By Pastor Aaron Syvertsen
“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:18)
At the risk of making an overly obvious point about a familiar verse (especially this time of year), consider this: If Paul tells the church to be thankful in all circumstances, that literally means there is no circumstance we will ever face where we cannot find something to be thankful for IN the midst of it.
Not, “give thanks AFTER all circumstances”.
Not, “give thanks DESPITE all circumstances.”
“Give thanks IN all circumstances.”
Give thanks, even in and reflecting upon, the year 2020. This past year sharpened the visionary focus of our church, and it has affirmed something we knew in theory but now experienced in practice: the methods will always change, but the message and mission never will.
To be clear, I’m not happy a pandemic swept across the world. I grieve with members of our church who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, as well as those who have suffered financially and emotionally due to drastic changes in everyday life. Yet, in a year of constantly shifting horizons and continually-changing plans, God proved faithful. His Word reads exactly like it did in 2019, He is who he said He was.
This year affirmed that what’s needed is not a ministry plan that seeks to just fill people’s lives with religious activities in order to keep busy and feel good about ourselves, but rather a plan that will train our people to fix our eyes on Christ and think theologically in order to live as salt and light in an ever-darkening world. The common means of grace of Bible study, prayer, and community were not merely optional for us this year, they were the very means God would strengthen us to live distinctive lives.
To sum it up concisely, two seemingly opposite things were simultaneously true about 2020:
Everything changed: the way we gathered, connected, worshipped, studied, discussed, and applied God’s Word as God’s people living out God’s mission was different than any other year.
Nothing changed: we gathered, we connected, we worshipped, studied, discussed, and applied God’s Word as God’s people living out God’s mission, like we do and will do every year.
Everything changed. And yet, nothing changed. This has been the reality of Christ’s body, the church, over the last two-thousand years, and 2020 will be another chapter in the story.
I’m thankful for 2020, because I read verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:18, and I know that I can be. So I will be, and I hope you will too.
Aaron Syvertsen is the senior pastor at Grace Church in Ridgewood, NJ. This column was reprinted with permission from a Grace Church Facebook post.