Written by Ruth Lawrence, UK
It’s fair to say that 2020 was a bit of a monster year. Globally, millions of people have felt the effects of COVID, whether it’s from getting the virus itself or being impacted by restrictions that have been brought in to stop the spread.
While it may be unusual for so many people to be facing the same kind of adversity, there was something about 2020 that wasn’t unusual—the fact that it was full of adversity. Even if COVID hadn’t happened, we would still have had bad days—delays, cancelled plans, losses, pain and sadness.
Apart from adversity, another thing that is certain in this world is uncertainty. No one knows what is coming tomorrow, just as we didn’t know last January what 2020 would turn into.
This isn’t a nice feeling for me. I don’t like to be taken by surprise. I like to be in control and predict outcomes. In fact, I’m so bad at handling unexpected situations that I pretend that they’re not happening and try to carry on as normal. But I’ve discovered the hard way that this isn’t healthy, a headache is sure to follow, and I’m slowly accepting that I need to find a better way to respond.
As I reflect on how I handle life in an unpredictable world, I’ve found three verses to be particularly helpful in retuning my heart to God’s peace:
1. Take heart, Jesus has overcome the world
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Last year, while studying the gospel of John, I was struck by the conversations Jesus had with His disciples in the hours leading up to his arrest and crucifixion. He was about to go through unimaginable suffering, but He still took time to reassure His disciples with words full of compassion and love.
He doesn’t tell them that their lives will be easy. In fact, He says that they (and we) will have tribulation. Bad things happen to us as part of life, and as Christians, we’re told to expect suffering and persecution. Nevertheless, we have reason to hope because Jesus tells us to “take heart”. When our hearts fail within us because we cannot stand against what is coming at us—be it loneliness, illness, or loss—Jesus says, “Don’t lose heart, I have overcome the world.”
With Jesus by our side, we can stand firm as the waves of suffering wash over us. Jesus is the friend who not only walks beside us, but also the one who has felt what we feel. He is not a distant God who doesn’t know what it feels like to lose a best friend or be betrayed. He came down and lived in our world and experienced life with all its joy and pain. There is no one better to understand what we are going through, because He himself has gone through it before us.
Sometimes when we’re going through uncertain times, our emotions—whether that’s fear, anxiety, or confusion—can overwhelm us and make it hard to pray. I’ve found that when I’m at a loss of what to say to God that I can start with acknowledging how what is happening is making me feel. I’ve found that being honest with God helps me to see my situations in a new light—not as hopeless but as a stormy sea that I’m crossing with my compassionate Heavenly Father.
2. Don’t grow weary or faint-hearted
“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or faint-hearted.” (Hebrews 12:3)
As I thought about the way Jesus approached going to the cross, one thing I noticed was that He didn’t downplay what He was about to go through. He talked about how sorrowful His heart was. But more than that, He also talked about the good things that would come from His death. He tells His disciples that He will go away but come again so that they can have lasting joy. His going away means that the Holy Spirit can come and help the disciples. And ultimately, the consequence of Him dying in our place is that we can be reconciled to God. And that thought brought Him joy.
I find Hebrews 12 so exciting and encouraging, because it tells us what Jesus endured for us and why He did it. We are invited to look at Jesus’s life and how He brought us to God, and so be encouraged by this so that we don’t grow weary or fainthearted.
As humans, we tend to focus on the negative things in front of us. And those bad things are real. My feelings about COVID and the resulting restrictions are valid. But we can choose not to make those things the focus of our thoughts. We can choose instead to look at the good things that we have and give thanks to God for them.
One thing that I’ve found good to do at the end of each day is to think of at least three good things that have happened that day. And then I give thanks to God for them. As I’ve done this, I find that often I have far more than just three things to be thankful for. My aim is to shift my focus from all the things that I think God should have done but hasn’t, to the blessings He has given me and the future blessings He has promised.
3. Discern between what’s good and what isn’t
“‘All things are lawful’, but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things build up.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)
My final verse is more of a timely reminder. Here, Paul is writing to the Corinthian church about their attitudes to one another. He reminds them that although they are no longer bound by the Jewish food laws, exercising that freedom to do whatever they want may not be the best thing for them or their brothers and sisters in Christ.
This got me thinking about how I handle the concerns of others when it comes to meeting friends or going out and about. Right now the restrictions are tight so it’s not much of a concern, but when things were more relaxed, I had to think hard about how my actions impacted those around me. I might be technically still within the rules to meet someone outside, but what if that adds to someone’s anxiety? So I decided not to post my outings on social media. When I’m shopping in supermarkets, I try to give others more space. Just because I’m not nervous about these things doesn’t mean that others aren’t, and I try my best to respect that.
The verse also made me think about the things I’m doing that might not actually be helpful, even if there’s nothing wrong with these things in themselves. For example, do I really need to watch every COVID briefing, or is it just making me feel overwhelmed and helpless? Maybe I could just catch up with the important briefings or read a summary. Do I need to scroll through my social media feeds and get depressed by how much everyone else has achieved during lockdown (while all I did was eat more junk food and exercise less!)?
I need to work out what things are good for me and which ones are actually doing me harm. Not just for my mental wellbeing but also for my walk with God. Would the time spent scrolling through social media be better spent scrolling through God’s Word and absorbing His life-giving truth? What if I used my time to take my concerns and worries to God rather than picking up extra cares watching the news bulletin?
As I’ve tried to change my habits, I’ve been encouraged at how I’m noticing things to be thankful for, or answers to prayer, and my outlook has become more positive.
Adversity and uncertainty are part of everyone’s life. While it is good to recognise that bad things happen and that feeling sad about them is natural, we can also choose to look for the good that God has given us. It’s not always easy to tune our minds into seeing His love and blessings but when we do, we find eternal comfort and hope.