2020 has been a year unlike any other. A pandemic and cultural unrest have radically altered and disrupted our lives in ways none of us could have predicted. At the beginning of this year, I was in the process of applying to be a substitute teacher in California. Then, COVID-19 happened, schools shut down, and I had to look for other work. Subsequently, an ongoing struggle with racism sent our culture into a deep, soul-searching moment that has yet to find its resolution.
In the midst of times like these, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the future and the worry which accompanies such unpredictability. How should Christians react when faced with such circumstances?
The illusion of control
Two years ago, I was in the middle of my seminary degree. I was looking forward to my graduation one year out and wondering where God wanted me to go next and what he wanted me to do. (I’m the type of person who likes to plan and know what I’m doing.) I prayed many times, only to be frustrated that no answers came back—that is, until I hit a breaking point.
I sat in the parking lot at Biola University, desperately asking God for an answer to my prayer. All the frustration that had been building up in my heart came out in a flood of tears. And finally, God spoke to my heart, not with what I wanted to hear but with what I needed to hear. With his gentle correction, I finally realized that I had been believing two lies about my future and God’s sovereignty.
First, I bought into the lie that I had to be in control in order to serve God faithfully. The desire to plan for the future isn’t bad. Scripture commends planning (Prov. 21:5). But in my case, the desire to plan had become an idol. In reality, it was more a desire to be in control, which had become stronger than my desire to trust God. While Scripture commends planning, proper planning ultimately acknowledges that God is the one in control. This is made most evident from a passage in James 4:13-17, which says,
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
We can make all the plans we want, but without the Lord, our plans will fail. I thought that my faithfulness to God was dependent on my ability to plan my future, but it wasn’t. This leads me to the other lie I believed.
Second, I bought into the lie that God’s calling on my life was only about the future, not the present. Because of my desire to plan and be in control, I was only looking to and caring about what the future held. But a lecture given by one of my professors on Martin Luther’s theology of vocation helped me realize that being faithful to God’s calling on our lives meant not merely planning for the future (which, again, is good when God’s sovereignty is acknowledged) but to steward our circumstantial callings and vocations.
God is sovereign not just over the future, but also our present circumstances. For me, this included things such as my relationships with my family and friends, my vocation as a student, and my vocation as an active member of my local church. I began to realize that I didn’t need to know all the details of my future to be faithful to God. He had already given me circumstances which I needed to steward well in the present, regardless of the unknowns.
Faithfulness in the present, hope for the future
What does this all mean for us here and now in the midst of the chaos of 2020? Many of us face an uncertain future, one in which planning seems impossible as circumstances change on a daily basis. Here are some practical truths to hold onto during this time.
Take things one day at a time. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Don’t take on anxiety and worry for things you cannot change or won’t be able to make decisions about until the future. Remember, God is still sovereign over the future even when we can’t make plans.
Be faithful to your circumstantial vocations. Whether you are a parent with children, a student, a single adult, a grandparent, an engineer, a teacher, a writer, or a chemist, you have relationships and responsibilities to steward well today. Don’t let the present slip by because you are worried too much about the future.
Remember what is certain about our present reality and future hope in Christ. Whether or not our life on this earth has any certainty or predictability, we must always anchor ourselves in the things which are certain: the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus; our present forgiveness and reconciliation to God through Christ (2 Cor. 5:14-21); and our future hope of a new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21:1-8).
Our circumstances may not change, or they may take an unexpected, unwelcome turn. But seeking to practice these things can help us trust in God more fully in the midst of an uncertain future. Ultimately, he is our only sure and steady foundation, and all hope set on him has a certain outcome, guaranteed by the blood of his Son.