More Than All We Can Ask or Imagine

by | Jan 8, 2024

Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.

Ephesians 3:20-21

Happy New Year!

I hope that your holidays were joyous and blessed.

Mine was more stressed than usual, but there are signs that 2024 may be a year of new changes that will be better for folks in the future. That’s my hope.

In an effort to live into that hope, I’m recalling new practices to add to my already rather long list of New Year’s traditions (that’s the Japanese in me). Out of the recesses in my brain, for instance, came the word hebedoma, one of the most non-Hawaiian-sounding words in the Hawaiian church tradition.

According to a quick internet search, it’s a Hawaiian version of the Greek word hebdomad, which means seven or a week. In the tradition of the old Kalawina churches (Calvinist churches, the name Hawaiians had for the churches established by Congregationalist missionaries in every town on every island), the first week of the year would be dedicated to prayer and Bible study.

Since we just ended the first week of 2024, I guess it’s too late to share that with you! Better late than never. And there’s another tradition that many cultures have: the theme verse for the year. Churches post one scripture verse to set a tone for that year. For myself, I think I will focus on Ephesians 3:20-21. What a blessing for the church! I am especially drawn to the thought that God works through us “to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”

The phrase is used in the song “Jireh.” That song has been a comfort to me, even more meaningful because I read that it was written after one of the songwriters had his apartment burn down. Facing the loss of virtually all his possessions, he could still feel the overwhelming love of God.

It’s been so long since we could feel like “Happy Days Are Here Again” that I have started to wonder if we will ever get out from under the cloud that COVID and political divisions have set over us. And though I do not want to deny the pain that so many of us are feeling, I’m just starting to remember that God really does continue to cover us with blessings, even though our collective and individual depression sometimes keeps us from noticing. As the ancient saying goes, “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”

So my prayer is that we try to fix our gaze on the amazing ways God works through and for us. We don’t have to manufacture it, these blessings are all around us. We just have to lift our eyes and recognize them. I always remember how the author John Updike, grandson of a Presbyterian minister, described his happy childhood of faith: “My parents were inclined to laugh a lot and to examine everything for the fingerprints of God.”

There is much to grieve in the world. There is also much to be grateful for—sometimes just in the ways we respond to that grief. My famous cousin Renee Tajima-Peña posted a note from New Year’s:

Every year we serve osechi New Year’s food in grandma’s lacquer boxes. I asked mom today how the boxes survived the war since people were forced to hide or destroy their Japanese stuff. Mom said the church stored some things for them. Maybe it was Union Church? Uncle Don was pastor and Mom went to Sunday school there.

My cuz Pam also reminded me that Jackie Robinson’s family, all Muir alumni, took care of belongings for Japanese Americans in Pasadena during the war-including their neighbors, Joan Takayama-Ogawa’s family. [Joan responded that many African-American families took care of their JA neighbors’ possessions during incarceration. And she and Renee reminisced about Mack Robinson working at Muir when we were all students there.]

Pasadena – with its people – is a pretty special place. And when the right team wins the Rose Bowl, even better.

My prayer for you is that you will see in the life of your church, and in you and your family, God’s power at work within us to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine. And yes, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

God bless you throughout 2024,