By Ward Shope
New Year’s Eve has come and gone. Debbie and I found ourselves alone this year for possibly the first time since Wes joined our household 28 years ago. Still, we followed our tried and true routine: homemade Stromboli (no, we’re not Italian), a movie (this time a somewhat obtuse futuristic Spielberg film where the estranged couple ends up together at the end), a game (this time a rousing Scrabble competition), and 10 minutes of TV watching the ball drop in Times Square. We didn’t even get to the popcorn. Despite the lack of any alcohol in the house, I found myself hung over this morning. Even Chico, our Westie, didn’t get out of bed.
In the early silence, I forced myself to stretch, and then sat down to pick up the story of Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem and his subsequent transfer to Caesarea under the threat of assassination. (Acts 22 and 23). The irony was not lost on me as I read of Paul’s desperate plight while I reclined comfortably in my flannel pajamas, wrapped snugly in a fleece. Do he and I have anything in common?
I entertain myself and provide my own comfort. He entertains Christ, and finds comfort only in Him.
Quickly pushing the guilt away, I turned to the New Year’s prayer in The Valley of Vision. It begins thus: “O Lord, length of days does not profit me except the days are passed in thy Presence, in thy service, to thy glory. Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour, that I may not be one moment apart from thee, but rely on thy Holy Spirit…”
Two things struck me as I read.
• There is nothing God requires of us apart from attentiveness to him. All things follow from that communion. My circumstances may be quite different from Paul’s, but being in a genuine interactive relationship with Him is the one thing necessary.
• Our relationship with him is a “grace” he gives us through Jesus. I don’t need to force a relationship with him. He enables it to happen as Jesus closes the gap between my sinfulness and God’s holiness. He approaches me, and I respond knowing that he, without reservation, accepts my friendship and my service.
Being the New Year, I began praying for this attentive presence for Debbie and for each of our children and their spouses (or spouse-to-be). Fearfully I prayed that God would do for all of us whatever is needful for our growth in Him and for His glory. Often that comes most effectively in adversity – and sometimes disaster. And while my thoughts instinctively say to God, “have mercy on us all from such things” – and I can quickly think of many – I know that being with him in 2018 is the most important thing for all of us in whatever he brings about.
And the same is true for our church. “Lord, help us entertain Christ and find comfort only in Him.”