In England, January can be pretty dreary. These weeks, after the Christmas lights are boxed away, often feel particularly bare and bleak as festive jolliness is replaced with disappointing bank balances and diet programs.
And yet, I have always liked January. Maybe I am strange but I just love all the potential and possibilities that come with the start of a new year. I also really love the quietness that January brings. We don’t have any family birthdays or anniversaries until February and our usual church and social commitments are often pared down as everybody recovers and regroups after the craziness of Christmas. So, I am usually able to keep the first few weeks of the year slow and uncommitted and to set it aside for thinking, planning and prayer. I love it.
Seasons are good and January can offer us a unique perspective. It can be a time when life, like a deciduous tree, is stripped down to just the skeleton of trunk and branches. No tinsel or glitter, just the reality of who were are and what our life really consists of.
And, this can be good. It allows us to see exactly what we’ve got.
Outside my back door are the glazed pots that were overflowing with flowers as recently as October when family played in my garden and wedding rehearsal dinner drinks were shared with bride and groom-to-be. Some of those pots are now completely empty, the bedding plants have served their short-term purpose of cheap summer colour for my patio. Others look dead but they are secretly hiding the roots of perennial life. And, so although the pot looks empty, I know it will spring into life when the days get warm again.
And then there are my reliable evergreen shrubs. They aren’t dazzling, but they keep my winter garden from being completely barren. This the time of year I appreciate their faithful presence most when there are no flashy blooms for them to compete with.
Life is a lot like my winter garden and at this time of year, with pared-back schedules and quiet calendars, we can really assess and take stock of what we’ve got growing and what will need attention.
When I think of the evergreens in my garden, I think of the faithful presence in my life of a few people I can utterly rely on. Along with my faith in God, these relationships form a support system that is irreplaceable in my life. These precious ones don’t just say they will pray, they pray. They get a word from God for me if I need one. They encourage, love and speak life to me when I am ready to give up, which is more often then I would like to admit. When circumstances are crushingly disappointing and grief overwhelms me, their number is the one I call. I simply could not do life without them.
This January, with its fresh diary pages still empty, is the perfect time to make these relationships a top priority, not an afterthought. Let’s remind ourselves before all the shiny new experiences and opportunities arrive, that life’s most precious gifts are dependable, loving friends and family and let’s decide to give them the time and appreciation they deserve. Remember, our closest relationships still need the oxygen of love and appreciation to thrive so let’s give the best of ourselves, not just leftovers, to those who mean the most to us.
And then there are those hidden perennials, the things in your life that have been beautiful and fruitful but lie dormant now.
Perhaps there are areas of gifting or ministry where God used you but have now dried up. Or maybe there are areas of victory that have succumbed again to the enemy. Have you lost ground? Have you seen a work of God seemingly die and you are left bewildered and bereft? Winter is a time for exercising faith. It is time to believe again that what God has started, He will finish. It is time to pray again over those fallow places and to expect green shoots. It is a time to believe in God’s ability and desire to do what He has said He will do.
Winter is not for the fainthearted gardener. When the ground is hard and cold and the colour has been sucked out of the garden, only those who understand how God works will keep their spirits up. Only children of the King keep singing songs of deliverance when circumstances look lifeless.
But, we can use these short, grey days to revisit God’s promises. We can remember words and verses that we have received and decide to believe again. We can ask the Holy Spirit to stir up faith and hope and to restore our confident belief in a powerful God.
And then there are the dead, empty pots that were bursting with summer bedding only months ago.
These are the seasons of life and ministry that have finished. It can be very painful to let these go. Grown-up children and the looming empty nest is the vacant pot I am staring into and it is very hard. I have overwhelmingly enjoyed raising a family and it has been my identity for 26 years. An end to a good season can feel like grief. It is painful and sad.
So, what can January offer these empty spaces in our lives where something good used to grow?
We are offered a chance to, with God’s grace, let them go. We can choose acceptance and supernatural joy that surpasses all understanding. We can pray over the newly vacant areas of our lives and dedicate them to the one who specializes in empty vessels. He promises to fill and multiply and satisfy. We can trust in His goodness to us and then we can dare to make space for something new. We can start the new year with a heart of expectancy and eyes open to see what new things God is doing.
So, can I encourage you to embrace January? Use it as a time to take stock, assess, survey what you have. Put away the Christmas decorations and let life just be what it is. What good things do you have in your life? How can you tend and care for them more intentionally? What needs weeding or pruning or feeding? What have you neglected that matters? What must you accept is over?
Then, shore up and consolidate what is valuable. Tend to the relationships that mean the most. Invest more time in knowing God. Love your family. Appreciate your friends. Be there for someone who needs you. Serve your church. Care about those who are suffering.
And, believe again for good things from God. Hold on to promises. Write them down. Shun cynicism and cultivate child-like faith. You can’t have both. Believe God for the big and the impossible. Pray audacious prayers. Dream big and hang out with other God-dreamers.
And if it is time, let things go. If you know God has shut a door, accept it. If you need to cry, cry. But, don’t look back. Look up. Set your heart on pilgrimage. Keep going. Keep serving. Keep worshipping and keep walking. Let God fill where you are empty and heal where you hurt. Don’t let even a drop of bitterness or resentment find a home in your heart. Not ever. Keep your heart soft and your conscience clear.
This year, give Jesus permission to do something new, something incredible, something life-giving and beautiful in your life. Give Him permission to do things differently than you have planned. Give Him permission to surprise and overwhelm your life with Kingdom bounty.
And, if you dare, give Him permission to do whatever it takes for you to know and love Him more and to walk in every good work He has planned for you.