There are two phrases that keep coming back to me.
“It is what it is.” & “It’s not what it could be.”
The new year is a new slate, symbolically anyways. The spike and then steep dive in gym memberships around this time of year tells us flipping the page on the calendar doesn’t intrinsically change us. Or as some like to say, It is what it is. Yet thousands of people who found themselves too busy or lazy to exercise last fall have found the courage to step into the gym. And this tells us something we all want to believe, even if we’ve grown too jaded to really internalize, It’s not yet what it could be. There is a potential we have not yet realized – there are places we could go – “reality” could be better than it is.
A couple weeks ago, I reached out to three local pastors (and one who was quite far away) and asked them what they’re praying for their people in 2021. The past year was a emotionally taxing time to be alive, but our pastors experience that tension in a unique way. While we’re all disagreeing and bashing each other over the head in the comment sections, they’re trying to figure out how to tell us the gospel when we wander in on Sunday. While we soak in about 57 sermons worth of advertising, entertainment, and talking heads during the week, they’re trying to figure out what we need to hear from the Word. They had some good insights, and I’d like to share them with you.
“I’m praying that our people will choose this year to be more like Jesus. I know it sounds cliché, but I think we have missed that being a Christian means that we choose to walk like him. Being a Christian and being an apprentice of Jesus are not separate things. They are the same.”
“I am praying for an increase of what I am seeing in many sincere Jesus-followers. Many are experiencing a deep revealing of how futile it is to hope in this world. There is a hunger for prayer and the Word. I prayed for years that there would be a shake up in our church, and it has come in 2020. As hard as it is, I pray that God continues his work he is doing even if we continue to struggle through this.”
“My prayers center around the posture of our hearts towards people, how we view them, and how we view ourselves. I suppose that has been birthed as of late out of the many behind the scenes conversations centered around the good Samaritan passage and realizing we’re not so much the good Samaritan but the person in the ditch. We’re not so much the voice of reason to any argument (though I think the local church can be) or the “good person” coming to the rescue but the person in need of rescue. Which ultimately goes after the posture of our hearts, that we are just vessels of the rescuer. A Vessel with whom the Spirit dwells and works through. It’s through being a vessel of His Spirit that we invite people to come and see what Jesus has done for us and ultimately change culture toward His Kingdom.”
“I find myself praying more than I ever have in life, and I guess that’s because I find myself in a position of need. I pray Proverbs 30:7-9 for me personally and for the people in my care.
7 “Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.
I believe that both requests have great relevance for current engagement. Falsehood and lies being far from me is much bigger than mere truth-telling. [See Psalm 52 for further reference. It depicts someone who actually told factual truth but was designated by the writer as loving falsehood. Interesting.] The second request is a hard one because consumerism, personal comfort, and the right to it is more than a whim. It’s a belief system that has wrapped its hold on us tightly. Give me neither poverty nor wealth…I pray this for me and for the people I love, but I wonder how to engage that fully. I am trusting Him to provide that answer as I keep praying and walking.”
Our pastors are hoping for us: hoping we’ll be more like Jesus; that we’ll hunger for prayer and the Word; that our posture will be one shaped by the Spirit; and that we’ll be kept from lies, resting in a state of reliance on him who is faithful. I think we’d do well to listen to them and their prayers for our new year.
My favorite poet, Jon Foreman, says we exist in the tension between, “who we are and who we could be, how the world spins and how it should be.”
It is what it is – yes I suppose so.
It’s not what it could be – because anything could be.