior to this year, I haven’t suffered much. That all changed in the second half of 2018. It was a tough few months for my wife and I. We were stretched in ways we hadn’t been before. We faced challenge upon challenge. I felt like a stranger to suffering before it all, and I still do, in a way. However, I am more aware of suffering around me than I was before, and I’m grateful for that. I pray that my experiences in suffering this year will help me to walk with others in the future as they suffer. Suffering is inevitable, and we should be prepared both to suffer well for the glory of God, and walk well with those close to use who are suffering, pointing them to the comfort of Christ, the goodness of God, and the hope found in salvation.
3. We need the local church.
As believers, I think we all have some sort of knowledge that we need the church. We are taught the importance of the body of Christ from a young age, but oftentimes, we don’t actually grasp that until later. That was my experience. This year, I really understood what it means to need the church. Gabby and I joined a great family of believers in Kansas City, and in our deepest time of suffering, our church was there with us. They truly mourned with us and reminded us of God’s goodness and grace. Our pastors helped us to lean in to the church and be vulnerable with others. Gabby and I both have a new love for the church, and I have a passion to see churches become healthier so that they may minister to those in their midst in a God-honoring way. More than ever, evangelicals seem to be drawing away from the gathered, local church. “Church” can now take place in your living room or even virtually, as on an app or website. I would encourage you seek a church that gathers in person weekly, brought together by God to worship on the Lord’s Day, and be built up by these people who have covenanted together as a family. In your day of suffering, the healthy, local church will be there by your side, praying with you and ministering to you. We truly need the local church.
I hope that 2018 has been a year where you’ve learned more about the Lord and grown closer to him. I pray that you will grow in the knowledge of the Lord in 2019, leaning in to the local church, walking well through suffering, and fully relying on our good God, who is faithful to walk with us through it all.