‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.’ – Isaiah 43:2
At the end of every year, like many families in Ghana, my family makes our way to Church to ‘pray- in’ or ‘usher-in’ the new year. A watchnight service that usually starts with praise and worship, followed by leaders sharing inspiring and encouraging words and praying just before midnight that carries on till shortly after the stroke of midnight, an intense session of singing praises, hugging, and spreading well wishes to everyone. It’s a wonderful night of communal prayer and a sense that you have literally ‘entered’ the new year committing everything to God. After this, as a family, we would come home and pop open a bottle of non alcoholic wine and watch the fireworks from capital cities around the world on CNN, discuss our hopes for the new year, call family around the country and in other parts of the world and then head off to sleep. I did this judiciously, well, until a few years ago, something I’ll get into in another story, but my family stayed committed, every year, no matter where we were, whether together or in different parts of the world.
At the end of 2016 though, I decided to retrace my steps to this particular ‘place’ or activity. I was nowhere near the rest of my family at this point. However, the tension, confusion and distress in my life was too palpable to ignore. I knew that, where I had earlier thought I was in control and could ‘handle it all’, things definitely were proving otherwise and more than anything, I needed some sort of intervention. Church had been crossed off the list of to-dos by my hosts and though quite disappointed, I was not going to let anything get in my way. In my room, I shut the door and went on my knees and launched into a brief period of praise and thanksgiving to God for the opportunities that He had made available to me that year, in the midst of all the confusion, I thanked him that my family was alive and together, that in-spite of my mum being unwell, He had preserved her and kept all of us strong to support her. And then moving beyond that, I asked for THREE things. I am giggling now, I know God is no genie and I wasn’t aiming at a genie- style request, I don’t think I even realized how many ‘items’ I was asking for, I must have just thought to keep my list short so I didn’t seem greedy. As someone who was still so bent on proving something to the rest of the world and one who knew too well how my lack of confidence was often a problem, I asked God to make me more confident. Then, I asked for decisiveness (because I just couldn’t take a decision, much less stick with it), tenacity and peace no matter what situation I faced. At that point in time, my major fear was being dumped, and I wasn’t ready for none of that. And then finally, as someone who had recently gotten hooked on the Hillsong worship song, Oceans, I asked for a deeper knowledge of God and a closer walk with Him; going to places where my trust was without borders sure sounded glamorous but I wasn’t sure I was quite ready for that yet, a deeper knowledge and close walk would do just fine, I thought. I was quite serious about my prayer and was quite frankly proud of it too. I felt, hey I didn’t ask for money or any items, definitely these God will answer quickly and easily. And through the day, I continued to give thought to these things I had asked for, I might have even attempted a fast as well.
I had no idea how these would be answered but I have always known that God does listen to prayer and knew He had heard mine, so said my Amen and went about enjoying the rest of the Christmas break with my hosts. What I didn’t know then was that my whole life had just taken a major turn and that I was only about to begin witnessing the movements of this TURN as the days ahead unfolded. There were no nail- biting moments of waiting in anticipation to see how God would bring these things I’d asked for to pass my life. In fact, what followed can only be likened to being plunged right into the middle of a tumultuous roaring sea, a dark raging hurricane of a storm or a fiery burning furnace when you had requested for and believed you were headed on an all expenses paid trip to an island paradise so much better than what you were used to, and I was indeed used to quick and pretty easily answered prayers.
Barely a couple of days after this, things quickly came crushing all around me. A series of events that began with miscalculated timing from lack of attention to detail by me and resulted in issues no one would ever have imagined. On the heels of this came the news of my grandmother’s death, my mother’s rehospitalization, a failed exam, the unexpected twists with my thesis, and the unimaginable pain of losing my mummy. Before the year ended, a very dear cousin lost her baby and two more people very close to me and my family passed on into eternity and in all these cases, unexpectedly, but who is ever ‘expecting’ death? Knowing full well how significant each of these events was, frankly it would be unjust and insufficient to bunch them all up here in this post, I may talk about some of them in future letters to you.
I am at the end of this year, peering back at it and can’t help seeing all the pain and heartache it was filled with, because they were so huge and glaring and yet in the midst of all that, there was one thing that I experienced in a way I had never known of before, the very presence of God. His hand and gentle touch when the floor gave way and the path couldn’t be seen, His soft voice when the storm violently tossed and raged and His beautiful light where the darkness tried to close in. This was the year I took the step to boldly and publicly declare my faith and made the decision to die unto self and be raised to a new life in Christ and was water- baptized, the best decision I ever made in my life. While there was no all-expenses-trip-to-tropical-islands style of answered prayers, I come out at the other end with a different view of life than I started with, an unshakeable trust in God and a total reliance on who He is and how much He loves me. I have come to a realization of who I am in Him and a quiet confidence in His word and promises. He is daily molding me into what He intended from the time He thought of me. The confidence, peace, tenacity, decisiveness and everything else I asked for, I soon realized were all side effects or should I say, fruits, of a closer walk with Him.
“But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” – Jeremiah 17: 7-8 (NLT)
While on this journey, He has brought my way friends who love Him, love people and are all about building people up and living boldly for Jesus. I have come to understand what service is all about, in and outside Church and can no more envisage a life without true service.
I have seen doors shut and slammed in my face more this year than I probably ever have and yet in all these, if anything, I have learnt to just jump and know that my Father is indeed going to catch me like He has told me He will, to live in total surrender and complete obedience to Him (still learning everyday) and to just live by faith, to TRUST. It seems while going to places where my trust is without borders sounded like the scariest and most unthinkable thing to do, it was exactly where I needed to go to actually see God move and realize that my strength had absolutely nothing to do with any of it and never had.
This has been nothing short of a crazy year, and even as I stand at the edge of the year waiting to cross over into the next, my heart and mind is filled with His peace and that quiet confidence that God has already gone ahead, cleared roads in the desserts, is calling on me to forget the former things and walk in the way He has carved for me. I, on the other hand, am running hard after Him and not looking back, or even around for confirmation or affirmation. As I jump off into the deep with Him, and place my hand in His while I walk with Him to those places without borders, I realize I have everything I need in Him and He is enough.
“But forget all that–it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” – Isaiah 14: 18-19 (NLT)
So, my dear friend, I encourage you to let Him. To literally hand control of it all to Him and watch Him steer you to His perfect plans for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. In this new year, I pray your faith grows to new levels even as you lean in and walk closer with Him.
Song: Heroes – Amanda Cook
‘Eyes’ on the Prize. Photo credits: @hillsong