Let’s Not Put Too Much Hope in 2021

I can picture the house I was in on New Year’s Eve 1999, but I don’t remember who it belonged to. Which is odd, actually, that I was willing to go to a stranger’s house on the night when we thought the world might end. I guess you do those kinds of wild and crazy things when you’re 23 years old.

We sat around the living room with our Doritos and sparkling cider (yep, wild and crazy) and watched the ball drop, and when 2000 officially jumped into existence, the lights didn’t go off, the aliens didn’t invade, and there was no mayhem in the streets. I think we all were a little disappointed.

In the same way that everyone waited for the birth of 2000 with fascinated dread, we’re all holding our breath that 2021 will be the opposite. When the clock strikes midnight, we wait in hopeful expectation that all of the disappointment, chaos, and isolation of 2020 will fade away, ushering in a year of prosperity, peace, and happiness. We deserve it, right? Surely the dumpster fire that was 2020 won’t continue for another year?

The chasing of new things seems to be ingrained in human nature. There’s something that dazzles about newness. The shiny new truck, the next new iPhone, even the latest vacuum cleaner. I have a young teenager who, for his birthday, predictably asks for the new version of his favorite video game every single year. We tease him relentlessly about this, since there isn’t much difference between the old and the new. But he remains resolute: He always wants the new one. 

We find hope in new things. There’s a thrill in seeing that new package, enveloped in its shrinkwrap, perfect and pristine. There’s an intoxication with the new relationship, dancing on the clouds, devoid of disappointment. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time the happiness will last.

We were created to love new things. Common grace gives them to us rhythmically–in the dependable sunrise, in the coming of spring, and every January 1st. Hope rises in the clear morning air, in the budding cherry trees, and in the clock that ticks past midnight.

But when the clock struck midnight, Cinderella found herself dressed in rags, holding some mice and a pumpkin. 

Let us not forget that the thrill of these new things are only meant to be symbols, shadows, road signs that point us to our true source of hope. They should not be where our hope lies. 

The problem with misplaced hope is that it is sure to disappoint us. After a few months, the new video game gets boring. The car gets scratches on the door and spilled soda on the seat. The clear spring air dissolves into the muggy heat of summer. And 2021 might not usher in the utopia we are longing for. It could, actually, be worse than 2020. 

If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 

And there lies our hope, firm and steadfast. In Christ, I am a new person. In spite of my circumstances, in spite of whatever kind of year 2021 turns out to be, my inner being is being transformed into something new. The world may fall apart around me, but it will not consume me.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning.

As a New Creation, I have a New Day to look forward to, which will be better than any new gift, any new morning, any new year. When the New Day dawns, it will never end. On that day, I will never be disappointed again.

But it might not happen in 2021. And until then, we wait with eyes turned upward. 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed awayHe who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  

Scripture references: II Cor. 5:17, Lamentations 3, Revelation 21 

When God is Disappointing

The disappointments just keep piling up like dirty laundry in a teenage boy’s bedroom. We were required to leave our overseas home of sixteen years three months early. We didn’t get to say proper good-byes. We finished out the school year in front of screens, including my job as principal. We lived out of suitcases like vagabonds for several months. We didn’t get the chance to reconnect with most friends in the States before we needed to move into a new life. Now that we’ve begun that new life, we’re forbidden to connect here also. The pools are closed, the churches are closed, the schools are closed. Roadblocks are preventing us from all the avenues we usually use to join a new community. Of course, they say I could join an online Bible study (with strangers). That sounds positively dreadful.

I know I shouldn’t complain, and yet I do. This was never what I envisioned as our departure from a country we deeply loved. Now that life is going on without us, our wounds stay open. This is never what I envisioned for our entry back into our passport country. Isolation, a life on hold, waiting and waiting and waiting for the day when it will feel like our new lives have actually started. “Build a RAFT,” they say. “That’s how you transition well.” If transition is supposed to be a raft, then ours has leaks, and we’re not even sitting on it, but holding on to the sides for dear life as we are thrown down the rapids. And we have no idea where or when the end will be.

I know it’s good to grieve, but often it’s turned to bitterness. There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on these days, and I find myself jumping on that bandwagon. I look for someone to blame. Someone in authority over me is making bad decisions and deserves to be vilified. Someone needs to be fixing this mess. And before I know it, I realize that I’m actually blaming God. And then I feel smugly justified in feeling irritated with God because I am prevented from doing good things. After all, my plans for how I was going to love people in my new community were really great. What were you thinking, God?

Yes, I realize how stupid that sounds. Reminding God how much he needs me is a great way to recognize how arrogant I really am. 

There are many things God routinely has to teach me, but the One Big Truth that he keeps coming around to is his sovereignty. He is running the universe; I am not.  

I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’

That means COVID was not an accident. Every single disappointment, from closed schools, to canceled graduations and vacations, to the roadblocks to ministry–all are meticulously ordained by a sovereign God.

I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things. (Is. 45:7)

Some say this belief means I think God is wicked. How can a good God allow so many bad things? Isn’t it obvious that human sin and supernatural evil are the causes of bad things? Indeed. But even evil must fall under God’s sovereign will. If it doesn’t, what would be the alternative? We would have a weak God who isn’t powerful enough to stop evil when he pleases. That’s not a God worthy of our worship.

Margaret Clarkson wrote, “The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident: they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God…. All evil is subject to Him, and evil cannot touch His children unless He permits it. God is the Lord of human history and of the personal history of every member of His redeemed family.’”

Some say this belief makes me fatalistic, that if God is calling all the shots, then where is human choice? Why would we work to make the world better? Why should we plan, vote, protest, strategize? But Scripture is clear that God’s sovereignty does not negate our responsibility. Yes, of course, we push back evil; we strive to extend grace; we fight to bring redemption. But at the end of the day, we rest in knowing that even when we (or those around us) mess up, fail, even destroy–even then, God has allowed it; God has a purpose in it. 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves that God is in control. It’s an easy platitude; we put it on t-shirts and coffee mugs. It can become stale and irrelevant if we say it and don’t mean it; if we write it and don’t live by it. Bitterness, complaining, and unrighteous anger are good indications that it’s time for another reminder. 

Living with the knowledge of God’s sovereignty means that when I’m disappointed, I can grieve the loss without becoming bitter. When I reach the end of my ability to change my situation, I can rest instead of fret. It means that when my plans go haywire, I can trust that God knows what’s best better than I do. He is master of my time, my money, and my health, so I don’t need to let the loss of those things cause me stress. And even when I am prevented from doing my version of good things, I can find freedom in remembering that God doesn’t actually need me. 

Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “You either believe God knows what He’s doing or you believe He doesn’t. You either believe He’s worth trusting or you say He’s not. And then, where are you? You’re at the mercy of chaos not cosmos. Chaos is the Greek word for disorder. Cosmos is the word for order. We either live in an ordered universe or we are trying to create our own reality.”

Grieving an Unfulfilled Dream

by William Jackson 

The reality of living overseas is that you are going to grieve multiple things, deeply. Anyone moving out of their passport country has a dream. Some want to help HIV patients or people who have been trafficked. Others want to plant churches among the Unreached People Groups of the World.

Whatever your dream, it will most likely get crushed. Stomped on. And you are going to have to find a way to realize God isn’t a monster wanting to cause you pain. Grief will, one day, cover you like a blanket, and you will wonder, “How can I see beyond the current struggle I’m in?” The sooner you realize you are grieving, the better.

Countless books are written about dealing with grief after a loved one dies. Without minimizing such deep pain, we can notice that it is quite easy to get resources for these “common griefs.” The pill that is hard to swallow is what can missionaries do when they realize their dreams are dead or dying? The easy answer is to bring immediate comfort to the missionary dealing with grief. But, is this the right solution?

My family moved to South Asia almost 7 years ago. My wife and I were ready to give all, and we did, for the sake of seeing the Church built here. We lived with a Muslim family in a village for 11 months to better learn language and culture. God gave us a wonderful family to enjoy life with, and they still call us to come and celebrate their Islamic festivals with them.

At the end of our “enculturation period” we moved across country to an area with no churches. Over the years we managed to recruit 7 others to come with us and do the hard work of Church Planting. For whatever reason, and I’ll ask God one day, we didn’t see fruit. For 5 years we labored as a team with no converts. We managed to discover two Muslim Background Believers (MBBs) in the city with us, but for various reasons, we never saw trust built between them and some other MBBs living in the surrounding villages. Yet our dream didn’t unravel until team members decided it was time to move on.

Satan attacked our team in various ways. One couple had a conflict with me over team philosophy and left. Another couple had a different discipleship approach from us, so they departed. What made me realize that God was moving things drastically was when one of our single guys on the team began doubting the Christian faith altogether. What was going on?? I thought that I would deal with disappointment and frustrations on the mission field, but to see everything my wife and I labored to build just come unraveled was overwhelming. I floundered in grief before I even knew I was in it.

What is grief? It is simply “mourning the loss of something” (Hill 2018, 30). I had never thought of grief this way until I saw that my dead dream caused such intense agony in my spirit that I couldn’t see a path forward. I previously thought that grief was only something you had to go through when a person close to you died. I was wrong. Grief is an intensely personal issue that people go through, and different people grieve very differently. Some get angry, quiet, introspective, weepy, etc. You can’t always tell when someone is grieving.

In Dr. Hill’s book, she describes 3 stages of grief. They stages are 1) Anger / Denial. 2) No Hope. 3) New Beginnings. (Hill 2018, 31). I appreciated her mentioning that if we seek to build false bridges so that we skip from Villages 1 to 3, we aren’t helping anyone. Telling someone to believe a Bible verse about God’s sovereignty may not be the most useful thing. Making a false bridge doesn’t allow the person to walk the natural path of grief that they need to journey through.

In my experience with grief, it was helpful reading through several articles and books on grief. (You can see my list below.) It was also helpful to talk with a mentor about our current struggles and to reach out to our agency’s Member Care and Area Leader to say “Hey, we’re drowning here!” Just having people tell me that they understand the challenges and are praying for me was a help. (However, we should keep in mind that not all offers for help are actually helpful.)

Today I’m somewhere in between Villages 2 and 3. Thankfully, I can see that my grief has served a purpose. My entire life story wasn’t about creating a team that would be engaged in Church Planting work. This season of life has shown me how much God loves me even if my dreams fail. Even if I never see one person turn to Jesus, or disciple anyone, I’ll be ok. Being His child is more than enough.

I don’t have to achieve my dreams in order to be successful. In fact, I’m pretty sure God won’t allow that to happen. “It is liberating to realize that we don’t have to finish (or see our dreams fulfilled), all we have to be is faithful” (Hart 1995, 211). Even though my dream wasn’t fulfilled, the journey I went on through grief has grown me, so that perhaps one day, I can comfort someone else in their suffering (2 Cor. 1:4).



Articles and books on grief:

Hart, Archibald, Adrenaline and Stress: The Exciting New Breakthrough That Helps You Overcome Stress Damage. Thomas Nelson, 1995.

Hill, Harriet et al. Healing the Wounds of Trauma: Missionary Edition. American Bible Society, 2018.

Langberg, Diane. Suffering and the Heart of God. New Growth Press, 2015.

Lewis, CS. A Grief Observed. Faber and Faber, 1961.

The Holy Bible, New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.


William Jackson, along with his wife and two daughters, are in their seventh year in S. Asia. They enjoy life, spicy food, and the friendly neighbors God keeps bringing their way. Bazaaring, raising kids, operating in a foreign language and culture, and trying to “figure out” Church Planting are some of the ways God uses situations to humble him. He’s thankful that God has this all figured out.

Boxing Match. with God.

I feel like we’re in an epic boxing match with God right now.

And he’s the one most definitely winning.

It’s as if we’re stuck living a bad version of Groundhog Day, the cycle of hope and disappointment playing out in a thousand different scenarios.

It goes a bit like this:

  1. We think God is moving in an area or situation. Circumstances shift to underscore this possibility. And, so . . .

  2. We pray. We get excited. We begin to think, “This is it–the realization of the Dream, the purpose for our lives, the plan God’s been orchestrating all along.”

  3. We taste hope and get drunk with it–  in finances or career, ministry, business, or relationship.

  4. The anticipation rises and gloriously carries us for a few days, until

  5. WHAM! Knock-down, drag-out, smack-down. The opportunity wasn’t at all what we thought. The position got given to someone else. Another donor had to drop us, oh, and the air conditioner just broke. The magazine didn’t like my writing. The ministry already has enough help. The business idea didn’t make any money, after all.  A well-meaning soul hands out gut-punching criticism.

And just like that, we deflate. Hope gets the wind knocked out of her, and we find ourselves on the mat, head spinning and nose bloody, wondering what in the world just happened to our dreams.

But, there’s still some fight left in us, we tell ourselves– at the beginning, at least.  There’s still some fight left.

And, so, we regather. We shake our heads and stand back to our feet, positive that that last experience wasn’t really “it,” anyway, and that God needed to make us stronger with that one, in order to give us this next one. 

But, in the sport of boxing, a fighter only has to taste three knockdowns before the match is called a TKO.  A body and a brain can only be pummeled so much, I guess.

Trouble is, it feels like suffering only three would be a vacation– an experience similar to lounging on the beach sipping little drinks with umbrellas.

Because what we are learning about this cycle we find ourselves spinning in

of hope, expectation, disappointment, and discouragement,

is that it can eventually begin to affect an outlook, a personality, a trust, a person’s ability to hope in the first place.

Because, really, how many times can a fighter get back up?

How. many. times?

Apparently, at least one more.


Fighting anything lately yourself?

Related Posts: on Feeling Hammered {video of my kid battling waves}, on Depression, on Culture Shock/Culture Pain


*from the archives of Laura L. Parker, former aid worker in SE Asia