2020 started with a worship service in downtown Miami led by Kanye West and the Sunday Service Choir and ended with me listening to the same choir singing “Emmanuel,” God with us and “That’s How the Good Lord Works.” A nice bookend to a very strange year. I know that many of us will look at 2020 and simply say, “Good riddance,” a nice way of saying goodbye and I hope we never meet again. However, I believe, though painful, many will look back and see God’s presence and handiwork. I am not sure what we all learned (or are learning) – that’s personal – but I know that God allows these experiences to draw us closer and closer to Him. I have seen his faithfulness, presence and provision in some very profound ways, and these experiences have served as a necessary faith builder, even in the midst of hardship and pain.
Recently I have taken to the habit of choosing a word(s) or phrase as my theme for the year. I tend to think and pray much about that theme. My desire is that the theme is God-inspired and perhaps even has a prophetic element to it. Last year, for example, God gave me two words. The first was humility, a trait that I admire greatly in others and something I desire deeply for myself, though I’m aware I am very far from acquiring it on my own strength, so help me God. The other word was ponder, something that implies patience, thoughtfulness, trust, silence and watchfulness. I believe both of these words and themes were incredibly timely for what we all faced in 2020. I was humbled in 2020 as we all were, and the nudge to ponder was a gift from God, since it helped me see through the noise and watch the hand of God at work, which produced a sense of peace with little interruption from the all too present anxiety. The late Dale Carnegie is quoted as saying, “Today is the tomorrow that you were so worried about yesterday,” that’s almost biblical.
2021 picks up where 2020 left off, just like every year does; however, this year we probably have put too much expectation on it, as if a twenty-four hour time period will simply wipe away the bad and usher in the good. It’s not that simple. I have been praying for the past several weeks about my 2021 word(s) that will shape a theme for the year. Many words have caught my attention; however, two have stood out, and I believe these are words that God wants me to frame my year around.
The first is the word grateful. Grateful is a word that emerges from pondering and is often used as we reflect and see God’s faithfulness. I have heard the word used more often in the past tense rather than the present tense. We will often look back on a good experience or memory and may comment in a moment of reflection how grateful we are for that experience, that person or that opportunity. For example, I am very grateful for many things in the past year, many of them would be things you would nod your head and say, “yes, I see that” or “I had a similar experience.” I’m grateful for being part of a healthy vibrant church. I am grateful for my work. I am grateful for my growing family. I am grateful for friends, etc. However, can I be grateful in the now? I desire to be in a state of gratefulness, which means, I will need to have a deeper understanding of what true gratefulness means. Honestly, sometimes that frightens me, because it’s easier to be grateful in the rearview mirror than being grateful looking through the windshield? Grateful in the now requires more faith. Grateful in the now will require less talking and better listening. Grateful now will require a sense of wonder and awe. Grateful now happens in the slow not the fast.
The second word God has given me is the word nurture. The word is often associated with a mother nurturing a newborn child. The word simply means to care for, encourage and help develop the growth of. The word implies a certain intimacy, patience and presence that doesn’t always fit in the “move fast” world that we tend to live in. Frankly, I don’t necessarily default to a nurturing mindset. I tend to think that the nurturing that we all need is usually more self-directed or initiated by the nurturee vs the nurturer. The desire to be nurtured tends to admit a certain vulnerability and need, again, akin to the neediness of a newborn infant. I don’t like to be needy. Who does? However, it’s hard to nurture if you have never been nurtured. Therefore, to nurture requires a certain availability, a certain sense of wonder and awe of God’s work, a sense of humility to imagine that God is entrusting us to care for something that is precious to Him. We nurture others, but we also nurture ourselves. We nurture gifts and talents. We nurture responsibilities. We nurture the things that God nurtures. I am convicted because sometimes I nurture the wrong things and ignore that which I should nurture.
I recently came across a blog writing by my friend Fred Smith where he highlights something professor and author Alan Jacobs describes in a scene within the Lord of the Rings. Gandalf (who many believe is the symbol of Christ in Tolkien’s work) is confronting Denethor, the temporary steward of Gondor: “Denethor, my lord steward, you need to understand something. The rule of no realm is mine, neither Gondor nor anywhere else. It’s not what I do. I’m not here to rule. I am here to try to nourish and to care for all the good things that I find in this world.” He says, “When I come across something that is alive and is capable of bearing beauty, then I want to nurture that, and that is my call.”
I like this, it reminds me much of Christ’s work. He did not come to earth to rule the earth, but to do the work of His Father and His Kingdom. Jesus came to rescue and restore the good. God is the ultimate example of one who nurtures. He nurtures as an attentive gardener and has called me to do the same. What and who does He want me to nurture this year? How is He nurturing me?
Therefore, as we all begin a new year, life continues. We will face the good, the bad and the ugly. I am grateful for the past because I have seen God work. I recently came across this quote from Mary Oliver, the poet, who says so well in her poem, “Sometimes”:
Tell about it
I intend to do that by daily asking my God to help me live in a state of gratefulness and to nurture that which He says is good and beautiful. I know this will require that I keep pondering, pursuing humility and drawing close to my Shepherd while I keep dancing to the Sunday Service Choir in the garden I’m nurturing.
Stephan N. Tchividjian is the president and founder of the National Christian Foundation South Florida. Visit southflorida.ncfgiving.com to learn more.
Read more articles by Stephan Tchividjian at goodnewsfl.org/author/