During 2020, a year that, for many of us, was the most stressful and painful we’ve yet experienced, our nation has been shaken by disease, political tension, and social upheaval. If we wish 2021 to be different, with God’s help, we must work to make it better. With that in mind, what are some good New Year’s resolutions for the church to consider? How can we, acting as salt and light within a broken world, help to facilitate growth and healing?
1. Let us repent.
Scripture tells us that the Lord disciplines those He loves (Heb. 12:6), and hardship often presents the opportunity for self-reflection and repentance. This may be the one positive angle to the turmoil of 2020. Over and over, last year laid our sin bare—both individually and as a church body. If we want to start afresh, we must begin with the vital process of confession, receiving forgiveness, and turning onto a new path.
Consider your relationship with God. Did you seek to know and love Him more, to please Him better, and to bring your fears and frustrations to Him? Or was He an afterthought in your life? Although last year brought me closer to God in certain ways, I admit to failing miserably in my goal of spending time with Him more regularly through Scripture and prayer. With His help, I hope to do better in 2021.
Consider your relationships with others. In the midst of stress, did you hurt others by acting harshly or selfishly? Did you pull away from someone who needed you? Consider also your community relationships: as we have now seen many times—most recently through the heartbreaking allegations against Ravi Zacharias—sin may flourish within a social system when others ignore or enable it for their own benefit. Ephesians 5:11 says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” As Christians, have we taken that command to heart?
It is human nature to value the kind of power that makes itself most visible. Attention goes to those who are the loudest, the most arrogant, the most aggressive. As we seek to proclaim the gospel in a hostile culture, it is tempting to borrow these qualities for our own cause: to dig in our heels, put up our fists, or allow a note of snarkiness or contempt to creep into our voices. But this is not how the Bible commands us to act.
Again and again, Scripture extolls the virtue of gentleness. I like this explanation, from pastor and author David Mathis:
Hard rain destroys life, but “gentle rain” gives life (Deut. 32:2). Violent rain does harm, not good. The farmer prays not for weak rain, or no rain, but for gentle rain. The means of delivery is important. We need water (to support and give life) delivered gently, not destructively and not too meagerly. Gentle doesn’t mean feebly but appropriately—giving, not taking, life… Gentle doesn’t mean weak but fittingly strong, with life-giving restraint—giving something good not in a flood, but in due measure.
Note that phrase: “giving something good” in due measure. James 3:13 says, “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness [a.k.a. gentleness] of wisdom.” This is where I often struggle. Gentle Christians are not passive. They do not sit on the sidelines, eating popcorn while two opponents clobber each other. They seek to represent Christ’s goodness in an angry world. They wield their power on behalf of the powerless and work to create peace and justice. Let us, as Christ commands in John 13:35, be known not by power, but by our love.
In the landscape of social media outrage, a common temptation is to divide people into two camps: Us (who are always Right) vs. Them (who are always Wrong, and thus worthy of contempt). In this context, one of the most radical things we can do is to treat our opponents with respect, pray for their good, give them the benefit of the doubt when possible, and seek areas of common concern. In this we will be following the example of Christ, who told us: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:43-44).
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis gives a convicting example of the danger of failing to love your enemies:
Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything—God and our friends and ourselves included—as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
Loving people as they are—rejoicing in their good points while acknowledging their bad points with clarity and charity—is difficult. I sometimes find it painful to remember that the people I consider to be “on my side” have their blind spots and weaknesses, and that the people I have strong disagreements with can still be brothers and sisters in Christ. But loving people as they are is a spiritual discipline worth cultivating.
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