Robert V. Rakestraw
December 28, 2015

As we begin a new year I invite you into my thoughts, with regard to both thanksgiving for the old year and hope for the new. My thoughts have been all over the map lately, literally, concerning the joys and sorrows among the peoples of the world, near and far. Every year seems to plunge the world into a deeper level of darkness and despair, but also to lift many to a higher level of light and hope.

I think regularly of the three biggest realms of life in which I need to be thankful and hopeful, and where I need to focus my attention intensely and extensively. In addition to seeing these three realms with respect to thankfulness and hope, I need them as absolutely necessary for my individual survival. (By survival I mean wholeness of life, not mere existence.) In fact, it is this last matter that prompts the writing of this piece. I need all the help I can get to keep going well, and it helps me greatly to write out my thoughts. Perhaps these will be helpful to you also.

The three realms may be termed the physical, the spiritual, and the relational. They might even be thought of as the inward, the upward, and the outward. The terms are surely imperfect, and the realms overlap and intertwine considerably. We cannot neatly mark off three distinct categories. But by thinking of these three broad areas of life we may be able to focus on some matters that are most important in the new year, both for us and for our fellow earthly inhabitants. While we can mention only some points here, we may be able to ingest some serious food for thought throughout the year for both thanksgiving and hope, for both our personal survival and that of others.

The little letter of John the Apostle known as Third John demonstrates the three spheres of life succinctly.

To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth. Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well… Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love (vss. 1-6).

The physical realm of life, which includes, among other things, enjoying “good health” and going “well with you,” covers anything and everything necessary for decent living. Everyone on earth needs adequate housing, clothing, water, food, available medical care, safety, education of some kind(s), purposeful activity and work, peaceful family and community life, fun times, and physical space –however small– for contemplation.

The spiritual realm of life, which John refers to as “your soul … getting along well,” is, without doubt, the most important of the three areas. It is clearly the most essential to real life, both now and forever. Of course it depends on the above –at least some of the above– yet it provides the true meaning and purpose for the physical sphere of life. It includes, among other things, our direct communication with God, available to everyone who comes to him in humility and genuine faith in the saving grace of God. It also includes such matters as serious time spent with the biblical revelation and with the people of God, including mature teachers of the Word. Above all, it involves deep trust in and unquestioning obedience to the Lord- the ultimate Reason for our thanksgiving and hope.

The third realm of life in which we must live successfully is the relational. This is not an optional category. Deep friendships, even with two or three others of like mind, are essential for any kind of meaningful and joyful living. This goes beyond relationships within one’s family (if one has family members that care). In fact, with many people, the relational closeness with strong friends is much more important and life-giving than family connections. The apostle John–the one Jesus loved in a special way–addresses Gaius four times as “dear friend” in his little letter, and refers twice more to “the friends” –both “here” and “there”– in his final verse.

I really don’t know of a better way, for myself at least, to gather together my greatest needs (and areas of thanksgiving and hope) than the threefold categorization above. Of course others will have different classifications that are helpful to them, and perhaps to you. For me, however, I plan to dwell on the physical, the spiritual, and the relational realms in the coming year for thanksgiving, hope, and essential survival and flourishing. I desire physical well-being, intimacy with God, and solid friends. Then, from this strong foundation, I want to reach out to a desperately needy world- from the end of my street to the ends of the earth. I invite you to join me!