Mel Lawrenz is Teaching Pastor at Elmbrook Church. He just published A Better Year Ahead? Opening Our Eyes to Hope, looking ahead to 2021.
Everyone agrees with this simple sentiment: 2020 was a difficult year. A shockingly difficult year. An unprecedented difficult year. And they all wonder: Is there reason to hope that the new year might be better?
Of course, any of us may have that sentiment whenever we’ve had a difficult year. Loss of a job, a marriage that broke apart, an unwelcome medical diagnosis, a recession, an unexpected bereavement—there are so many ways any of us can have “a bad year.” Then we come to the end of December, cross into January, and wonder: Is it possible for next year to be better than the past one?
But 2020 was different. Once in a great while, there is a year that goes beyond the normal cycle of gains and losses we all go through.
Yes, this coming year can be better! Here are 10 ways how…
1 Get a fresh start in the new year.
In Scripture, we are introduced to a God who doesn’t just mark the passing of time, but stands above and apart from time. A caretaker and Lord of the future. The Creator who cares about what he created. This makes perfect sense, of course. What artist would create a masterpiece and not care what happened to it? This is the idea of providence: the belief that God is Creator and stays connected with the creation, both knowing the future and being the caretaker and Lord of it.The good path is always just the next few steps in the direction of the good end. Time for a fresh start!
2 Take life one day at a time.
When Jesus says, “do not worry about your life,” (Matt. 6:25) he is not telling us to play a game in which we ignore loss or pain—he himself experienced distress and sorrow and tension. Instead, Jesus is reforming our security. He is saying that anxiety about food and clothing, or about pursuing status in the eyes of the world, will not actually deliver security and comfort. There is a better way.
3 Treat others with respect.
The most important thing you can do for the people in your life—your family, your friends, your co-workers—is to treat them with respect. This is what Jesus said: “Love the Lord your God [reverence]… and love your neighbor as yourself [respect]” (Luke 10:27). Jesus said, “do this, and you will live.”
4 Talk to God every day.
Prayer is best when it is a continual dialogue with God over the course of the day. Someone once said, “I do not often pray for 15 minutes straight, but hardly ever do 15 minutes pass without me praying.” In other words, praying does not require us to go to a special room, get down on our knees, and stay there until our legs cramp. Rather, anyone can say a sentence or two to God anytime, day or night, anywhere, out loud or silently
5 Let God’s word sink in.
If God’s word really does get planted in our minds and hearts, good things will happen! As Jesus put it: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt. 7:24).
6 Make wise decisions.
The book of Proverbs gives us general statements of what is true—this is different from God’s promises. The book of Proverbs makes us wiser in how we view life. It shapes our expectations so they are not too low or high. It also gives us bold warnings about dangerous life decisions. The book of James in the New Testament focuses a lot on wisdom. It, too, offers practical advice about life. In contrast with “earthly wisdom” which is so misguided that it leads to “envy and selfish ambition,” “disorder,” “and every evil practice,” James says “the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:16,17).
7 Renew your faith.
In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul talks about three things that endure and do not change: faith, hope, and love. Faith is belief. It is holding onto something greater than ourselves. During times of loss, it is essential to keep referring back to the developed beliefs that have carried us along in life. Sudden or severe loss may shake our beliefs, or we may discover there was something important missing from them. But beyond all that, we must hold on to and further develop any faith we had prior to the loss.
8 Hold onto hope.
If faith in God is what supports us from behind (as past experiences convince us of God’s reality and goodness), then hope is what pulls us ahead (into our future). Hope is when we call out to God with faith that is based on who God is.
“Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Ps. 42:5, 11; 43:5)
9. Recommit to love.
Real love is essentially a spiritual resource. It is not borne of human invention and initiative. The Bible teaches that we are capable of love only because it is who God is.
10. Believe in Jesus Christ!
At the last supper Jesus told his disciples many important things. Among them, “I am of the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1-6). This is what we need in the year ahead! To have a clear “way” forward. To know what the truth really is. To have life instead of decline. Any of us can pray at any time to believe that Jesus is indeed this way, and truth, and life.
For more about these 10 ways to have a better year in 2021, check out the paperback and Kindle book, A Better Year Ahead? Opening Our Eyes to Faith, by Mel Lawrenz.