Like anybody else, I had my own share of difficulties, personal and professional in the past year, but 2016 was a remarkable year of blessing for me. Among the notable accomplishments, I saw my first book published during the summer and I graduated with my Ph.D. degree in December. Those two things alone would be adequate cause for me to rejoice at a very productive and worthwhile year. There are many other things of a more personal nature that have reminded me of the Lord’s goodness and mercy, such as the strength of body and mind to endure difficulties, or holidays and birthdays celebrated with family and friends. Over the past few years, there were times I didn’t know if I’d actually finish my dissertation. There were times when I barely even wanted to do the work. I asked God to give me both the desire and the strength to persevere, and He was blessed me accordingly. My recognition of the struggle makes the accomplishment all the more satisfying. I’m proud of the work I did and the contribution to Baptist history that I made.
The single thing that gives me the most joy is that acknowledging blessings redefines the presence of pain. On December 2, 2011, I lost a good friend due to tragedy. Five years later to the very day, I earned my doctoral degree, the happy culmination of seven years of struggle and frustration. The timing of the anniversary is not lost on me. God reminded me that a day need not only be defined by tragedy. If it's a day the Lord has made, then we are right to rejoice in it, in the presence of pain and in the recognition of a greater hope.
We are sinners living in a sin-stained world. Bad things happen. Our good God may bring us both calamity and consolation in his own good timing. For those redeemed sinners God loves in Christ, those elect exiles He calls His children, He works all things together for His purpose (Romans 8:28). As William Cowper wrote in 1774, God moves in a mysterious way, and behind every frowning providence, there lies a hidden smile. And as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, "Give thanks in all circumstances."
If your 2016 wasn't so great, then feel free to mourn and lament the pain. But don't stop there. If you aren't able to rejoice in the presence of pain because of a greater hope in an eternal inheritance "incorruptible and undefiled and that faded not away" (1 Peter 1:4), then your 2017 probably won't seem much better. You can make all the New Year's resolutions you want, but true joy only comes from looking at the world and your life from the perspective of eternity. "Consider it all joy, brethren..." (James 1:2)