Looking Back, Looking Forward
It is the time of year when blog posts, magazine articles, and videos talk about what you learned in 2020. There is something that happens at the end of the year where we look back at what has happened and look forward to what we hope will happen and what we hope will change. Our theme for 2021 is Hope Starts Here and we are going to look at how we can have hope in various life circumstances. However, before we can look forward to the hope that we have, God wants us to look back and learn from what has happened to us in our past.
The Need To Consider Our Ways
It is important that we see that God frequently asks for his people to think about their past and consider their ways. Before God allowed the people of Israel to enter the promised land, Moses delivered a number of sermons in the book of Deuteronomy to teach the people lessons from their experiences in the wilderness. The wilderness was not just to be a punishment for disobedience. More importantly, the wilderness was to be a teaching tool to prepare the people to enter the promised land. They were to learn about the God who leads and learn about their own faith and dependence on God. It would be a waste of their wilderness experience to not look back and learn from the events that had happened to them. God warned his people about living life without paying attention to what they were doing. Listen to what God said through the prophet Haggai.
5 Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. 6 You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. 7 Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. 8 Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD. 9 You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. (Haggai 1:5–9 ESV)
Notice that God is telling Israel to wake up and look around at what has happened to them. Nothing was coming from their efforts. All of their work was for nothing and God had done that to them because they were neglecting the Lord. God was trying to wake his people up to see that they had not been putting the Lord first in their lives, but had been busying themselves with their own possessions and living their own lives.
What About Your Future?
This is a principle for all people to consider, as noted by the author of Ecclesiastes.
Consider the work of God: For who can make straight what he has bent? In times of prosperity be joyful, but in times of adversity consider this: God has made one as well as the other, so that no one can discover what the future holds. (Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 NET)
Especially in times of adversity we are told by God to stop and consider. We are to consider our ways and to think about what we have learned. Notice that God tells us that adversity and prosperity are to teach us that we do not know what the future holds. We were rolling into 2020 like things would continue to be the same as they had been in 2019. God reminded us that we have no idea what the future hold. We do not know if this year is going to be a year of prosperity or a year of adversity. This is hopefully one of the big things we learned about how we should look at this year. We do not know what is going to happen. Look at how God taught us this.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:13–17 ESV)
We need to live our lives without the assumption that we will have tomorrow and without the assumption that tomorrow will be like today. Our arrogance does this because we think we have control over how tomorrow will go. But 2020 showed us that we have no control over how tomorrow will go. Schools closed, businesses closed, and we went into a mandatory lockdown for 45 days across the country. Work plans and vacation plans were completely upended. What did we learn about our plans? What did we learn about our power? What did we learn about our control over our lives? Quite simply, we do not know what tomorrow will bring. Let us please learn what James tell us here. It is if the Lord wills that we will live tomorrow and it is if the Lord wills that we will do whatever we have planned tomorrow.
What About Your Faith?
But going through a hard year like we did this year is supposed to cause us to look at our own faith. Listen to what the apostle Peter said.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6–9 ESV)
Peter says that our faith in thrown into the fire to see what will result. Our faith is tested to purify it so that all that is false can be burned away so that a pure, genuine faith will remain. So we would miss something very important if we do not take this time to look at our faith through this pandemic and consider how our faith did. As we consider how our faith performed in 2020, please think about how our faith will do in the future and what we learned. 2020 was the year of fear that tested our faith in a number of areas.
Our faith was tested when it came to having supplies and necessities. Never in my lifetime had there ever been the true concern about food. Remember that you would go to the grocery store and it is was difficult to impossible to find food. Getting beef was hard, toilet paper was gone, and so much that we took for granted that we could easily get was very hard to get. Yet God told us to not worry about what we will eat or what we will drink (Matthew 6:25) because God knows what we need (Matthew 6:32). Did we believe that God would provide? Did we believe that he will take care of us? He did. So we have no need to be anxious if we go through something like this again.
Our faith was tested when it came to our health and this is still being tested even now. But at the very beginning it looked like this pandemic was going to be even deadlier than it has been. We were told by the government in the early summer that it was going to be a painful month with an astronomical amount of deaths coming in our country. Did the pandemic show us that we have an idol of health in our hearts? There is a great caution that we need to be concerned about. Did this show us that we value our lives above all else? The reason this is important is because God is always telling us that we must be willing to give our lives for the cause of Christ. We need to think about if we will would be willing to endure a severe persecution as a Christian if we place such a high value on our own health and life. Daniel was willing to be thrown into the lion’s den because he was unwilling to stop praying to the Lord. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were willing to be thrown into a burning fiery furnace because they were unwilling to bow down to an image. The apostles died violent deaths for the sake of Jesus. Would be willing to do the same if we have such a high value on our health and lives?
In keeping with this, there was fear about gathering for worship earlier this year. Government leaders were telling churches to shut down. In different cities and states the leaders were breathing threats against churches that gathered. We were told that we were killing people if we continued to meet. We were told that we were irresponsible if we continued to meet. We were told that we need to love each other by not meeting to worship. There was negative national publicity on churches that did continue to meet. Here in our county, we were unsure if our gathering would be breaking any of the laws that had been put into place that no more than 10 people could be gathered at one time. Our county health official had a press conference telling churches and synagogues to close. It was a month later before the governor said that churches were exempt. How did our faith do through that? Were we willing to be in trouble with the authorities and with the community for our desire to worship the Lord? Were we willing to be fined? Were we willing to be imprisoned? This was an important test of our faith as our country moves further away from God and the hostility against Christians only grows. Are we willing to suffer for the sake of Christ? Or did these events reveal a weakness in our faith?
What has the pandemic taught us about obeying the government? We see throughout the scriptures that we are to obey all the governing authorities (Romans 13). It is only when the governing authorities command us to do something that is in violation of the scriptures that we must disobey. But other than when we are told to do something that causes us to disobey God, we must obey the government. In other areas, the authorities have told churches that they could only meet outside. Others were told they only meet if they were six feet apart. Others were told they could only meet if they wore masks. Where I grew up, all three were required. They had to meet outside, six feet apart, while wearing masks. Would we do it? We are not to rebel against the government, no matter how much we dislike the rules, dislike the leaders, or dislike the policies. Romans 13 says nothing about us agreeing with the government’s policies or with its leaders. Christians are to desire to live quiet, peaceful lives while praying for those who rule over us (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Will we obey or will we be obstinate? Will we be people who submit to the authorities or will we make a stink out of having to do it?
Finally, what has the pandemic taught us about the value of worship and fellowship? Did we learn that we must obey God rather than people? Do we value worship together? Do we miss what we were able to do before? Do we miss having in home Bible studies? Did God become a God of convenience, only worshiping and serving him when we were comfortable with the option? In short, what did the fire of 2020 reveal about your faith and your walk with God? What areas were shown to be strong and what areas were shown to be weak? Let us not have walked through the fire and through the wilderness for nothing. We must consider our ways and think about what we have learned about ourselves. What did the year of fear reveal about your faith? As we go into 2021 and we talk about hoping in God, will you trust God in any circumstance? Will you trust God with your life no matter how your life goes? Will you value him above all else? Will you consider where your faith needs support as we walk with Jesus together into this new year?