I am always excited when a New Year comes around. It often feels like a good time to reset and reassess our goals and aspirations. It is a time of peace after the busyness of Christmas, and it helps break up the permeating gloom of winter by marking a new start.
However, this New Year has not been what I expected. Rather than a time of reflection and rest it has been a time of grief, uncertainty and busyness. It is with great sadness that I have officiated three funerals while several members of our fellowship have also lost loved ones. Is this a sign of the year to come?
Some people reason that when times are tough if we grin and bear it eventually we will see the light at the end of the tunnel. A classic example of such thinking may be found in Homer’s  Odyssey where Odysseus had his men tie him to a mast so that he might safely steer his ship past the Sirens, whose irresistible calls when followed would lead the men to their deaths. In such circumstances, patience represents one’s fortitude in the face of adversity. Some say that facing such challenges will only make us stronger, perhaps they were even trials to test us. Indeed, the letter from James says:
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4)
But does such an understanding of patience, the typical keep calm and carry on attitude, fully capture its biblical significance? When Jesus warned us that we will face trials and sorrows in the world, he framed it between two promises: (1) that there is always peace in his presence and (2) that we should take heart because he has overcome the world:
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
As we enter into the New Year there are no promises that this year will be any easier than the last. However, we can still press forward with joy as we learn to recognise the Spirit’s presence in our lives which is a sign of the certain hope that we have in Jesus’ Christ.
If we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. Remember what it says:
“Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 3:12-15)
Spiritual patience is less about “keep calm and carry on” but more about learning to recognise the Spirit’s presence in our lives, a sign of what Jesus has done for us and for all those who trust him. It is reminiscent of Jason and the Argonauts who sail safely past the Sirens, not by tying their captain to the mast, but by listening to more beautiful music. It is less a stoic, emotionless, mindset but rather a promise that even when things are difficult there is still growth to be found in Christ. Spiritual patience is allowing ourselves to be strengthened by God’s promises even when times are hard:
We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. (Colossians 1:11-14)
Dunfermline West Baptist Church
Chalmers Street, Dunfermline