We are not the first Christians to live through challenging times. And if the Lord tarries, we will not be the last. In a way that I cannot wrap my limited brain around, God has ordained that we live through the challenges of 2020. Much like the scent of a dead skunk, these lingering challenges never seem to go away.
Christians and churches, we are given several heads up in Scripture that our pilgrimage here on earth will be a challenging one (John 16:33; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet. 4:12). The wisest Christians refuse to determine their view of God based on their circumstances. This wisdom has helped Christians persevere through unspeakable persecution and suffering throughout the nearly two thousand years of church history.
About AD 51, the church in Thessalonica—which had been started under the dark cloud of heavy persecution (1 Thess. 2:14–15)—was an overall good church going through deep affliction. Never did Paul tell those believers to escape their circumstances. But he did tell them how to flourish in them: “Give thanks in all circumstances [in every circumstance that God ordains, including the difficult ones]; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18, ESV).
You might be thinking, “Are you kidding me? Does God seriously expect us to be that thankful in 2020? Isn’t that just a lofty ideal instead of a realistic reality?” I submit to you that a heart full of gratitude is one of the best weapons to have in our arsenal as we battle the difficulties of 2020. In particular, the weapon of focusing on what we know to be true about God right now at this very moment. Consider these four truths about God that will never change—even in a challenging year like 2020:
- God is still good (Exod. 34:6; 1 Chron. 16:34; Ps. 25:8; 107:8–9). We know this to be true. Right now. At this very nanosecond. Not because our circumstances are necessarily good. But because God’s inherent character is good, as revealed in His Word. Even in 2020 we can emphatically say that God is good, has always been good, and will always be good.
- God is still in charge (Ps. 115:3). Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “When you go through a trial, the sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which you lay your head.” As we look at seemingly chaotic circumstances all around, it is a great comfort to know that God is still sovereignly in charge. Not one event in the eventful year of 2020 has happened outside of God’s sovereign control.
- God is still faithful (Phil. 1:6). Speak this truth to yourself over and over again as the news seemingly continues to worsen: God will be faithful to every last promise He’s made to me. Period. The economy may crumble. Elections may have undesirable outcomes. My personal health may be at risk. But rest assured, God is with me every step of the way and will always be faithful to making me more like Jesus (Rom. 8:28–29).
- God is still at work. I admit to occasionally asking myself while watching troubling reports on the news, “Where is God in all of this?” From Genesis to Revelation we see times when it would have been tempting to ask that question. Famous Biblical characters—from Joseph, to Moses, to Ruth, to Esther, to the Israelites in captivity, to the persecuted early church—had their own times of being tempted to wonder where God was at work. Yet in each of those cases, God was working behind the scenes to accomplish something great. Don’t allow the challenges of 2020 to cloud the reality that God is indeed at work.
Let’s not forget that one of the best ways to fight against a cynical and critical heart is to be full of gratitude. This character trait is fleeting when we focus on fluid circumstances. But it’s firmly anchored when we focus on the unchanging character of our good and gracious God.
Mike Hess serves as national representative of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.