I didn’t find the exact source, but I read an article from another author who reminded bloggers that, “nobody wants to see your 2020 year-in-review article”. It was a messy, challenging, and often unpleasant year to live through. Remember the fancy metaphors that it started out with, where businesses would say that their new plans were “20/20”, like the eye chart? I’m afraid that none of us saw exactly what was coming, although God was ready and had prepared to use last year’s events as part of His plan.
For many Christians (including myself) who had it pretty good before, 2020 was the year where we encountered a number of challenges that we hadn’t previously experienced. Yes, we had heard that other places and other eras had experienced pandemics, persecution, poverty, and protests. (I think that those of us in the United States were already aware of the conflicts of politics, so I’m afraid that wasn’t particularly new.) Still, there seemed to be an unspoken idea that most of these things would never happen here. We intellectually realized that it was possible, but – in a bit of pride – I think that many Western Christians (including myself) figured that these trials were mainly going to impact “others”.
Something else happened last year, though. Let’s take a look at what the apostle Peter wrote in the following verse:
These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.
1 Peter 1:7 NLT
Notice that faith in this passage isn’t necessarily created by trials (although I think that challenging times can help develop our faith). Instead, this verse suggests that trials reveal our faith for what it really is. Gold doesn’t become gold when it is refined, like some sort of alchemy. Instead, the gold is shown to be what it really is. If you melt down ore that contains no gold, you’re not going to get gold. If you refine actual gold, though, you get a nice return for your efforts.
So, how did Christians respond to the challenges of 2020? Well, here were some of the major “refinement opportunities”:
- The COVID-19 pandemic: Some got angry at others, who they blamed for the illness or its spread. Others forgave and loved others. Some let the risk of getting sick drive their choices to the exclusion of rational behavior. Others took precautions and safeguards, but simultaneously trusted that God was in control of both life and death, and that for those who had accepted Jesus Christ, a physical death does not mark the end of our lives.
- Church gatherings: When governments mandated (or asked) believers to not gather in large numbers, some adopted a mentality of entitlement, believing that they could do as they wanted (regardless of God’s leading). Others quietly lived out their faith as a testimony to others (even those who felt led by God to meet in person, contrary to government orders), and sought to be an advocate – publicly or privately – for others.
- Job and income losses: Some lived in fear and took unhealthy chances in order to maintain their lifestyle. Others worked diligently at whatever God gave them to do, and were humble enough to ask others for help when they needed it (in addition to sharing from their own surplus).
- Race relationship issues: Some reacted in judgment, dwelling on exceptions rather than people with true needs. Others learned how to love their fellow human being better, by listening and understanding. Some sought change through undirected violence and their own selfishness. Others worked harder than that to drive true community growth.
- Political polarization: Some let differences – both large and small – give Satan the power to become the “great divider” (as well as the “great deceiver”). Others used the opportunity for dialogue and discourse to show other people the uninhibited love of Jesus, even when they didn’t agree with their neighbor.
I do think that 2020 provided the opportunity for the faith of many to grow. However, I am certain that it showed how much faith many of us had carried over from 2019 in the first place. Where we were casually trusting God, our false fronts were pretty much burned away, showing other people around us (as well as ourselves) the truth. Where we were already faithful, trials and tribulations merely polished the gold core of our trust in God (and our character), so that it shone even brighter in a dark world.
2021 may still be a rough year. There are some signs of hope on the horizon, but no man-made solution will ever resolve all of our problems. Only Jesus Christ has the power to address the conflicts that recent events have exposed (along with others that are still lurking).
So, if you aren’t proud of your choices in 2020 (as you were faced with new challenges), don’t worry about it. God gives us new chances, and He loves us even when we fall short (which is good, since I fail a lot!). In the new year, He offers us a new opportunity for growth and/or refinement each day (see also Lamentations 3:22-24).
May you bless God, and may He bless your life in Him, in 2021!
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.