At the start of a new year, there is often a rush to make New Year’s resolutions or to try to organise your life to make sure this year turns out differently to the previous one.
It is sensible and wise to plan, and even our responsibility as Christians. However, sometimes the fear of remaining stagnant can put us under immense pressure. We can begin to get anxious, especially if it seems as though our plans are not coming to fruition quickly enough or we’ve been stuck in the same place for a long time.
I know I certainly can feel this way. The year always passes by quickly. Before I know it, it’s already the Christmas season again. If it gets to the end of January and things have not progressed as I would like, I can feel that the whole year is slipping by already.
We are often tempted to want to make big plans for ourselves and to avoid anything that doesn’t fit in with our overall plan. However, because of our fear of failure or staying where we are, sometimes we end up not trying anything at all. We may fear becoming stagnant or apathetic, but in fact, by not doing anything, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy anyway.
Saying yes to small beginnings and new opportunities in life
In the 2008 comedy film Yes Man, Jim Carrey plays a character named Carl Allen. Carl is a depressed and withdrawn bank employee whose wife had left him a few years earlier. He has now escaped into a sad, reclusive world of movie rentals and nights alone.
Carl is completely apathetic about everything in life. His favourite word is “no” whenever he receives an invitation or the offer of new friendships. He can’t be bothered with anything, and often manufactures wild excuses to get out of anything or to avoid being around others.
However, one day Carl attends a seminar and makes a pact to say yes to everything in life. He agrees to sign up for many different pursuits, including learning Korean or taking up the guitar. Both of these later prove instrumental in talking a suicidal Korean man down from a ledge. Carl also offers to fill up a car at the gas station and receives a lift from a complete stranger. This helps him to meet a romantic interest. As he says yes to life’s opportunities, so, he experiences a series of coincidences that pull him out of that funk and help him begin to connect with people again. As a result, Carl finds a renewed zest for life and is able to break free of his apathy.
Now we don’t want to go to the extremes of saying yes to everything like Jim Carrey’s character did, as that was done for comedic effect. However, sometimes we need to take a step of faith and engage in other small yet worthwhile causes. It might be voluntary work or signing up for something new.
This is what author Mark McCurdy recommends in his book Strategic Volunteering: 50 ingredients to transform your life and career.
Volunteering or getting involved in other causes can help indirectly to give us a sense of direction and vision. In themselves, they may not solve our current situation. However, they can help shift the focus off ourselves and give us a sense of hope. They may even ignite certain passions we might never have discovered which could lead to other opportunities that are seemingly unconnected at the time.
This is what happened in the real-life example below.
Taking small steps in faith even if you don’t know where you’re going
I was inspired recently while watching Strictly Come Dancing (the original British version of Dancing With The Stars). The winner of Strictly 2018 was Stacey Dooley, a British TV presenter and journalist. After leaving school at the age of 16 without any qualifications, she ended up working in the duty free store at Luton Airport with no real sense of purpose. You might think this could be a real dead end for her. However, her life changed dramatically at the age of 21 when she responded to an advert in a local newspaper. The advert was seeking fashion-conscious people to participate in a BBC documentary in India. While out there, she was horrified by the conditions of the children working in the clothing factories. As a result, she became passionate about child labour laws.
The BBC took notice of her and her natural and earnest presenting style. They quickly commissioned her own documentary series which she has been presenting since 2009. These covered topics such as homelessness, sex trafficking, child exploitation, domestic violence, gender equality and many other social issues. She later collected her experiences into a best-selling book, On the Front Line with the Women Who Fight Back. In 2018, she received an MBE from the Queen for her services to broadcasting. Strictly Come Dancing gave her widespread national attention. Consequently, the BBC are now keen to line her up for many other high-profile presenting opportunities.
While it’s not a specifically Christian example, and she did have a somewhat serendipitous start, it nevertheless illustrates the point. By taking that one small step of responding to that newspaper advert, it changed the whole course of Stacey’s life. If she had been afraid to step out or had ignored the advert, things could’ve easily taken a completely different turn. At the time, she didn’t know who she wanted to be or all the opportunities that would come from this small beginning. However, she could never have foreseen what she could be or what she would do, or how she might go on to inspire many others.
In the same way, we don’t always know where God is going to take us or the things He will use in our lives. We may be afraid to step out in faith and seize hold of certain opportunities. Or we could reason that it doesn’t seem at all related to where we want to go. Because of our reluctance to do something, we may end up stuck in the same place we are at the moment. However, God sees everything and knows the person we could become.
Trusting God for our steps and our plans
Proverbs 16:9 says “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”
We don’t always know how God is going to work in our lives and which things He is going to use for His glory. Often we may make our own plans and choose a certain path, even staking everything on it. However, God may have other plans for us.
Although we might think that getting involved in certain causes might take us off our intended path, Romans 8:28 tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
We can’t always see the bigger picture and how God might even use something. He can use the smallest of seeds and seemingly insignificant beginnings. These can lead to a much better path and purpose than we ourselves could ever have imagined.
Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to Him and he will make your paths straight.” In some versions it says that God will direct our paths.
Psalm 37:23 also tells us “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in Him.” In other versions, it reads “the steps of the righteous are ordered by God and He delights in his way.”
We can trust that God is working in our lives and can see how everything fits together. We also have the assurance that our steps are ordered by God.
I like this quote from Elizabeth Henstridge’s character Jemma Simmons in the comic book TV series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In one of the episodes she said:
“The steps you take don’t have to be big. They just need to take you in the right direction.”
We often want to run before we can even walk, or want everything in place right now. However, God can use these small beginnings as stepping stones to something greater. They may not be large steps, but they can still take us in the right direction. By taking these small steps in faith, we can find new opportunities that God may be bringing into our lives.
At the start of a new year, we must not become anxious when things aren’t progressing quickly enough. Instead, we need to embrace small beginnings and new opportunities. We must also be faithful in small things so that God can entrust us with greater things.
Do you ever wonder how seemingly insignificant events can fit into the larger picture of your life? Have you ever seen God working through these small beginnings to have a dramatic impact on the rest of your life?
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Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.