Written by Jiaming Zeng, USA
It feels safe to say that 2020 has been a challenging year for most. For me, it is a year where nothing seems to have happened and where everything has happened.
Although my physical activities have been mostly constrained to home and a few surrounding parks, it’s been a year of spiritual activity, from being anxious about the future to learning to trust in God’s plans, to witnessing the transformative power of God through prayer.
In March, when shelter-in-place first began, my pastor asked me to make a short video on what it means to have faith in the midst of the pandemic. I answered that I want to respond in the spirit of Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.” Though many things are easier said than done, 2020 has been a fitting year to try practicing this verse.
Joy in Unexpected Places
The beginning of lockdown was more difficult than I thought. First, I didn’t expect it to be more than a few months. Second, being an introvert, I didn’t imagine more alone time would become problematic. Yet, as the weeks dragged on, I began to realize how difficult it is to only meet people through screens, to work and sleep in the same place, to not gathering for birthdays, church, and other celebrations.
Yet as I sought God in my troubles, I learned to find joy and give thanks for the good things in life. I thanked God for the fact that my work can all be done remotely, and instead of delaying progress, the lockdown inadvertently offered me an undistracted time to focus. I praised God that I could still fly home and spend time with family that I haven’t been able to since college.
In the Bible, the psalm of David written as he was pursued by Saul offers an example of finding joy and hope in affliction. David was wrongly attacked and forced into exile (Psalm 59:4). Yet when Saul sent men to David’s house to kill him and David escaped, he still had a heart that rejoiced and sang praises to God.
But I will sing of your strength,
in the morning I will sing of your love;
for you are my fortress,
my refuge in times of trouble (Psalm 59:16).
Patience in a Quiet Season
As the lockdown settled in for its ninth month, it became clear that 2020 has been a lesson on patience and perseverance in the face of uncertainties.
By May, time felt like it has lost its usual delineating power. The days that used to feel like weeks suddenly picked up their pace. Time has become, as Augustine wrote, a property of the mind. I began to wonder to God, when will this season end?
As I sought God in the quietness, I remembered that God could use extended struggles to teach His people character and hope (Romans 5:3-4). I learned to be hopeful for the new things God can bring about through difficult times. For God often does His best work in the dark, and we must learn to wait for Him with patience, humility, and hope.
The story of Abraham and Sarah is a biblical example of God working during silence. While God promised Abraham that he will be a father of many nations, Sarah did not bear Isaac until much later. They waited patiently through their own doubts and frustrations, trusting in the character of God (Hebrews 6:15 and Hebrews 11:11-12). Finally, as promised, their waiting gave birth to new life.
Faith in God’s Work
During the lockdown, I’ve slowly come to rely on the power of connecting with God through prayer. In July, my dad got a new job. One can imagine how difficult it is to start a new job during the pandemic, especially an international one. The stress of the job deeply affected him and, in turn, my family. I earnestly prayed for God to help us.
As I sought God in prayer, He heard me. I watched as God slowly transformed my family’s hearts to truly trust and listen to Him. I rejoiced as they also learned to rely on prayer in times of trouble and distress. After a few months, He has brought new perspective and life through the fears and anxieties of our family.
Throughout the Bible, many people prayed and were heard. The prophets were most notable in their faithful and relentless prayers despite their afflictions (James 5:10). Daniel inquired after hidden mysteries and God sent His angels to explain (Daniel 9). Jeremiah wept over the fall of Israel, and God showed him His heart for the nation’s restoration (Jeremiah 30-31). When we pray in faith, we can also trust that God will hear, just as He promised to the Israelite’s long ago:
. . .if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Joy to the World
Finally, the story of the birth of Jesus is the culmination of thousands of generations of patience and faith. No matter when you regard as the first prophecy about Jesus, the wait was a very, very long time. Yet through the exiles, the persecutions, and the 400 years of prophetic silence, many in Israel continued to hope. The prophet Anna prayed faithfully in the synagogue daily, preparing for the coming of Jesus (Luke 2:36–38). A devout man, Simeon, believed that he would see the Messiah in his lifetime (Luke 2:25-26). Finally, all the hope, patience, and prayer were rewarded with the joy of new life—the birth of Jesus!
As Paul wrote,
. . . for everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope (Romans 15:4).
In this season, as we reflect on the story of Jesus, the Old Testament characters, and God’s transformative power in our own lives, let us look towards 2021 with the spirit of Romans 12:12. I hope we can be filled with joy and faith as we patiently await the promise of new life.