2020 will be a year that will go down in history as the year of COVID-19! What a year it has been. 2020 has been full of challenges, uncertainty, disrupted plans, canceled trips, restrictions, limitations, hoarding, hunger, pivots, conspiracy theories, emotion, drama, protests, politics, riots, racism, and our rights. And all in an election year, which added fuel to the fire!
In this article, I want to reflect on some of these central themes and lessons I have learned from a Christian perspective and what I hope might be a helpful perspective for you as well.
- Pandemics: While we may have found 2020 to be unusual; the reality is pandemics have been a reality throughout human history. The Founder of ServeNow and I wrote a special edition Basic Series book (The Basic Things You Need to Know When our World Falls Apart) for our ministry. It begins by noting the historical context of pandemics throughout human history. I found that it greatly helped in keeping perspective. Crisis has a way of sucking you into the here and now with a tunnel vision that can stoke anxiety and fear in disproportionate ways. This was not the first, and it won’t be the last.
- Uncertainty, Anxiety, Fear, and Worry: COVID-19 was quite unsettling when word broke out about the virus, and lock down measures began being implemented. At some level, I think we all have battled the various emotions this has triggered or evoked. Mental health and emotional health problems intensified even with fears over the virus itself. Suicide rates increased as people lost jobs and lost hopes. While I had good days and not so good days; I found the days when I paid attention to my emotions, went for walks outside, spent more time in prayer and reading God’s word, and took up writing projects that these activities significantly helped my emotional state.
- Restrictions, Cancellations, and Disrupted plans: I am sure, like you, I had all kinds of plans for 2020! At our mission organization, we were just wrapping up our last fiscal year. We had just established plans for the next fiscal year ahead (April 2020-March, 2021). Obviously, many of those plans, including much international travel, went right out the window! This was a humbling reminder of many verses though in Scripture that speak about us making our plans but God directing our steps (Proverbs 16:9). Or, the reminder in James of our need to remember in humility that we are not God: Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:13-17).
- Pivoting: I remember early on, knowing we would be faced with a critical choice in perspective. Would we focus on all we couldn’t do or all that we could do? A verse that became a key verse for me in 2020 was what the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian believers from prison. Being in prison, he was obviously limited and restricted by external constraints forced upon him. In Philippians 1:12, he wrote the following, Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. How is that for perspective! We saw this happen as well, as we pivoted in some crucial ways. Since I could not travel internationally, we began utilizing technology in new or increased ways. Through Zoom calls, video messages, and devotional messages being translated, we reached MILLIONS of people more than in years past and precisely because of COVID restrictions. Additionally, I realized that this would be the year of any year to write my first and new full book, which I accomplished! It is now available for purchasing here: Hope Rising: Finding Hope in a Turbulent World. I even recently finished the first draft of a second book for 2021! The lesson here is that it is easy to focus on the negative realities enforced upon us that have been challenging and restricting, verse the opportunities we should take advantage of. We may be limited, but the Gospel will never be restricted if we focus on what we can do!
- Hoarding and Hunger: It was frightening to watch two realities play out in two very different ways. In many locations throughout the US, people began hoarding commodity items such as toilet paper. But in other parts of the US or world, hunger became a real issue for millions of people. Official projections were that twice as many people would be facing acute starvation this year compared to last year, up an additional 130 million people. The lesson here was that we tend to self-preserve if we don’t intentionally combat that urge with compassion for others in times of crisis. There were, as there always are, notable exceptions to this. We even had a couple from our church drop off some toilet paper at our house to share with us knowing we couldn’t find any at one point!
- Conspiracy Theories: Wow. This is a loaded point. We live in a time of misinformation, biased reporting, sensationalized headlines, and volatile emotions. What surprised me, though, was the number of professing Christ-followers getting caught up in conspiracy theories proving to be quite divisive, distracting, and damaging. I guess this shouldn’t surprise me, however. Rumors and conspiracy theories are not new even in the Christian community. At the end of the Gospel of John, there is a story that seems to highlight this vulnerability even among Christians to get distracted and caught up in this kind of thing. The story goes like this; as Jesus is speaking into Peter’s life in restoring him to following him, Peter sees John following at a distance and asks Jesus about him. Jesus responds with a comment that set off a chain of speculation among the other disciples. The text puts it this way in John 21:22-23, Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” How quickly our minds seem to be distracted by rumors, conspiracy theories, and the unusual!
- Politics: I will keep this comment brief because I have hammered on this point all year. Evangelical Christians have done a lot of damage to their witness by their hypocrisy, prioritization of politics, and intertwining American politics with Christianity. While this is part of the American culture, we seem to have lost our way in our primary calling to represent Christ and reflect his character regardless of who is in power. We have become more concerned about our rights than rightly representing Christ. If you want to read more of my reflections on this, just take a look at several full articles I posted on this site on this point. The main lesson I take from this is that we have to stay focused on God’s purpose in our lives. We are here to be his witnesses and share his message, the good news of salvation, eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, and the kingdom of heaven. This is of greater priority than anything political. Be involved in politics for sure, but be careful that politics doesn’t become an idol that cannot save and ends up corrupting our calling and character. We need to trust in the Sovereignty and wisdom of God. As Daniel 2:21 says, He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
- Racism: This year seemed to also expose and bring far more to the public eye the ugly reality of prejudice. Yet, this too became polarized by politics as it seems every issue has this year in the US. I wrote and spoke quite a bit on this elsewhere through the year, but it caused me to reflect a lot more deeply on the fact that in many cases we have failed to emphasize the fact that the cross of Jesus reconciles us not just to God but one another despite our differences. We have failed to cast a vision of the reality of God’s eternal kingdom and the diversity that will exist in heaven when people from every tribe, tongue, and language worships him around the throne. We still have a ways to go in modeling this reality of the beauty of his kingdom and heaven.
What have you learned in 2020? What are the major themes you see that have emerged? What is God teaching you?