Somehow, and somewhere, behind and above a discouraging world, stands a poised Father, completely in control and utterly unfrustrated. To believe that human beings are the final arbiters of history is inevitably to become a whiner rather than a thanker because human irresponsibility does embitter. The church needs her Master’s acquiescence in the sovereignty of God if she is to have Jesus’ poise in ministry. Excessive attention to an unresponsive world and insufficient appreciation of the relaxing reality of God’s sovereignty can drive Christians into the slough of despond. [Frederick Dale Bruner, The Christbook, Matthew 1–12 Revised and Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 527.]

You never know when God has a special word for you. I was reading through Frederick Dale Bruner’s commentary on the first 12 chapters of the Gospel of Matthew when I came across the above passage. And God spoke. I guess this is to be my lesson as I enter 2020 and I guess I am to expect that tough times may be ahead and that I may experience more than my fair share of the irresponsibility of people. In any case the word from the Lord is “chill”. I’ve got this.

Actually, I don’t need 2020 to unfold much. I need the encouragement of this lesson now. There is so much that discourages me. Of course it doesn’t help that 2019 was particularly demanding both on the work front and on the family front and I am tired. But 2019 was also a year when some dear friends passed away. I think especially of my dental colleague Matthias Quake, who gave so much of his life in service to others. He was an inspiration to many of us in the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship. Yet the Lord chose to take him home. He was three years my junior.

On the political front, the progress of the “new Malaysia” has been disappointingly slow. I know there has been progress and indeed it will take time to change a culture that has been entrenched for so long. But the recent explosion of racial and religious conflict wearies the soul. I am sure my friends in Singapore, Canada, Britain, the U.S. etc., would have their own reasons to be discouraged whichever side of the political divide they may be on.

And then there is the story of 11 Christians in Nigeria executed by ISIS on Christmas day, a stark reminder of the many brothers and sisters who suffer and die for the name of Christ but whose stories do not make it into the news feed. Well, we remember the 300 plus who died on Easter day in Sri Lanka. And it’s not just Christian blood that breaks our heart. Every day brings another story of some senseless killing somewhere.

Then there are the on-going environmental disasters. Today I hear of horrendous floods that have hit Jakarta. And we have family and friends in Australia. We fear for them and for the people of Australia under the threat of raging fires. We pray, but are concerned.

In the midst of so much that discourages, Bruner reminds us that human beings do not have the last word in history and that even in the face of discouraging circumstances we are to appreciate “the relaxing reality” of God’s sovereignty. This is a deliberate decision of faith and I am glad I was reminded of this truth recently.

During Christmas I preached on Luke 2 and how Joseph and a very pregnant Mary had to make an arduous journey from Nazareth to Galilee. They had to take this journey because the Emperor Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that all had to go back to their towns of origin to register in a nationwide census. Indeed, often, we find ourselves helpless, under the hold of forces beyond our control. Yet on reflection, we note that God was in sovereign control and used this exercise of earthly power to ensure that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem as had been prophesied. On one level, Caesar Augustus was in control. At another level he was just God’s agent for His purposes. So we look not at the powers of this world without remembering that not only is God on His throne He is working out His purposes in history.

Will there be storms in our lives this year? Living in a fallen world, you can count on it. But I remember Jesus and the disciples when they were caught in a “perfect storm” (Mark 4:35–41). We are told that Jesus was sleeping through the storm and wouldn’t have woken up if the disciples hadn’t roused Him. Asleep in the storm — Jesus knew the relaxing reality of God’s sovereignty. It’s a lesson we need to learn and relearn.