A few days after the announcement of the second lockdown in Germany, I shared my disappointment with Pastor Garrett Starr (Faith Baptist Church, Kaiserslautern, Germany) about not being able to gather for a Christmas Eve service. He responded with mutual frustration over how our lives have been upended in 2020, but then posed a question for me to consider: “How do we give thanks to the LORD in the midst of the challenges we have faced in the body of Christ since COVID-19 hit in early spring?” My thoughts immediately turned to a year filled with canceled visitors, vacations, church activities, sports, and more. But as I continued replaying 2020 in my mind, glimpses of God showing up and showing off with blessing upon blessing took over. I offer the following reflections for you to consider as you re-visit the year 2020.
As the year 2020 came to an end, I doubt there were many who lamented its passing. People all around the globe have been affected and/or infected with the COVID-19 virus which has crippled healthcare systems, overworked essential staff, caused economic strains, separated family and friends, and disrupted everyday life for months on end. And yet, as Christians, we are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” How is this possible in the midst of the challenges we have faced in 2020?
First, Paul tells us to be joyful always. This seems counterintuitive when facing challenges so it must depend on our definition of joy. I believe joy is less an emotion and more an inner contentment — a trust that God is always in control. When we accept God’s sovereignty, we can more easily accept what is going on around us, even a global pandemic. God is not surprised by what is happening and, in fact, has purposed it for His plan. We begin to give thanks when we believe “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Choosing joy, in spite of our circumstances, is paramount to a life filled with the peace of God.
Second, we are told to pray continually. Prayer turns attention to our Creator, Provider, and Almighty God. Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with prayers of praise, worship, and pleadings of God’s people. In Matthew 6:8b, Jesus said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” and then He taught us how to pray. Prayer is active communication with God that expresses worship, praise, and dependence on Him for all things all the time. With our heart and mind focused on God’s will, we are better prepared to face difficulties.
Next, as we give thanks in all circumstances, we are acknowledging God’s work in all things. The chorus from one of my favorite hymns tells us to “count your many blessings name them one by one and it will surprise you what the LORD hath done.” In the current atmosphere it is easy to become discouraged, but rather than focusing on the things we have missed such as graduations, weddings, or travel, we need to focus on our blessings. Did I wake up in a warm bed and feed my family today? Do I have technology that connects me with friends locally and family far away? Am I free to gather with other believers without fear of persecution? I am not diminishing the pain, frustration, or loss anyone experienced in 2020. I simply offer a challenge to change our way of viewing our lives so that Christ is honored and so we may find our joy in Him.
This article first appeared in FAITH LIFE, Volume 2, Issue 1, a ministry of Faith Baptist Church, Kaiserslautern, Germany. Used with permission.