“Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up…” (Psalm 68:19)
Turning the Corner
As we turn the corner into a new year, emerging out of an old year that tested us at many levels, the question of faithfulness comes to the fore. What does steady—shall we call it plodding—faithfulness, look like? How does one endure to the end in the midst of it all? Another way some might ask that question is: “Having just gotten through a really hard year, how can I possibly stay faithful for another year—and for whatever the number of years—that the Lord has ordained for me?” People can ask that question, but it is not at all the right one. The right question is: Can I, by God’s grace, be faithful today?”
I have long been committed to a 24-hours-at-a-time way of life. In fact, I sang it to Gayline at our wedding 43 years ago (tomorrow!): “Day by day and with each passing moment, Strength we’ll find to meet our trials here…” Somehow, Gayline and I knew that we were going to need daily grace for daily trials; and we have.
I also remember when at 23, I received a call to pastor a little church in Ocean County, NJ. Having grown up in a pastor’s home, I knew well the rigors and costs of faithful ministry. So in this moment of calling, I suddenly sensed the terrifying prospect of a likely 50 years of ministry that lay before me. And I recall the fear-filled question that looped in my mind time and again: “Will I be able to endure in ministry for 50 years? Fifty years!”
But then I also recall sensing, as I wrestled with doubt and fear, an inner Holy Spirit reminder: “Tim, I am not calling you to pastor for 50 years; I am calling you to pastor for today. Do today, and I’ll do the rest.” By the mercy of God, I have lived with that mindset ever since. And I am here to declare the wondrous works of God: March 1, 2021 will complete 39 years (that’s over 14,235 todays) of pastoral labor. And He hasn’t failed me once.
But it is a fight to live life in 24-hour increments; which is why I am thankful for my headache. As I’ve written about elsewhere, for the last 32 years I have had a constant 24/7/365 headache (due to nerve damage from a vicious bout with viral meningitis). I am always hurting at a 6-8 level on the 0-10 pain Richter scale. Always.
So why am I thankful for my 24/7/365 headache? Because it has forced me to delete the “7” and “365” from life’s equation. When dealing with this amount of pain, one cannot afford to let one’s thoughts and emotions wander into tomorrow or next week—and no way, into next month or year. I can only think in terms of 24—as in 24 hours. If I were to dwell on doing 24 more weeks or months or years of pain, I’d say, “Put me out of my misery now”. But if I think about doing 24 more hours, I can say “Bring it on!”—not because I think I can, I think I can; but because I know He can. Twenty-four hours—and sometimes even shorter—is as far out as my thoughts and faith need go. And I bless God for my headache, since it serves as an everyday reminder to stay within the 24-hour limit to which my faith is called.
Doing life in 24-hour increments is the only way to stay faithful over the long haul—and it is the biblical way. Paul rings this day-by-day note in 2 Corinthians 4:16—“…our inner self is being renewed day by day.” That note echoes in Isaiah’s plea, “O Lord, be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble” (Isaiah 33:2). Then there’s Jeremiah’s affirmation: “the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies… are new every morning…” (Lamentations 3:22, 23). We overhear it in the psalmist’s bed-time prayer, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” (Psalm 90:14). For those who missed it, David turns it into it praise: “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.” (Psalm 68:19). Even Jesus keeps it daily in his model prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11); then commanding it in His famous sermon, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34).
Here’s some unsolicited advice at this turn of the new year. I suggest that you start this new year by thinking in terms of one day: to-day. Make a New Year’s resolution to live this day, not this year; to do well whatever date today is, more than to do 2021 well. Life is best lived—and trials are best faced—when we live in today’s 24-hour increment, and leave our yesterdays and tomorrows to God.
This is an essential life-secret. Without it we languish in yesterday’s regrets or tomorrow’s concerns. We waste our lives fretting over what’s past and done, or overwhelmed by what may or may not yet be. By dragging the past into today or letting the future invade our now, we burden our hearts either with what we cannot ever change, or may not ever face.
We are not meant to do life this way. Thankfully, I am blessed with an everyday headache that reminds me that in fact, I cannot do life this way. And as we all linger in a COVID-infected, politics-poisoned, justice-compromised, relationships-strained, trauma-filled world, we all need to be reminded of the same.
So my conclusion as we enter 2021?
Have a God- and a grace-filled new…day!
This post is based on an excerpt from Tim’s devotional work called 30/30 Hindsight: 30 Reflections on a 30-Year Headache, 2019. Tim has been in pastoral ministry for nearly 40 years. Married to Gayline for 43 years, he is the father of six and grandfather to 13. He has also authored Respect the Image: Reflecting Human Worth in How We Listen and Talk, and An ABC Prayer to Jesus: Praise for Hearts Both Young and Old, due for release in March. 2021.