Well here we are, year 2021! I can probably speak for everyone when I say that last year didn’t quite go as planned. But isn’t that kind of just the way life goes sometimes? It’s seasons and years like these that we are brutally reminded of the fact that we aren’t really in control of anything . . . outside of our own choices, responses, and actions. So, what are we to make of it all? When God doesn’t do what we thought He would do when we thought He would do it?
I know for me and my family, 2020 definitely didn’t go as we had planned, expected or hoped for. Ripe into the new year last January my wife and I had our first-born son, Judah! It was the most incredible and amazing moment of our lives, and yet in the wake of this new wonder and spectacular addition to our little family, Tara’s physical condition and health mysteriously began to plummet. One week of excruciating pain turned into two weeks, two weeks turned into two months, and two months turned into a year long and counting journey of chronic pain and anxiety, uncertainty and confusion, doctor’s offices and tests, tear-filled and sleepless nights, sprinkled with lots of fear, doubt, and countless “God where are you,” and “are you really good” kind of moments through a world-wide pandemic. Have you ever had some of those moments? You are not alone.
There was a leader in the New Testament, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, a brilliant Pharisee and fearless zealot for the law who persecuted early Christians. One day, on the road to Damascus described in Acts chapter 9, Saul has an encounter with Jesus that resets and alters the trajectory of his entire life. He leaves behind a legacy of murder to become one of the greatest missionaries in history. Incredible! But here is the thing: in our journey called life we go through many different seasons. Like Paul, following Jesus doesn’t excuse us from hardship and trial. We will walk through mountain-top seasons and also the valley-lows.
And truthfully, if you want to be inspired by someone who took life head on through the disasters and disappointments with unshakable joy and contentment in Jesus, it’s Paul.
There wasn’t much that didn’t get thrown Paul’s way following his conversion: he experiences death threats, beatings, imprisonments, ridicule, hunger, shipwrecks, and eventually death.
Matter of fact, in Acts chapter 27, Luke tells us a story about one of those moments where a tempestuous wind storm ravaged Paul and 275 other passengers on a boat through the dark for over two weeks with little to no water, food, and direction before ship wrecking on an island called Malta. No thank you, am I right? But look at what happens next.
Paul and the men get off the shipwrecked boat and make way to the island. Some swim, and some float on pieces of debris. Finally, they make it off the wretched chaos of the boat to the safety of dry ground. What a relief? Right? I mean, can you imagine what’s possibly going through Paul’s head? “Man, what did I sign up for?” Sleepless nights with hunger and lack of water through a violent sea storm? This is not going how I thought it would be going.” But wait! It doesn’t end here. It actually gets worse. Sound familiar?
The story says: “When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand... he however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds... ” Acts 28:3;5-6a)
And here is the powerful truth. Sometimes when things don’t go the way we planned, when disappointment sets in, when expectations don’t get met, these feelings seek to bite, latch on, and leech us of all our faith and hope. But friends, enough is enough! It’s time we shook off the vipers of disappointment. It’s time we shook off the vipers of discouragement. It’s time we shook off the bite of anxiety and threw them into the fire and just moved forward.
Maybe for you, the healing you were expecting didn’t come. Or the job you thought you would get fell through the cracks. Maybe you felt like 2020 was your year for the relationship you’ve been praying for or maybe it was the year that your career or health goals would be finally accomplished.
However you slice it, 2020 just didn’t go as planned. Find comfort in this, you are not alone. Things didn’t go as planned for Paul either. But when those around Paul saw how he responded to crisis, pain, disappointment, loss, trial, and discouragement, they began to see life differently too. His actions and responses stirred people towards Jesus.
Will you shake off the vipers that seek to take you out and allow God to turn it for good? Will you allow your journey to point people to Jesus—even when? Even when life doesn’t go as planned, will you shake off the vipers and follow Jesus forward in 2021, ready to go where he leads?
We’ve all been bitten by something this year. Find a quiet place to get alone with God. Take a few minutes and ask him to reveal to you the vipers that have gotten a hold of your life this past year as things did not go to plan. Ask him to bring freedom and healing as he throws them into the fire.