I have always liked Professor Anne van der Meiden and have admired him because of his many qualities. He grew up in the conservative section of the Dutch Reformed Church, but soon left this type of Christianity behind. He became a well-known liberal Reformed pastor, who led out in the wedding services of two of the Dutch princes. He wrote books on theology, but also about communication and propaganda—his second area of academic expertise. In addition, he wrote a few novels and translated the Bible in the ‘language’ of Twente (an area in the eastern part of the Netherlands). Recently this 83-year old emeritus professor/preacher published a new book. It contains 366 devotional messages, one for each day of the year.
Perhaps it is because I always like to read Anne van der Meiden’s books, that I bought his newest book today. But another reason may be my interest in the genre of biblical devotional books. I just wrote one myself. And, of course, this gives rise to some curiosity. How do other authors create their devotional books? And how might I approach the writing of another such book? [Yes, I am toying with the idea of starting another such project.]
In the devotional book that was just published the focus of the first message (January 1) is on the theme of man as the bearer of God’s image. What does this mean? Truly an important question as we begin a new year. But van der Meiden has a different approach, which is much more philosophical. I think I will read his book with much pleasure. In any case, I will not read my own devotional on a daily basis, for I am already thoroughly acquainted with its content. The first sentence in van der Meiden’s message of January 1 is already very intriguing. I wished I had written these words! He pictures the end of the year and the start of a new year as follows: Yesterday: counting your blessings. Today: counting your opportunities!
This makes sense to me. When I look back on 2012, there are many blessings to count. I continue to be in reasonable health and the same is true for my wife. (The immobility that resulted from a recent knee surgery is now largely behind her.) And it is also true for our son and his family and for our daughter. No one in our immediate family or from among our close friends had been taken from us. We have been able to enjoy many good things. May wife and I have made some major trips in 2012, and we have been able to use our creativity, in painting and writing respectively. I spent a major part of my time in 2012 in Belgium or devoted time to ‘Belgian affairs’ when at home. It has given me a lot of satisfaction. Yes, there are indeed many blessings to count.
But van der Meiden is right. It is important that we also see our opportunities in 2013. It is very easy to be worried. We do not know whether life as it is will continue. Old age may get us in its grip through various physical challenges. Or, will we also begin to feel the results of the economic crisis? I may have to get used to the fact that invitations to be involved in various church events around Europe will diminish. Very likely, I will be more and more in the margins of church life. It is impossible to predict what will happen in 2013. But there will be opportunities. Opportunities to be meaningful to others around us. Opportunities to find more inner fulfillment. Possibly also opportunities to acquire more knowledge and to have fresh experiences. Perhaps also the opportunity to write new books or—for my wife—to create beatiful things.
Some decades ago the Dutch Adventist Church used a hymnal that had a hymn about ‘taking hold of the opportunities that God gives’. When, in the beginning of the 1980’s, I was heavily involved in the revision of this hymnal, I was co-responsible for the decision to retain this hymn in our new hymnal, albeit with a much revised text. For it still very pointedly encourages us to reach out for all God-given opportunities. Also in 2013.