You can feel the anxiety coiling around the fragile hope you’ve struggled to keep alive. Every fear-filled headline, political conspiracy, or news of social unrest tightens its grip around the hope you possess.
How can you look with expectation to the year ahead as the year behind lies impaired by discouragement? As proposed by many, the believer’s battles should conclude with a happy ending. But what do you do when that ending is too distant to see? How do you make it through today when tomorrow is a fragile hope?
As I press through the murky waters of this year’s memories, I’m reminded of a classic scene from the movie, The Patriot. The film, based on the life Francis Marion, also known as the Swamp Fox, tells of the enduring strength of colonials during the Revolutionary War.
In the movie, Mel Gibson plays the farmer-turned revolutionary- Benjamin Martin. As a father of seven children, he resisted joining the militia, but was thrust into combat when the notorious Colonel Tavington murdered his child. Then, after a sequence of battles between his rag-tag group of soldiers and the powerful English army, Martin lost another son, Gabriel. The loss became too much to bear. As he sat grieving beside his son’s body in the base camp, Colonel Burwell entered his tent. Hoping to persuade the battle-wearied Martin, Burwell tells him of the pending battle’s needed victory to turn the war. However, Martin, numbed with grief, excuses himself from the fight claiming he is “of a small issue to it.” Reverently, Burwell charges Martin saying, “stay with us; stay the course.”
Those words kindled a resolve in Benjamin Martin because they were the words of his late wife. After Martin buried his son in the following scene, he discovered a ragged colonial American flag. His son had mended it between battles. Inspired again by the cause of liberty, Martin’s resolved to “stay the course.” To honor his fallen sons, he returned to the militia’s frontlines and lead the patriots to a defining victory.
As I think of what it means to “stay the course” in 2020, I think of the things I’ve had to do to keep my focus clear. These truths, I feel, can ensure your victory over discouragement and distraction in the months ahead.
- Listen less to the voices of people, media, and social platforms, which distract from my God-given calling. Because faith results from what one hears, continually hearing about turmoil and tensions will not produce a firm hope in our hearts. Jesus tells us how the strength of the last generation will falter. He says the heart of men will fail because of “fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Luke 21:26) Can I propose that this anxiety is much of what we see today? When a political figure can cause clinically psychotic behavior among rival party members, politics isn’t the problem. Fear is the culprit. When entire communities place their hope for a future in a government rather than in Jesus, the insanity we see is what can be expected. Governments can never successfully offer hope to the masses. Only Jesus can. The more you can tune out the voices of those who aim to control and manipulate you by arousing an emotional response, the more stable your heart will be to see reality.
- Make time to hear the voice of Jesus. This point cannot be emphasized enough, especially with all the self-proclaimed prophets, dreamers, and spiritual fortune-tellers. If you cannot hear God’s voice for your life and your family, you will be led astray. I have great respect for the voice of God, which comes through genuine prophets. However, prophets should only serve to affirm God’s direct communication with you. If you are not daily reading God’s word and taking time to hear His counsel, there are plenty of other voices who are eager to impose their ideas into your mind. Deception is conceived when good people with good intentions begin to replace the voice of God in your life.
- Keep focused on the task God has given. Our work as the followers of Jesus hasn’t changed. We remain tasked with the eternal work of making disciples. If you can look back on this year and have brought no one into a saving relationship with Jesus, then there’s a problem. You’ve lived an entire year in disobedience. At times we equate following Jesus to experiencing warm feelings on mountaintop worship, but obedience is evident when your life is one of making disciples. Who have you taught to follow Jesus this year? Have you raised disciples who can make disciples? It’s a sobering question to consider, but it is one we all must answer. If your answer is an honest no, then you may want to consider whose kingdom you have been laboring to build in 2020. Have you been constructing a kingdom of personal wealth? A kingdom of social media influence? What has absorbed your time this year? The resources of the New Covenant have been given for one purpose. We are to make disciples, and how that looks in your life may slightly differ from others, but in the end, lives must be drawn to Jesus if we hope to be found faithful in the work we’ve been given.
- Finally, I’ve had to discard habits that don’t work in my life and replace them with disciplines that do. For example, like many, I’ve been caught in the binge-watching frenzy at times. Many times I’ve heard Holy Spirit prompt me, saying, “you don’t have time for this. I have a greater work.” Reluctantly, at times, I’ve clicked off my screen and retreated to a time of prayer and listening for God’s voice. Now, I’m not saying all TV watching is evil, but to stay focused on the eternal work we have, we must regularly gaze into eternity rather than into a screen.
As the holiday fog of activities lifts and we enter into another year, may I encourage you to join in the more extraordinary battle for the souls of men and women and to “stay the course.”