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STEPPING INTO THE FUTURE (Views from the Abbey 4)

stepping into future

A visitor to a class of seven-year olds was struck by the sad, worldly expression on the face on one little girl apparently labouring over a poem. Stopping by her desk he read her work:

yesterday, yesterday, yesterday
happiness, happiness, happiness
today, today, today
trouble, trouble, trouble
tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow
sorrow, sorrow, sorrow

Deeply moved by what the little girl had written, he asked what had inspired her to write such a beautiful poem like that. The little girl looked at him blankly and then replied that this wasn’t a poem … these were her spelling corrections.

Whilst many of us begin a new year with a determination to use it as a springboard to a brighter, more positive future, many others approach yet another new year in quite the opposite way. Their feelings reflect the little girl’s perceived ‘poem’ – the good times all in the past, the present rather complicated to say the least, the future full of dread.

So, how do you feel at the start of this new year? What might 2019 bring for you? There is so much uncertainty in our world and many face the future with fear and trepidation. We can have an over rosy view of the past and we can find the unknown nature of the future overwhelming, and both can bring a sense of inertia and stagnation in the present. How can we step into the future with hope and anticipate tomorrow with courage and positivity?

Herbert Butterfield, a British historian and philosopher of the last century, and a devout Christian wrote, ‘there are times when we can never meet the future with enough elasticity of mind, especially if we are locked in contemporary systems of thought. We can do worse than remember the principle which both gives us a firm Rock and leaves us the maximum elasticity to our minds: the principle: Hold to Christ, and for the rest be totally uncommitted.’

Minnie Haskins in her poem, God Knows, quoted by George VI in his 1939 Christmas Broadcast when the country was facing an uncertain future, points us in the same direction:

‘And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So, I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.’

As has been said, we do not know what the future holds but we do know who holds the future. The prophet Jeremiah, the writer of Lamentations, had been going through a tough time, ‘I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness … I remember it all – oh, how well I remember – the feeling of hitting rock bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God’s loyal love never runs out, his mercies never run dry. How great is your faithfulness!’ (Lamentations 3:19-23 The Message).

When we hold on to Christ and look to God, we find the hope to face tomorrow. When we put ourselves into the hands of God, there is no safer place to be. We can step into the future with faith and the assurance that he is with us, he will meet the need and make the way forward clear and plain. As our Motto text for 2019 tells us, our God is the God of Hope: ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so much so that you actually begin to abound in hope through the Holy Spirit whom God has given to us’ (Romans 15:13). That word ‘hope’ in the Greek (the language of the New Testament) is a much stronger word than our English word. It literally means ‘guarantee’, that is, it carries a sense of certainty concerning things working out for the best in the future. Thus, Martin Luther translates Romans 15:13 as ‘the God of the guarantee’. As Mary Bowley Peters aptly reminds us in one of her hymns:

Through the love of God our Saviour,
all will be well.
Free and changeless is his favour,
all, all is well.
Precious is the blood that healed us,
perfect is the grace that sealed us,
strong the hand stretched forth to shield us,
all must be well.

Though we pass through tribulation,
all will be well.
Ours is such a full salvation,
all, all is well.
Happy, still in God confiding,
fruitful, if in Christ abiding,
holy, through the Spirit’s guiding,
all must be well.

We expect a bright tomorrow,
all will be well.
Faith can sing through days of sorrow,
‘All, all is well.’
On our Father’s love relying,
Jesus every need supplying,
in our living, in our dying,
all must be well.

~ Mary Bowley Peters (1813-56)

Julia Binney


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