“Deep Water” (2022 Word)

The first day of January signals not just the turn of a calendar page, but the transition to a whole new calendar. For a writer, there’s nothing more intriguing, hopeful, and imagination-stimulating than a series of blank pages, and that is true of calendar pages as well. Yes, there are planned events, classes, trips, and reminders already penciled onto those 2022 pages, but there are no “X” marks indicating days already lived, highs and lows already experienced. The January calendar is a reminder to live expectantly.

For many years, that turn of the calendar on January 1 was a time for resolution-making—and the days that followed were, more often than not, the season of resolution-breaking. Several years ago, however, I exchanged making “new year’s resolutions” for the practice of listening for a “new year’s word.” It is not about what I intend to do during the next twelve months, but about discerning what God wants to do in and around me. Starting right after Thanksgiving, I give time to reflecting on the year past and to intentional listening to the Spirit in preparation for the coming year. The word for the new year almost always chooses me as I listen—through Scripture, through prayer and meditation, through the discipline of silence.

Last year’s word was “Beloved.” As I look back across 2021, I see a double-stranded thread running through the months, sometimes hidden under the surface chaos, but always present and increasing in thickness as the year progressed. The first strand was the growing awareness of “beloved” as my own central identity in Christ, a gift of grace that settled deeply into my soul and that continues to reshape my own self-understanding and self-talk. The second strand was God’s consistent affirmation that “Beloved” is his name for the church. Despite all her flaws and failings, the church of Jesus Christ is God’s precious Bride. This was important to keep me from cynicism and despair in a season when the Beloved’s behavior was often less than gospel-shaped. Sensitivity to God’s love for his Bride changed the ways I pray for the church, both the church universal and local communities of believers.

I must confess that as 2021 drew to a close, the accumulated weariness and wariness caused by the pandemic and by life in our polarized, ideology-driven society plus a fiercely-paced final quarter of the year, all conspired to distract me from the usual year-end period of intensive listening for “the word.” But in December, the 2022 word found me. My online Bible study group finished up a series called “Invitation,” by Dr. Brian Russell, which takes participants on a journey through the big Story of Scripture.[1] The study begins with Jesus’ initial imperative in Mark’s Gospel: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news” (1:15, HCSB). For the Facebook Live session that would close our study, I decided to explore Jesus’ second imperative in the Synoptic Gospels—what was the next response that he asked people to make? In Matthew and Mark, it is “follow me” (directed to the Galilean fisherman who would become “the Big Four” among his disciples—Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John). Luke tells the same story—but the imperative is different (Luke 5:1–11). After borrowing (or commandeering?) Simon’s boat as a temporary pulpit, Jesus’ command to him is, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch” (5:4). Simon’s response is, essentially, “That makes no sense at all, from a pragmatic perspective. It simply doesn’t work! But since it’s you, Jesus, who is asking this crazy course of action, we’ll do it!” The “expert in the room” (the lifelong fisherman) defers to the authoritative voice of the Spirit-anointed One—who is right there in the boat with him. That act of obedience—out there in the deep water—leads to an experience of Jesus’ power and holiness that leaves Simon undone and afraid. Jesus meets his fear with a word of comfort—and the promise of a future that Simon could never have dreamed for himself. After that, it’s not necessary for Jesus to say, “Follow me”; the fishermen relinquish their past (“they left everything”) and follow him voluntarily.

“Deep water.” That is the “word” the Spirit highlighted for 2022. And the longer I sit with it, the greater the yearning becomes to put out into the deep water with Jesus, to let down my nets for the catch that he has prepared. And so 2022 begins with a commitment to be attentive to these questions and responsive to whatever answers the Spirit provides: What will it look like to put out into the deep water? What “pragmatic,” safe practices will I have to abandon? How will I release my role as “expert” in my life, to allow Jesus to redirect and redefine? What is the “great catch” that awaits? In continuity with the double-stranded thread of 2021, these questions will also shape the way I pray for the church (local and global), yearning in intercession for the Beloved to put out into the deep water with Jesus, to abandon old pragmatics and embrace the radical and perhaps counter-intuitive new thing that God wants to do through his people this year. May we all be driven to our knees by the experience of the powerful, holy presence of God as we respond to Jesus’ invitation to cast our nets in places and ways that we’ve never done before.

[1] I highly recommend this study, available at www.seedbed.com

4 thoughts on ““Deep Water” (2022 Word)”

  1. Thank you Rachel for your blog. Your practice is inspirational. God bless you as you head into deep water this year.

    In Christ’s Spirit,


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Rachel for your insightful and inspirational blog! May the Lord bless you throughout the year as you dwell in “deep waters” with him. Look forward to hearing more about this in future blogs!

    Liked by 1 person

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