Be a Gospel Optimist in 2021
After a year of uncertainty, let’s recommit ourselves to being gospel optimists in 2021.
How do you feel looking forward into 2021? What do you expect? If nothing else, 2020 has taught us that – in the detail at least – asking such questions is a futile exercise. Who knew last year would turn out as it did? Who knows, therefore, quite what 2021 will look like?
This kind of uncertainty is unsettling. There are some kinds of unknowns that energise: for example, going off to watch your favourite team and not knowing what the result will be. But the wearying, mystifying kind of uncertainty that 2020 gave us, and which is going to continue into 2021 – at least for a while – is something quite different.
And this unsettling feeling can be inhibitive. It can stop us planning things: after all, who knows what we’ll be able to do and not do. It can stop us investing in things: who knows whether any time or energy we commit to a project will be wasted. Above all, it can stop us feeling optimistic about the future.
For sure, when we think about the immediate detail of the next six months or so, that’s a good question to be reflecting on. But as the new year starts, let me encourage you to step back with me and recommit ourselves to being gospel optimists.
For Christians - though realists - are always optimists. We know we have a king who rules the universe. We understand that his control of history is both masterful and supremely wise. We believe that he holds every detail in the palm of his hand.
All of us, as believers, are personal optimists. We all believe that God is doing a gracious work in us that will bring us nearer and nearer the image of his Son. All of us know that this is a work that the Godhead – Father, Son and Spirit – has fully committed himself to.
We are confident that he who began a work in us will carry it onto completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:3-6).
Dear brothers and sisters, I don’t know what kind of year you had in 2020 as a follower of Christ. But I know what this year ahead promises. It promises 365 days, with each day finding you nearer to the day when you will see Christ Jesus face to face and finally be made like him, bearing the image of the heavenly man.
Long for this, seek this with all your heart, plead with your Father for it, believe in it. Be an optimist.
Bible-believing Christian leaders are also church optimists. True, we cannot say with any certainty what will precisely happen to the churches we serve in particular, but we can step back and be overwhelmingly positive and upbeat about the church in general.
I often find great comfort in Jesus’ words in John 10 as he speaks about his sheep: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
Reflect on this a moment, dear brothers and sisters. Every day the church grows larger. It never grows smaller, even when – locally – it sometimes feels like it. Every day those who are being saved are added to its number. And every day is another day when no one snatches any away.
Delight in this growth. Rejoice in this success. Long for a deeper sense of the worldwide church of which you are a part. Be an optimist.
As those who have a deep confidence in the sovereignty of God, we are also evangelistic optimists. This is not the place to explore the interaction between God’s sovereignty and our own responsibility: suffice it to say that the two cannot be inconsistent as the Bible understands them, and we have a part to play. Yet, lack of evangelistic success can often make us morose and disheartened.
Dear brothers and sisters, let me encourage you to look to the Father who delights in the salvation of the wicked, trust in the work of the Son who gave himself for sinners, and believe in the new life that the Spirit so graciously gives.
We are waiting for, praying for, looking for ‘the full number’ to be brought in. And we believe he will do it. Be an optimist.
As US journalist and Christian author Eldridge Paige wrote in the 1850s: it sometimes seems to us that the world is “going to hell in handcart.” Certainly, it is easy to despair of the state of the UK.
As I write, 2020 was on course to record the largest number of annual abortions ever. A homicidal tragedy. Fewer people are getting married. More people are living for themselves. Communities are vacuous places. It’s easy to find much to be pessimistic about.
But, dear brothers and sisters, to allow ourselves to wallow in this kind of millennial gloom (whatever your views about the end times) is to deny the truth of history. It is all heading somewhere, and that somewhere is gloriously good.
I don’t say we welcome the bad news; we fight injustice and inequality. But we also understand the trajectory. We anticipate a day of newness, when the Bride is beautifully prepared for her husband. Be an optimist.
Whatever you expect from 2021, will you join me in this pledge? Let us look to our sovereign God: the Father who loves us, the Son who has died for us, the Spirit who fills us.
Let us look to him and cry out “Make me a gospel optimist.”