I am so thankful that I resisted the temptation to write a message around the concept of 2020 vision. So many pastors and even business leaders gave in. It’s a common phrase, and we only had a short window to take advantage of the chronologically built-in memory device and excuse to bring up the topic. Vision is important. Proverbs 29:18 records, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.” As we headed into 2020, the world was already changing, with increasing acceleration around us. Many churches and leaders felt the pressure to not be left behind and looked forward to a new set of “roaring twenties” that a recovering economy, lack of a new war, and advanced technology could bring. But we had no idea what was coming.
There is an old Yiddish proverb that says, “Man plans; God laughs.” While I don’t see scripture describing God as just waiting for us to fail, and then to mock us, He does instruct us about the proper way to trust, and even folks who made plans at the beginning of 2020 can, with hindsight, see that in some way it was “laughable.”
Trusting in the Lord includes trusting Him in surprising times. Our plans may be changed, delayed, or dreams shattered, but He always knows what’s next for us. When discussing the way we talk about our plans, James, the brother of Jesus, says, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ “ (James 4:15) It isn’t wrong to plan. It would be reckless not to do so. In the parable of the talents, we see that the one who simply buried his talent (money) in the ground and didn’t invest was condemned as lazy. So, while we do need to have some plans, we simply can’t “count our chickens before they hatch.”
Proverbs 16:9 records, “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” As we plan, we must not plan so tightly as to attempt to push God’s intervention out of the way. He has given us standing orders like the Great Commission, and He has equipped us with gifts to use for His glory and for others’ good. However, as we try to do that systematically, we can sometimes forget that at the end of the day, all those things can fail, and God will still be on the throne. He might even be calling us to walk through that failure, just as Jesus’s first act after submitting to baptism was to be tempted in the wilderness, and He was led by the spirit.
I am sure many had big plans for 2020, I know we did, as a church. VBS, AWANA, even our VBS alternative, all had to be canceled. If it wasn’t the pandemic, it was smoke from wildfires, or some other issue. We had planned to invest our finances in different ways, and yet the situation demanded that we put more money into broadcasting our services. Thankfully the God blessed the congregation, and our members remained faithful in equipping the ministry this year.
We have plans for coming out of COVID-19, but as we make them, it’s clear the world has changed. Hopefully, it’s even more recognized by all that we must be flexible about those plans. COVID-19 is a world-changing event, in the way 911 shook churches to think about apologetics and evangelism to Muslims and in the way the printing press gave more people access to vast amounts of information. Our society is constantly connected, but now, with intentional personal isolation, we are even more digitally dependent. Any 2020 vision sermon given before COVID-19 would be obsolete now. The world has changed, digital is more important, and people are looking for new ways of community. When the lockdowns end, they will be hungry for interaction. Many will also be economically and emotionally impacted. Some will be more skeptical than ever due to the well-published hypocrisy of leaders.
Our key focus, of course, must continue to be Christ. After all, when the world is changing, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) As we do so, we must also keep Colossians 4:5 in mind, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.” Our pre-COVID-19 plans and goals need to be re-evaluated, and we must continue to be nimble and able to respond quickly to whatever other changes or challenges are coming.