The Oxford English Dictionary annually publishes its word of the year, but as in so many things, the year 2020 has been different. Such has been the change to our language and behaviours, “it quickly became apparent that 2020 is not a year that could be neatly accommodated in one single ‘word of the year’”. Therefore the report’s title is Words of an Unprecedented Year.
Unprecedented, we have heard that so many times, especially in government news briefings. Who could have predicted 2020 and the way it has unfolded? Who had heard of Zoom, let alone used it in January?
In the midst of turmoil, of difficulty, of distress, of heartbreak and grief, we search around for meaning and understanding. We look to make sense of what is going on, to join the dots and find the happy ending. The well-known verse of Romans 8 v 28 is true and comforting, ”for those who love God all things work together for good.” Yet deprived of context, this can have the risk of propelling us to lean on our own understanding, to find our own escape route or expect a certain answer or result from God.
Reading onwards, we find in verse 32, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” We rest on God’s promises, but stopping at verse 28 can lead us to forget that the good that God is working came at a cost. God has never and will never hold anything back from us, how do we know? He gave us Jesus.
Jesus led the unprecedented life. Jesus died the unprecedented death. Jesus, the only person to deserve a trouble free life bore more trouble than we will ever have and for those whose trust is in him, removes us from the ultimate trouble and condemnation to which there is no way out.
Reading a little further in Romans 8, we find, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger or sword?” We know that in Christ we are completely safe. Not safe from hardship - ask Paul. Not safe from illness - ask Hezekiah. But safe in a relationship with our Saviour and our God and that can never be broken.
I know that in difficult times, I go first to my own understanding, to work out the answer to my prayers before I ask them, so I can ask God to give me what I want, thinking I know what is right and good. If nothing else, 2020 shows me my arrogance and foolishness. I have often pondered the story of Job and the misery he endured and the answer that God gives him. God does not address his complaints or provide direct answers, He simply shows Job how great he is.
I can testify to glimpses of God’s greatness through this year. It has had plenty of darkness and worry and pain, yet God does not work for nothing. The small answers to prayer, His words that provide strength, all give hope that God is in control and that even if it is my lot to suffer, it will, in spite of myself, point to His glory. Appreciating in tiny part, the edge of God’s greatness gives hope and strength.
In Proverbs 3 we find, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”
Reading on a few verses, we find in v13, “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding.”
Whilst we are not to lean on our own understanding we are not kept in the dark, we can find wisdom in uncertain days.
What is this wisdom? Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1 v30, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us the wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”
This has helped me to reset my perspective, to lift my eyes from myself and look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
“Enough; this covers all my wants;
And so I rest;
For what I cannot, He can see,
And in His care I saved shall be,