When this year began, did you make any resolutions – or set some goals, as I prefer to do? Were you able to achieve every one of them? If you did, you’re either an exceptional person, or you have difficulty telling the truth sometimes. Because no one could have anticipated and planned for the turmoil and upheaval 2020 would bring.
But why dwell on that now? We’ve got a brand new year ahead of us, barely a blink of an eye away. Aren’t we all ready for a fresh start? It’s time to relegate 2020 to hindsight, right? Can’t wait to see it fading in the rearview mirror!
Alas, even though we’ll be changing dates on our calendars, checkbooks and other stuff, when Jan. 1, 2021 dawns, it will be just another day – and the problems of the year past won’t suddenly disappear. Based on what we’ve gone through over the past 365 days, it might be appropriate for the entrance to 2021 to be littered with signs like “Beware!” “Proceed With Caution!” and “Enter At Your Own Risk!”
So while we’re finalizing our resolutions, goals or plans for the new year, recent experience suggests that we prepare to be nimble, adaptable and flexible. Because things certainly aren’t going to go quite like we expect or hope. They never do. But we don’t have to feel like we’re moving forward blindly, like a ship in a storm without an anchor.
For me, the Scriptures provide confidence that the unknown that's lying ahead of us is already charted territory. In the words of the familiar psalm, we’re assured, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for [God is] with me…” (Psalm 23:4). Those brief words carry great depth of meaning.
In shepherd terminology, this referred to the unwavering trust the sheep had in their caretaker. What might lurk in the shadows could have disconcerted them, but knowing their shepherd would protect them, the sheep could proceed without hesitation.
It’s the same for us. Even when things seem darkest, the Lord is already there to provide us with the light we need. He’s “scoped things out” for us in advance. As Jesus Christ promised, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). If I were trekking at night through a dark forest, I’d feel much better if I had an experienced guide equipped with a bright light to show the way.
Another verse reassures us, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). That’s a passage that has often served me like a spiritual security blanket.
Then there’s my all-time favorite, Proverbs 3:5-6, which admonishes, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Whenever I have leaned on my own understanding during 2020, it only made things seem more confusing. The virus, politics, and social unrest were a devastating triple play. Whenever I had the sense to shift my thinking and trust in the Lord, however, order always seemed to dispel the chaos.
Just before ascending to heaven, Jesus offered this assurance: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). We find a similar promise recounted in Hebrews 13:5, when He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” After which the writer adds, “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”
I’ve been to strange cities a number of times. Unfamiliarity was one thing, but being directionally challenged, those occasions could have been daunting, even fearful experiences. But each time I was in the company with a friend or trusted guide who was very familiar with the city and knew exactly where we needed to go.
In a broader sense, life is much like that. We can fear the future – especially in view of recent experiences. But as we follow the One who already knows what lies ahead, we can let go of our anxieties and uncertainties, trusting that He will ultimately take us safely to our intended destination. So we can say with confidence, “2021, ready or not, here we come!”