Jesus, the rising sun, will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)
Reflecting Back on 2020
This year has been hard in many ways. But thank God, Bible searches soared online, and a record number of people are turning to Scripture for truth on fear, healing, and justice. Kate Shellnutt in Christianity Today reported that one popular Bible site saw searches increase by 80 percent in 2020, totaling nearly 600 million worldwide.1
Isaiah 41:10 ranked as the most searched, read, and bookmarked verse on the site: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I love it that in fearful times, the Lord turns people back to Him for strength, peace, and hope. Many people want to forget 2020, but God is making people remember Him and come to Him for answers. He promises: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”2
Bible searches spiked during major events like George Floyd’s death, COVID-19 shutdowns, politicians’ lies, and economic bad news. Psalm 65:2-3 says: “You who answer prayer, to you all people will come. When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions.” God’s plan to save the world did not miss a beat in 2020. It never has and never will.
Here are more practical ways that Christ is present with His followers now as we stand near the end of one year and on the edge of a new one.
Jesus Holds Us by the Hand
Isaiah 41:13-14 says: I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, little Israel, do not fear, for I myself will help you, declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
The people of Isaiah’s day (near 700 BC) were afraid that God had abandoned them and afraid that their enemies would overpower them forever. But the Lord assured them that He was personally present to fortify, assist, and preserve them. Likewise Jesus holds the hands of His followers to strengthen us and keep us from tripping.
Here is what He promises: “To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.”3 Jesus’ followers may trip often, but with the Lord’s help, we get up again and again and get back to following Christ.4
The Lord called Old Testament Israel a worm because they were so weak and despised by the world around them. But they were infinitely precious to God. And so are you, Christians! Christ likewise reminds His followers that apart from Him we can do nothing.5 Then He quickly reassures us that He is our Redeemer, Deliverer, Guardian, Protector, Father, and Bridegroom. God is the first cause and the final cause, but He uses other causes (people, forces, and events) to accomplish His plans, the advance of Christ’s Kingdom.6
Stanley Jones’ Reminder Not to Fear
E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973) was an American Methodist Christian missionary, theologian, and author. He is remembered best for his inter-religious lectures to educated people in India. Here are few of my favorite quotes from Jones:
- At Jesus’ cross, God wrapped His heart in flesh and blood and let it be nailed to the cross for our redemption.
- Prayer is aligning ourselves with God’s purposes.
- Victorious living does not mean freedom from temptation, nor does it mean freedom from mistakes.
- The Bible (in the Holy Spirit’s hands) redirects my will, cleanses my emotions, enlightens my mind, and quickens my total being.
- We ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.
Stanley Jones said that fear is the sand in the machinery of life, while faith in Christ is the lubricating oil of the Holy Spirit. Fear robs our mind of all its healthy powers of knowing, being, and doing. Based on the Scriptures, Jones taught that the Lord has made Christians for faith, not for fear, doubt, and anxiety. When we are fearful, our soul is gasping for breath. But when we are trusting, relying, and confident in God, we breathe freely.
Jones mentioned a medical doctor who reported that worriers die younger than the non-worriers. Human beings are designed by God in our bodies, our brains, and our souls for faith in God the Holy Trinity, not for fear. The Lord made us this way, so that living by worry is living against God’s created reality.
No wonder Christ tells us so often in the Scriptures: Don’t be afraid; just trust me. The Psalmist said, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”7
Elisabeth Elliot said: If you are discouraged today and fearful, remember the God who loves you and is in control, and pray for faith to trust Him.
O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see you lie;
Above your deep and dreamless sleep, The silent stars go by:
Yet in thy dark streets shines, God’s everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years, Are met in Christ tonight.8
Notes (various translations): 1 December 3, 2020. 2 Jer 29:13. 3 Jude 24-25. 4 John 15:5. 5 Wilson Benton. 6 Prov 24:16 paraphrase. 7 Psalm 34:4. 8 Adapted from hymn by Phillips Brooks.