Vision for 2021

As we continue to wade through the uncertainty brought on by coronavirus, even in this new year 2021, how can we dare to think about vision? For me, the 23rd Psalm has provided a helpful scaffolding for understanding the past and looking forward to what the Lord has in store for us. Three key questions help bring this into focus.

1. What made 2020 difficult?

First, we have to recognise that difficulty transpired on different levels. On the personal level, not being able to travel to see my grandson was difficult. He’s 15 months old and I still haven’t seen him. And then one of my daughters got caught in England due to Scotland’s travel ban and was unable to return home. Also, in my own soul, this past year was hard because there were times of feeling like I was living in a fog … the days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. And where did it all go? What happened? Easy things were difficult and difficult things were almost impossible. Sometimes it just felt like I was swimming through peanut butter.

And where church difficulty intersected the personal, I really missed seeing people in our church. Hopefully, this was true for all of us. But staring at a camera weekly is simply not the same as being able to see our wonderful congregation. Remember – the church isn’t just made out of people, the church is God’s people, those Christ has redeemed with his own blood. And so as a pastor, not being able to see our people on a weekly basis has made it much more difficult to get a sense of how people are doing. I’ve prayed regularly, entrusting our congregation to the Lord, knowing that our God is a good shepherd.

2. What did I learn about God in this past year?

First, this year was a great reminder that God is faithful. The Lord is a good shepherd; in addition to being faithful, this year was a great reminder that God is with us IN the stuff of life; he doesn’t pull us OUT of the valley of the shadow of death, but he walks with us THROUGH the valley.

Second, I’ve learned how important it is to inhabit the promises of God. Last Autumn we did a series called Great Faith for a Great Future; God does have a great future for us, but to experience it requires us to believe his promises. We learned that God always brings his people into the promises He has for us. But that means that we often find ourselves living in promises that we have not yet experienced. Thus, God’s promises transcend our personal experience; that’s why following Jesus is called a walk of faith. This walk of faith is learning to interpret our experience through the lens of God’s faithfulness rather than interpreting God through the lens of our experience.

Finally, I’ve learned that Jesus builds his church. In a year when all the normal moves that a pastor can make to lead and grow the church were taken away, we had to trust the Lord. Of course, trusting the Lord is a good thing, and this is a normal way to live. But walking by faith not by sight was more than an aspiration in 2020, it was the only way we could live. And you know what? Jesus does build his church. I’m hopeful and expectant that spiritual roots in God went deep, that commitment to Christ grew, that reliance on the Holy Spirit went up. I believe that we will come out of this more reliant on our great God

3. How has Psalm 23 imparted faith and vision for 2021?

Type your new text here.

There are both personal and corporate dimensions of vision for 2021 about which Psalm 23 speaks go my heart.

Personally, the key phrase in verse 3 – He restores my soul – this is huge and beautiful. It’s an ongoing process. I have this picture that some of us are feeling tattered, it’s like a soldier after weeks of fighting without break, in the trenches, bullets flying, bombs exploding, his clothes - but mainly his soul - are just tattered. I feel like the Lord is going to restore and renew us in this new year.

Also, another personal promise right at the end of ths psalm, in verse 6: surely goodness and mercy will follow me. The Lord is always good, but going through a year like 2020, sometimes it feels like the Lord’s goodness is distant. We have to interpret our circumstances through the lens of God’s perpetual goodness rather than interpreting God through the lens of our difficulty. But more than a promise, I believe that this phrase is experiential. I’m believing and trusting that God’s goodness and his mercy will not only be known in 2021, but felt.

But more than people in our congregations experience God’s goodness in a personal way, I believe that the Lord has something for us, his church. The Psalmist writes I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. All through the Psalms we read of the longing to be with God’s people in worship. The Psalm indicates that - even when we go through periods of isolation, these are not permanent.

I hope – I believe – we will be back together, meeting in person regularly before the end of 2021. But more than being together physically, there is a deep, spiritual union we share in Christ. To dwell speaks of a place of perpetual abiding. It is my vision for us that we will so love God’s people – that we will love his church as much as he does – so that our dwelling is a Spirit-empowered mission as we faithfully fulfil God’s purpose in this brief moment God has given us.

To quote Tolkien from the Fellowship of the Ring, many of us feel like Frodo and ‘wish it need not have happened in my time’. But the words of Gandalf inspire: "So do I’, said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us'.

We don’t know what might transpire in 2021, but our Lord has given us this time: may we faithfully follow and whole-heartedly serve him in this year.

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