2016: Annus Horribilis or Year of Great Blessing?

2016: Annus Horribilis or Year of Great Blessing? December 29, 2016

2016yearThere is no question this has been a remarkable year both personally and in the public consciousness. I have been reminded of the Queen’s famous description of 1992 as an Annus horribilis when in typical British understatement she said, “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.”

2016 is a year when we have been very conscious of the deaths of what seems like a remarkably large number of celebrities. The stars of the sixties who have clung onto fame ever since are now ageing and there is no doubt that many of our most loved icons died this year. Few of us have not had at least one moment when we have been grieving the loss of a star we have admired for decades.  Perhaps, for me personally, the most poignant was Carrie Fisher, who’s role as Princess Leia formed part of the backdrop of my youth.

No doubt some of my readers have been personally affected by deaths of loved ones who are more close to home. I’m sure most of  you are Christians, and so I pray that such grief, although still very painful, will be tinged with hope rather than despair.

europe uk

2016 also brought political upheaval on the world stage leading to uncertainty and anxiety about what the future will bring. I voted to remain in the EU, and yet we voted for Brexit. The jury is still out on whether that will turn out to be a disaster or the most inspired choice since we rejected joining the ill-fated Euro currency.

I know many of my American readers voted for Trump, but I was firmly in the camp that wanted to say ‘You’re fired!‘ to him all year. Some may welcome his election as a break on political correctness and aggressive secularism, but many of us have real concerns about a personality like his being the leader of the free world.

Both of these major Anglo-Saxon political upheavals, the rise of popularism elsewhere, and not to mention the resurgence terrorist threat, all have the potential to lead to great fear concerning the future. Will we fear or will we dare to hope?

As we look back on this year and assess it, our perspective is everything. It is not what happens to us, but how we choose to interpret it that determines our mood, and how we asses the past and approach the future. Will we focus only on how sad we are over those we have lost? Or will we be grateful for the joy they brought us, and thankful for those who we will still enter 2017 with? Will we dwell on the sad things that happened to us, or will we chose to be thankful for the great things? Will we remember what God has done for us or complain about what we perceive to be unanswered prayers? Will we choose to pray more, to implore God’s blessing on the future?  Will we live in fear? Or will we trust that God is at work in all circumstances for our good (Romans 8:28). Perhaps there are people this year who meant you harm, but all the while God meant good for you (Genesis 50:20). Knowing the sovereignty of God is at work makes all the difference.

One major event for me in 2016 was that I changed jobs towards the end of the year. This involved me, for the first time since 1996, moving away from psychiatry, and taking on the challenge of rare diseases. It would be very easy for me to focus on leaving a therapy area I loved, and become melancholy.  I could easily bemoan the sad state of affairs where there is so little current investment in new treatments for mental illness. Or, I could chose instead to be excited about the new opportunity that lies ahead of me. And there is no doubt that the very act of changing jobs can introduce a more healthy perspective of work to even a workaholic like me.

source: pixabay
source: pixabay

During 2016, there were undoubtably some difficult moments for me personally. There were months where I did not fully feel myself, and times during which I acted out of character. If I chose to I could easily ruminate on these periods, and if I did so my mood would definitely plummet, and perhaps, if I did so for long enough, I might even become clinically depressed. And yes, just in case you are in any doubt, a Christian can get depressed. Few would disagree that Spurgeon was one of the greatest Christians outside of the Bible, and yet he plunged into a depression from which he at the time thought he would never escape. Even the Apostle Paul spoke of discouragement, but he also found God in the midst of his difficulties as can we.

I am grateful that I did not sink fully into the slough of depression this year.  I do remember some pretty bleak moments, however. Perhaps the worst found me in uncontrollable tears at the top of the steps down into an underground station. All of a sudden, a stranger approached me, asked me if I was OK, and spent several minutes conforting me. They insisted on exchanging numbers so I could let them know I got home safely. They later explained that, although they are not at all religious, they felt like a higher power was compelling them to approach me. At that low moment, during a season when I had largely been neglecting God, He wasn’t neglecting me, and sent me an angel unawares.

But, there were also lots of great moments in 2016!  It would be very foolish of me to forget them and focus only on the negative.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

Even in the middle of painful situations, God really is there. The resurrection of Jesus continues to be the only reliable source of hope in the midst of the challenges we see all around us. Once again I was encouraged when this Easter brought renewed interest in my first book, Raised With Christ and I also shared my own story in the context of a new movie on the resurrection.

As I look back on this remarkable year, I have a renewed determination to do what I can to encourage the obedience of faith in both myself and others. Earlier this year I wrote the following about this phrase:

I can think of at least  five possible ways of interpreting this and I know the scholars disagree.  Which of these are we talking about Paul? Is it:

  1. The faith which is itself an act of obedience to God’s command to believe.
  2. The faith which grows out of our determination to obey Jesus and follow him. In other words, does the choice to obey come first (repentance) and lead to faith?
  3. The obedience that faith demands. When we learn to trust Jesus and truly believe, does that lead inevitally to an obedience that comes from faith?
  4. The type of obedience that is full of faith and not fear.
  5. The type of obedience that is an expression of being faithful and loyal to Jesus.

Could it be that it is all five?  READ MORE

Unusually for me, I didn’t preach at all this year, and only spoke at one Christian event, speaking on the opportunities and pitfalls the Internet poses for Christians at the CMF student conference. It was a real privilege to meet with future doctors. In this and so many other ways 2016 was a year of necessary pruning for me. Please pray for me that 2017 sees the shoots of new life and growth.

As we look forward into 2017, as helpful as it can sometimes be to make resolutions, they are not the perfect answer. I have listed 45 practical resolutions that can help improve our health, but when I selected just four of them to focus on just last month, I have to confess I have not even managed to keep any of them up to the degree I wanted to!  But, they remain an aspirational goal.  I am not one who rejects the notion of resolutions. We just need to be gracious towards ourselves when we inevitably fail, and realise that keeping them is not the source of our salvation!
This year has seen my family doing well, with Andrée working hard to develop in her career as a dyslexia specialist, Tamasin spending a profitable few months volunteering at Liv village in South Africa, Henry gaining good AS results, Charis working hard for her GCSEs, Joel enjoying his last relatively easy year of school before the exam work starts, and George continuing to demonstrate his fun-loving and affectionate personality to all who see. Next year will start with university interviews for both Tamasin and Henry, so we are hopeful for their future, and indeed the other children.

As a family we have also been blessed by the completion of a building project that got delayed, stalled, resulted in us firing the builder, and amazingly suddenly accelerated and left us with a lovely home and garden and a strong desire never to undertake such a major upheaval again!

I didn’t blog much this year. In fact I have already linked within this article to all the major highlights, and indeed to almost all the posts I wrote. The only major blog series I published was back in January and February when I blogged through the gospel of Mark.

There is no doubt that 2016 will not go down as one of the vintage years of the blog. A quick comparison of this review post and those for previous years (2003200420052006200720082009, 20102011, 201220132014, and 2015) will show that there was much more writing previously! Perhaps 2017 will see me write more once again.

As is my custom, I thought I would end the year by sharing with you a list of the most visited blog articles this year here  For the first time, none of them came from this year, but rather than be disappointed by that, I choose to be is encouraged that some of my previous work continues to bless others.

As 2016 draws to a close, whether it has been a great year, terrible year, or mixed year for you, I encourage you to reflect on it, then chose to leave it behind.  May 2017 be a blessed, prosperous, and joyous year for you all. May I wish you (a little early) a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Most visited posts during 2016

  1. Six Things Christians and Muslims disagree about over Jesus
  2. God’s word to the suicidal: Bible verses to help prevent suicide
  3. John MacArthur accuses half-a-billion Christians of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit
  4. God Breaks Those He Wants To Make Great
  5. Sermon: building for the glory of God
  6. Resurrection hope: an Easter sermon
  7. Sermon: Abounding in Thanksgiving
  8. Sermon: Reviving Prayer
  9. God’s Word for those who cannot sleep
  10. God’s Word to the depressed
  11. Things Muslims and Christians agree on concerning Jesus
  12. God’s Word for the agitated and manic
  13. Sermon: Abound in Hope
  14. Will a Christian who commits suicide go to heaven?
  15. A wedding sermon
  16. We do grieve but not like those with no hope
  17. Examples of mental anguish and depression in the Bible
  18. God wants you to be really happy
  19. Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Word of Wisdom
  20. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness
  21. How to define revival and be personally revived
  22. Comfort like a Mother
  23. What is the fivefold ministry? How do apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers function?
  24. The Three Phases of Faith
  25. Gender Roles: a spectrum
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