What if 2021 Isn't Better?
It goes without saying that 2020 was one of the hardest years our generation has ever seen. From a global pandemic, to social distancing, to several industries closing for months on end, to kids doing distance learning, to political unrest, to fires, to murder hornets, to arguments over masks, vaccines, and everything else in between, 2020 has been one for the books.
Yet as we round the corner and see 2021 on the horizon, I fear far too many of us are putting all our hope in a better year ahead. We collectively roll our eyes at 2020 as we say how much we can't wait for this year to be over, but where is the promise that 2021 will be better? What is the basis for our hope that when the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2021, suddenly the hardships and trials of this world will disappear?
It seems the wisest way to approach 2021 is to plan on things actually not getting better. Already we are hearing of another strain of the corona virus invading our shores; not to mention an exceptionally volatile presidential inauguration coming in January. While this may seem like a pessimistic view of the new year, for the Christian, this should be a reminder that world history seems to be right on schedule. As the stain of sin continues to corrupt and darken our world, everyday we draw increasingly closer to the Day where Jesus will return for his church.
What does this mean for us? It means next year may not be better. It means as the darkness around us continues to increase, Christians must be committed to shining brighter than ever before.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."
If we are people who are concerned about doing the will of God (good works) for the glory of God, then we can't be so consumed with the temporal and ever-changing world we find ourselves in.
No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.
2 Timothy 2:4
2020 brought so many distractions for us to get entangled in and I anticipate that 2021 will do the same. The enemy would like nothing more than to distract and divide us. He distracts us by turning our eyes off Christ, who is never changing, and onto the ever-changing circumstances of the world around us. When we spend time focusing on all the hurt, sorrow, fear, and depressing circumstances this world holds, we are distracted from living lives that are laser-focused on pursuing the One who redeemed us out of the world. Similarly, the enemy divides us when we allow our preferences to win out over humbly loving, serving, and bearing with one another.
So as we prepare to begin another potentially hard and trying year, let's remind ourselves of some of the "always" and "all" passages that instruct us how we should live as Christians, no matter the culture, times, or circumstances we find ourselves in.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification
1 Thessalonians 4:3a
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58
(Emphasis mine on all the above passages)
When we live obediently to these commands - our light will shine.
When we push toward lives of holiness while the world sinks further and further into wickedness - our light will shine.
When we rejoice in all circumstances while the world laments and moans - our light will shine.
When we pray without ceasing, proclaiming our dependence on God, while the world proclaims autonomy, self-dependence, and inward strength - our light will shine.
When we don't grumble and complain, even in the face of hardship, while the world complains, shakes their fist, and whines in the face of hardship - our light will shine.
When we give thanks to God in every season while the world is discontent - our light will shine.
When we work for the Lord while the world works for self or the fleeting pleasures of man's praise - our light will shine.
When we do everything that is keeping with the glory of God while the world runs after sin and corruption - our light will shine.
When we are steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the Lord's work while the world is lazy, gives up, and doesn't pursue things that will matter in 100 years - our light will shine.
I don't know what 2021 will hold, but I do know the projection of the world until Christ's return only goes from bad to worse. Let us therefore be people who approach the new year not with a blind Pollyanna-esque optimism, but as soldiers who are ready to penetrate the darkness for the kingdom of heaven (Ephesians 6:10-18). May we do so dependently upon the One who has promised to give us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). May we be his ambassadors, preaching the good news, and imploring the world around us to come out of the darkness and into his marvelous light (2 Corinthians 5:20).
May we do all these knowing that in Jesus, we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). While we don't know the chapter God will write for each one of us in 2021, we do know how the book ends:
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
So, 2021, let's do this.