As this year draws to a close, it seems everywhere I look people are writing about what a long and terrible year it has been, and how much they are looking forward to things changing next year. I’m beyond weary of reading these kinds of articles and hearing preachers deliver similar messages, so I hope to bring a different and Christ-centered perspective here. Because I can tell you that while this past year has brought many trials and challenges, I am confident next year will bring the same.
They may not be the same problems, but our troubles won’t magically disappear when the calendar rolls over. We know this because Jesus promised us we will have trouble in this world (John 16:33). Until Christ returns, we can expect to be fighting an uphill battle. But before you tune out thinking this will be a depressing message, I have great news about the future for each of us who will rededicate themselves to the service of our Lord Jesus.
For many, this past year has been one of heartbreak, stress, and anger. If you have suffered the loss of someone you love (regardless of the circumstances of their passing), lost your job or your business, or suffered from illness, I in no way am intending to belittle or gloss over your pain. For many, this year, like all the ones before it, has seen tragedy and hardship. To those, I encourage you to hold fast to the promises of God. He does not fail or abandon you. He is an ever-present help in times of trouble and need (Psalm 46:1).
Beyond those who have truly suffered this past year, the fact is what most of us have been enduring is more inconvenience, personal indignation, and less affluence. For many of us, the reasons this year has been so difficult is really about our selfish preferences and desires. And any time selfishness comes into play, we must check our hearts and refocus our lives on Jesus.
We can debate masks, lockdowns, politics, and vaccines all day long, but I submit regardless of what side of those arguments we find ourselves, the more we are focusing on those things, the less we are focusing on Jesus and His mission for our lives. I have strong personal opinions on all those topics, but you know what? My opinions on those things are irrelevant because Jesus didn’t come to take part in our earthly squabbles (Luke 12:13-14; Mark 12:13-17). He came to save the people of the world from their sins. He came to shine a light into the darkness, and He left us with the charge to do the same (Matthew 28:18-20).
So, if you want next year to be better than last year, the only way to guarantee that is to live your life on mission and wholly devoted to Christ. The longer we focus on our petty differences and aggravations, the further away we will move from God’s will in our lives. The isolation of the past year took everyone by surprise. We know more of the same awaits us on the other side of 2020, so we should all determine to take advantage of the opportunities presented by these circumstances. For those with families, what if you used the time of proximity to teach your children about the truths of Scripture and how to defend their faith? What if each of us used the extended time at home to dive deeper into God’s Word and do more than numbly read it, but to study and learn from it? And what if collectively we all began memorizing Scripture so it can infuse everything we say and everything we do?
Next year can be amazing if we will surrender it to Jesus. If we continue to bicker and divide over man’s ideas rather than God’s, I promise you next year will be as miserable as the last. It is not the circumstances around us that must change. It is we who must change. My prayer for myself and each of you is that next year will find you on your knees every day desperately seeking the Lord and then being strong ambassadors telling everyone you talk to about what Jesus means to you. My prayer is we all show extravagant grace and love to our families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and strangers. Just like Jesus did. Next year can be the greatest of your life, but only if you live for Jesus and not for yourself. Let us all surrender anew to Christ. If we do that, we can have an incredible new year of devotion to our King and love for others. And that is something we can all be excited about in the year to come!