As every sommelier worth his saltine crackers knows: good wine comes from tortured grapes. It is a dusty secret Californian vintners accidentally unearthed that the more the grape has to struggle for survival, the higher the quality of wine that can be gleaned.
Thus, arid and gravelly mountainsides are good for nothing, horticulturally speaking, save for some masochistic grapes, notably the Bordeaux varietals. Grapes harvested after a season of longsuffering produce a vintage that insiders will dub “a good year.”
This phenomenon is not an idiosyncrasy of oenology alone, but of theology as well.
If I ask you what makes a good year in your life, you may reply with one or more of these generic blessings: physical health, career promotion, relational fulfillment, financial prosperity (or at least solvency). But you’d be wrong.
Well, you would be half-wrong. A good year is whatever improves our sanctification, i.e. what makes us more like Christ, draws us closer to God, and increases our usefulness in giving God glory.
That may be experiencing the Lord’s grace through physically favorable blessings, that may be persevering through varying degrees of trials. That is what Paul meant with, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).
If I had to choose between a year of ease and happiness or a year of difficulty and disappointment, all things being equal I’d choose the way of comfort. Wouldn’t you? But all things are not equal. A trial tends to make us more like Christ more effectively than does ease. Consider how James opens his letter: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
All trials—from the mild inconvenience of traffic and ingrown toenails to torturous pain and emotional distress—are used by God to produce in us spiritual maturity that affects our life now and into eternity (2 Cor 4:17, a verse worth etching on your memory).
And not only do your trials affect you and your eternity, but they bring God glory.
1 Peter 1:6-7 “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (see also 1 Pet 4:12-13, I am not making this up!)
So, when someone asks what your hopes are for this coming year perhaps a theologically sound reply would be: “A season in which God gleans maximum glory from my life whatever the circumstances is what makes a good year.”