By Mike Hess

Here we are at the end of 2020. Most of us feel like we have just ended a grueling run—a run full of hills, headwinds, unexpected potholes, and a route that never seemed to end. The interesting thing about coming to the end of a grueling race is that once we’ve caught our breath and had time to reflect on what we just went through, we can usually say that running a difficult race was good.

If you were measuring 2020 by only an earthly metric, it would be impossible to say that 2020 was a good year. We have faced challenges the likes of which we personally have never seen before. Nevertheless, 2020 has actually been a good year, because when we measure the word good by a Biblical metric, our conclusion must be that God has used 2020 for our ultimate good.

What exactly is that good? Let’s allow Scripture to define our term: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28–29, ESV, italics added).

The truth of these verses teaches us that the circumstances and events that God has ordained for our lives serve one purpose: to conform us to the image of His Son. If God has used the circumstances of 2020 to make you more like Christ, then 2020 has indeed been a good year. For that is how God defines good, so we must define good that way too.

Please note that the point of this article is not to debate or dispute the validity of COVID-19 protocols or mitigations. My goal is to highlight that despite all the God-ordained challenges, there are specific ways God has pointed us to the likeness of His Son.

Let me give you five ways in which God has brought about good despite an incredibly challenging year:

1. Renewed Appreciation for the Local Church

My prayer for my own heart is that I never again take for granted the wonderful joy and privilege of gathering in person with God’s people. Computer screens provide a nice way of facilitating the preaching of the Word, but they can never take the place of the ordinances, in-person meetings, mutual encouragement, welcoming one another, singing, sharing—I’m sure you can add your own items to this list.

The year 2020 has provided a powerful reminder that nothing can replace meeting and worshiping in person as a local church. May our hearts yearn to assemble with God’s people like never before. The church should play such a central role in our growth in grace that not being there creates a void in our hearts that creates in us an insatiable desire to gather each Sunday with other committed saints in our local church.

2. We Are Not in Control

Throughout 2020 God has constantly brought my mind back to the words of Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” The theological truth of God’s sovereignty has become intensely practical in 2020. Our plans—as well-intentioned and calculated as they might be—are at the mercy of God’s sovereign control.

What a comfort it is when it seems like things are spiraling out of control that God is in complete control. His sovereign control gives us rest, calm, peace, assurance, and perspective. It is not meant to build smug theological arrogance; it is meant to change our character into the character of Christ.

3. The Frailty and Brevity of Life

Many reading this are still processing the sudden loss of a dear loved one in 2020. My prayer for you is that God would give you great comfort and peace as you continue to go through the grieving process. Christians should have the wisest perspective on life: that it’s brief and passing quickly.

The metaphor of a vapor dissolving into the air used in James 4:14 is a powerful reminder of how fast our lives pass by. Whether or not you lost a loved one this past year, let’s commit ourselves to maximize the stewardship of our lives for what counts for eternity. This year has taught us the hard lesson that we don’t know what 2021 may bring. But we do know that our lives are passing and that we will give an account one day. By God’s grace, make the most of today for His glory.

4. The Uncertainty of Riches

At this time last year, the ministries of the GARBC and Regular Baptist Press were enjoying substantial financial growth and blessing. We were making numerous plans on using these funds to aggressively help local churches make disciples. But God interrupted these plans in such a way that has forced us to completely depend on Him.

I’d venture to say that no one reading this hasn’t been affected by the economic downturns of this past year. Even as affluent Westerners, we’ve been powerfully reminded that the treasure of our hearts cannot be grounded in the uncertainty of earthly wealth. Be thankful when God blesses you with it. But hold it loosely and give it generously. You never know when God may ordain to take it away.

Let the ebbs and flows of earthly riches remind you that your inward character of Christlikeness is much more valuable than your outward possessions or financial worth.

5. Longing for a New Body

Undoubtedly many of our commitments for the new year revolve around being better stewards of our bodies. But as hard as we try, we’re continually reminded that they will inevitably get sick, age, and wither. That’s not to negate the importance of physical stewardship. After all, the healthier we are, the more effective we might be for God’s glory.

The constant narratives of sickness, mitigations, social distancing, untimely deaths, and vaccines have reminded my own heart of the promise of Jesus’ imminent return for His church. One often overlooked component of the Rapture is the promise of a new body raised in the likeness of our Savior’s resurrected body (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18; Philippians 3:20–21). No sickness. No aging. No cancer. No funerals. No prescriptions. No doctor visits. No physical therapy. No fatigue. No COVID-19 or any other unique viruses or pandemics. I think you get the point.

May we in 2021 long more than ever for Jesus to take His Bride home to Heaven.

Yes, 2020 has been a good year. When we measure 2020 by the metric of Christlikeness, our only conclusion must be that as difficult and arduous as this year has been for each of us, God in His goodness has changed our inward character to be more like the character of His dear Son. And that is always good and necessary.

Mike Hess serves as national representative for the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.