I’m sure that many of you, like myself are planning your new year. Maybe you’re setting resolutions. Or maybe you’re just so thrilled that 2020 is behind you that you plopped into 2021 just the way you are.

This year on the blog, I’m going to be sharing thoughts from my journaling and devotional life. Reading, ministry, family, and my walk with God will provide the content for these meditations.

2020 has been a year of stress, fear, lockdown, isolation, and difficulty. Too often I found myself stressed and worried. Scanning news articles, reading about politics, tracking Covid numbers, and trying to lead myself, my family and my church has resulted in anxiety, fear, and frustration. Too often I’ve not been at my best. Sometimes, I’ve been at my worst. 

If your 2020 has been anything like mine, then you are hoping for a change. But I’m not sure that what we really need is a change. What has helped me the most in recent weeks is to look at the One who never changes.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

Recently, I began reading a book, The Preacher’s Catechism, that a friend gave to me more than a year ago. For those unfamiliar, a catechism is a teaching method that asks and answers questions teaching biblical truths and theological concepts. For example:

Question: Why did God create man?

Answer: God created man so that we would glorify him and enjoy him forever.

In The Preacher’s Catechism, Lewis Allen shapes the catechism method around preaching and pastoral ministry. What stood out to me is how the chapter on knowing and enjoying God intersected with a recent theme in my Christmas sermon series. The topic was joy. But how do we have joy when 2020 and so much that has shaped our experience this past year has not felt “joyful?”

C. Lewis recognized this tension when he wrote in The Problem of Pain: “I think we all sin by needlessly disobeying the apostolic injunction to ‘rejoice’ as much as by anything else.”

I think the answer rests in the God who never changes and the gospel that brings us into relationship with him.

“So why single out joy when joy is so often crowded out by almost anything else? The reason is that joy, like nothing else, shows whether we believe the gospel. Joy is gospel authenticity.”

Lewis Allen, The Preacher’s Catechism, 32.

Do you believe the gospel? If you believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and he lives in you, then you have an unfathomable number of reasons to rejoice and to have joy.

Regardless of what your circumstances tell you, regardless of what is told in the media, regardless of what others are saying on social media platforms, regardless of the chaos, and regardless of how you feel, God has not changed and his gospel is ever true. Here are some reasons I’m going to rejoice heading into 2021. Maybe they’ll help you as well.

  • Because I know Jesus, I’m not alone and will rejoice in him.
  • Because God never changes and is sovereign, I will rejoice in his rule.
  • Because God speaks to me every day through his Word, I will listen and rejoice.
  • Because God hears when I pray, I will pray and rejoice.
  • Because God has provided all my needs, I will give thanks and rejoice.
  • Because God is good even though the world is evil, I will seek him and rejoice.

Why don’t you take a moment to think of some other reasons you can rejoice in God?

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

This past week’s sermon was a challenge for me. I preached from John 15:1-11, Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches. He instructs his followers to abide in him. The challenge for me came regarding Jesus’ teaching on joy in verse 11.

11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

John 15:11

To be truthful I’ve struggled to have joy during the past several months. Now if Jesus had taught to be full of fear, doubt, frustration, or uncertainty, I would have had those covered during the last several months. My guess is that I’m not alone. Between pandemics and protests, viruses and racial tensions, stay-at-home orders and lifted restrictions, there is a sense of uncertainty that permeates our experience. Uncertainty does not feed joy.

As I studied and preached this text over the weekend, I became convinced that the goal of abiding in Christ is that we might have joy. Abiding in Christ is an active command from Christ, but it is first of all a gift. Jesus declared to his followers in verse 3:

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

John 15:3

As humans, we are born in sin and inherently flawed. We are prone to worry, doubt, and impatience. But Jesus teaches us that abiding in him and being made clean by him are gifts that he offers. No, I’m not inherently joyful. But when I reflect on what he’s done for me, I can have joy: the delight in God’s control in all things and his care for me through all things. Here are some reasons we can have joy regardless of our circumstances:

  • Jesus makes us clean through his cross. We don’t earn or deserve cleansing; it is a gift.
  • Jesus invites us to abide in relationship with him. We get to know and relate to the Creator of the universe.
  • Jesus makes us fruitful when we abide in him. We get to live a life that matters eternally because of Christ.
  • Jesus promises to answer our prayers when we abide in him. We get to bring our burdens and requests before him confidently.

John 15 teaches that our relationship with Jesus is the reason for joy. Do you need joy? Pause and think about the salvation that Jesus gave you. Remember that you are in a relationship with the Creator of all. Know that your life matters because Jesus gives you eternal life and the opportunity to share that life with others. Take heart that you can bring whatever struggle or situation to Jesus in prayer.

Abide in Jesus and have joy.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash