The year 2020 will join the ranks of those years that will “live in infamy.” Like 1929, 1941, and 2001, the events of 2020 will long be remembered.
As we approached the start of the year, I anticipated many “eye-roller” moments. In fact, I joked that I would be giving my wife a kiss every time I saw one of those “2020 vision” signs. I figured that theme would be like low-hanging fruit for pastors searching for motivational themes for the year.
Little did we know what kind of 2020 vision God had for us.
While this year has been filled with frustrations, disappointments, disgusts, tensions, strifes, and a rising sense that we have crossed the point of no return, yet God has crowned this year with His goodness in ways that we have not often seen. I hope I can encourage you to recognize the vivid display of God’s goodness, set as it has been against the backdrop of a terrible year.
This year, we have been reminded that God is faithful.
For a time this year, I woke up every morning, turned on the radio, and listened for what changed overnight, what new measures or directives we had to deal with. During that time, I especially felt just how changeable our transient our world is. Yet, day-by-day as I opened the Bible and spent time in prayer, God was there reminding me that he has it all under control, that no matter how out-of-hand the situation might seem to us, it all fits within His plan for us.
God didn’t abandon us this year. His commitment to us has been more recognizable than in any year in recent memory. If I walked away with anything this year, it is the conviction that God was sending a message in 2020 – no matter how far our country might drift from God, He is still God. I believe that in 2020, God has reasserted His Lordship. America has experienced unprecedented prosperity and blessing over many years. Now, God has sent a clear message: blessing is not a given. The prosperity of fools shall destroy them. I am God and there is none else.
This year, we have experienced many blessings.
At the beginning of the month, we held special meetings with Evangelist Paul Schwanke. Brother Schwanke has been preaching at our church since the 1990s, and has always been a good friend – and one of my favorite preachers.
I’ll admit, when he came, I was a little sideways. We could scapegoat any number of things – pressure, busy-ness, distraction – but I had let myself grow a little critical, a little cold, a little discouraged. I mentioned to Brother Schwanke some of my frustrations. His response was like a splash of cold water to my face. Brother Schwanke told me that, sure, guys struggled at first to find the right response to the challenges of this year. But, he told me, “our guys got it right.” He pointed out that all across America, Independent Baptist churches led the way in re-opening and getting back to church, in insisting that church was essential, in pushing back against heavy-handed government restrictions.
But he didn’t stop there. He went on to tell me that everywhere he went, pastors were telling him that in an economic crisis, their churches gave more faithfully, supported their missionaries more generously, and experienced more growth and blessing than they had seen in recent years.
His testimony corrected my cross-eyed view and pointed me back to the goodness of God in our own ministry. Everything he mentioned, we experienced this year.
This year, we have seen God’s work advanced.
Quite often, God’s work is advancing silently and imperceptibly, as God turns the things we think are for evil to good. But this year, God’s blessing has defied the odds. He has taken just about everything that should have been for bad and made it good. Let me give some examples – based on numerous conversations I have had with pastors.
God has provided for His churches. I’m sure there are exceptions, but every pastor I have spoken to has testified that the offerings have never been better, that God has provided for the church in extraordinary ways throughout the year. In our own church, I was especially concerned that we be faithful to support our missionaries, anticipating that many would see a drop in regular support while churches struggled. Despite the massive unemployment and financial crisis that hit our country, we only had two of our men lose their job, and neither of them were unemployed for more than a month. Mission’s giving increased throughout the year, so that we didn’t miss a single obligation. And, God added a significant amount of money to our church’s reserves.
God has prospered our ministries. We have not been able to minister in any nursing home this year. Our outreach to families in our city through our bus ministry has been greatly hindered. The very week we had planned to do our Vacation Bible School, I came down with COVID and had to cancel. It seemed that we were prevented at every turn. Yet, despite the fact that the normal way we witness and evangelize in our community has been hobbled, we have seen more successful outreach this year than in recent memory. As a strong case-in-point, we baptized more people this year than in almost any year of our ministry. And from what I gather, we are not exceptional in this. Pastor after pastor has remarked that they have seen extraordinary blessing this year, even for a “normal” year. They found the blessing hard to explain, given the difficulty of conducting ministry and outreach in the way they normally did. How can we explain these things apart from the blessing of God?
God has narrowed our focus. Nearly every pastor I have talked to has repeated this same thing. In trying to navigate various restrictions and hindrances this year, we have all discovered things in our ministries that were not necessary, and in some cases that acted more like an anchor than a propellor. A friend commented that, what he enjoyed the most about this crazy year is that church became very simple. Let’s face it: sometimes we pack our days like a suitcase for a long vacation, cramming stuff in every pouch. God used the circumstances of this year to strip away a lot of energy-drains and time-thiefs, and to show us what is truly essential in ministry – namely, the preaching of God’s Word, the gathering of God’s people, and the evangelizing of the lost.
God has firmed up our resolve. Let’s face it: we had to make decisions this year that we never imagined ourselves needing to make. We joked that we must have skipped class on the day when they taught on how to deal with nationwide quarantines. And, while there was much controversy (and sometimes loud bickering) about what to do, each individual pastor found himself faced with tough decisions. We all lost a lot of sleep, and we all read the articles warning us of pastoral burnout. And while we would be wise still to heed those warnings, I think we can also echo the words of the weeping prophet: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not: they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.”
Whether there is a day on the near horizon when we will all crash and burn I cannot say. Surely some will because that sort of thing has always happened. If any of us survive this year, it will not be the result of our super-preacher qualities.
But I can’t help but recognize the gracious. Omnipotent hand that upheld us this year. If anything, this year has taught us all a lot of important lessons. Pastor after pastor has told me that, though they closed their services for a time when we didn’t know what this coronavirus thing was, they have resolved that they will not repeat that again. I am not critical of pastors for deciding one way or another on the shutdowns, so long as that decision was made out of conviction and not cowardice. But I am glad that we were all confronted with these decisions, that we had the opportunity to think these things through. I hope that every pastor will strive to leave a written record for their church to explain what they did, why they did it, and what they would do in the future, should we face a similar dilemma.
God has strengthened our relationships. As a result of the circumstances we faced this year, I have connected with pastors I hardly knew, and other pastors I had lost touch with. Looking back, I am amazed at the level of discussion we were having, at the expressions of support and love shared, at the likemindedness among pastors – even pastors with very different philosophies of ministry. Across the board, pastors were concerned for each other, and concerned that God be honored in this thing. That is a blessing.
God has expanded our field of labor. I don’t think I am alone in this. In our own ministry, God has opened up several opportunities for ministry that were not available to us before 2020. These are good, substantial opportunities that will enhance our ministry and expand our reach. We are praising the Lord for these things.
This year, we have felt the sustaining hand of God.
God has used the circumstances of this year to throw us on Himself like never before. And God has upheld us this year. Our ministry continues, our people have been growing, our faith has been stretched in new ways. God is working in all of these things.
Let’s face it – churches have grown soft. We have enjoyed too many luxuries. We have been pampered too much and have grown accustomed to calm seas and gentle breezes. God has hardened us through this year, made us stronger, seasoned us. Our safety and security were never in any doubt, not when God held us firmly in His hand. But God has a higher purpose for us – to draw us along towards perfection. The process has been a bit painful, but the purpose is truly glorious.
This year, we have many reasons to be thankful.
I hope that this article has encouraged you to that end. Look back and marvel at the good hand of our God that has been on us. Count your blessings. Rejoice, the Lord is King!
Several times this year, it seemed like the frustrations and tensions would overwhelm us all. No sooner did I feel these things weighing down on me than God brought along another reminder that He has not lost control, that He means it for good.
Even when God intends to visit us for our sins, His wrath looks different for the believer than it does the unbeliever. God always has His own glory in mind, in whatever circumstances He brings us under. His glory is displayed differently between those who receive Him and those who reject Him. This year, 2020, God has put on a vivid display of His glory. He has dealt with sin, with the sins of our nation, and in doing so has brought much confusion and desolation into our world, dealing with the pride of our nation. But God has not destroyed His people. Nor will He. He is working a work in us that will not be denied. This year, it has been our joy to see God’s unwavering commitment to His people.
Though some have responded wrongly to various circumstances that we have faced this year, God has not abandoned us. Some have responded with cowardice, others with pride, still others with malic, yet God has not been disillusioned by the failures of our responses. Was it His point to test us? Perhaps, but never so that He could see how we would respond. Rather, it was always so that He could expose what He sees in our hearts, so that He could move us – ever so patiently – to a stronger and better position in our Christian faith.
I am grateful for the many blessings, the abundance of God’s goodness that has been displayed so plainly this year. I hope I can encourage you, Christian friend, to the same sense of gratitude.