“I sure hope 2021 will be better than 2020. It couldn’t be much worse.” You’ve likely heard something like that from a lot of people over the last month as we’ve entered into the new year. Will 2021 be better?
In pondering an answer to that question, we need to understand some definitions. In particular, what do we mean by “better?” Based on our current context, I assume people mean free from Covid and lockdowns and all the dangers and inconveniences that come with pandemics. And certainly, that’s a good thing to hope for these days. However, the Bible gives us a deeper, clearer picture of what it is we should hope for in order to attain a “better” life.
For starters, a better life doesn’t start with health or wealth. This is surprising to most of our postmodern neighbours. ("In a postmodern world there are no universal religious or ethical laws, everything is shaped by the cultural context of a particular time and place and community." https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/atheism/types/postmodernism.shtml) And while we Christians know this, we sometimes lose sight of it as well. Before Jesus was handed over for execution, he talked about his departure with his disciples. And he told them they couldn’t come to where he was going (John 13:36). This was unusual. Jesus had been with them these three years every day, teaching and healing. And they loved being with him! Their lives had found their purpose in being with him. The kingdom of God had come! (Luke 11:20; Luke 17:20,21) But now he was going away. Jesus calmed them down. He told them they couldn’t go with him right now, but they will follow soon enough. Wondering how they would get there when they didn’t know where he was going (it’s almost comical to read in retrospect, but I know I would have wondered the same things), Jesus cleared things up for them - and for every person who would ever live thereafter. He spoke straight to the heart of the most important thing in any person’s existence: Himself. “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). The best life, one full of not just your own sense of purpose, but filled with your Creator’s purpose - the purpose for which you were made - starts and ends with Jesus. He is the Alpha and the Omega (Revelation 22:13). A couple of chapters later in John (chapter 16), he also sets the disciples (and us) straight on a few things we should expect in our awesome, purpose-filled life, following him: “..in me you [will] have peace. In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33). Paul picks up this paradox in Philippians - we will have JOY! even amidst our many difficulties while we walk this path of life from here to heaven. The Bible is really clear on this: what is promoted (by the world and endorsed by our flesh) as worthy ideals to chase in the pursuit of a “good” life will turn out badly in the end - the real END; not the end of your life, when you die, but on that great day when God will judge you for the kind of life you lived (Matthew 25:31-46) - that end.
Good health, some disposable income, and a pandemic-free world make for a nice, comfortable life. And I would love to get back to “normal” and bid Covid goodbye. But I am reminded that there is a broader perspective to this. To God, we are “like grasshoppers” (Isaiah 40:22). We are nothing. He is everything. Yet he gave his life that we might live! It’s in Him that I will find true joy (Psalm 16:11) and peace, no matter what is happening in this crazy world of ours.
By no means do I intend to diminish the seriousness of this pandemic. It has brought disruption, distance, difficulty, sickness and even death to many. It is very serious. But there are things that are even more concerning. Let me explain.
One of the benefits for me of our strange circumstances these days, was the fact that, because of this pandemic, I was able to watch parts of the Cross Conference with members of my family. Normally, many of our young adults make the trip down to Kentucky to be part of this great biblical missions conference each year. Two of my kids were really looking forward to going this past December. Since they couldn’t go, we decided to watch it together. During the second day, David Platt introduced a panel discussion with John Piper, and J.D. Greer. He began by showing a clip of Piper giving a message to students 20 years before where Piper is urging them not to waste their life chasing after the world's dreams, but to consider missions. He goes on to explain that difficulty, sickness, and even death are not tragedies when your life belongs to Christ. What is truly tragic, Piper proposes, is a wasted life. I encourage you to watch the clip for yourself here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RUUP_0HiYc&t=186s. And this is relevant not only for the young, but for everyone. For more, read Piper’s full message on this topic in his book, Don’t Waste Your Life.
While we all want 2021 to be better in the sense of no more pandemic, we can and should have a bigger perspective on what a better 2021 could look like. For me - and this is my hope for all of you, too - 2021 will be “better” the closer I am to Jesus and the more aligned I am, therefore, to his purposes for my life - pandemic or not. So, as we learned in our Christmas series, fear not, he is with you, always (Matthew 28:20). Whatever happens out there, make this your best year ever. Make this year, and your life, count for Christ like never before.