Remember where we were at this time last year? After the disruption of a pandemic year, we looked with hope as the calendar page turned. Racial and political tensions, natural disasters, and COVID-19 had crippled our lives. Surely, the coming year would be better.
As we face the close of this year, though, it’s not hard to acknowledge that our optimism fell far short. For many of us, 2021 didn’t offer greener pastures but more of the same parched wasteland we’ve come to know. For two years now, we’ve struggled to stay healthy and to connect to one another. We’ve watched gas prices soar, church sanctuaries empty, and virus rapid tests sell out. Death and discord have weighed down our hearts with world-weariness.
If our vice last year was unrealistic optimism, this year I fear that too many of us look to the coming year with pessimism and despair. Like God’s people, the wandering Israelites, we see desert loneliness spread out toward the horizon. Financial, relational, and health difficulties stretch into the new year as far as we can see. We’ve grown weary of lamenting, “How long, O Lord?” (Ps. 13:1–2), and our doubts are beginning to grow. As a new year dawns, we’re left wondering like our ancient brothers and sisters, “Why did you bring us out here? . . . What have you done to us?” (Ex. 14:11–13, NLT).
How do we face a new year when hope feels so thin? Without the wind of optimism to fill our sails, how can we launch forward into the future with all of its unknowns? How can we continue to sing the Lord’s song in a land filled with grief and disappointment and perpetual struggle?
The landscape of 2022 may hardly look different from the year that is passing, but we can be assured: God is still working. We can face the new year with hope as we watch for God’s hand moving in little ways, knowing that his small provisions reflect the greater mysterious movements of a gracious and sovereign God.
We can face the new year with hope as we watch for God’s hand moving in little ways.
Look for the Manna
If you anticipate another year of tight finances and strained relationships, commit to looking for the manna in 2022. Instead of complaining, step outside your door each morning and look for provision. God promised the Israelites that manna would arrive like rain in the desert, new mercies deposited like room service before their tent doors each morning. That same promise remains for you.
If looking forward with hope feels hard, simply look beneath your feet. Praise God for the small daily provisions of your life. A beautiful sunrise, a hot cup of coffee, a computer that works, or a friend who texts. No gift is too insignificant. Name the manna, claim it as God’s gift to you, and devour it, letting its nourishment be enough for today.
Remember Your Red Sea
As they walked through the desert for 40 years, how many times did Moses and Miriam sing softly those words they shouted with gusto beside the Red Sea? “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea” (Ex. 15:1). As dust covered their feet, when blowing sand obscured their vision, those words pulled them forward with their steady rhythm. Even when God’s goodness was hard to see, Moses and Miriam could remember his work on their behalf.
In my childhood, I would sometimes attend mid-week prayer meetings with my grandparents at their small Baptist church. Faithful prayer warriors would gather to intercede for the congregation. People shared requests, but mid-week prayer wasn’t just a divine helpline. Often, prayer would turn to testimony as believers claimed God’s lovingkindness in the midst of petition. When health diagnoses sounded bleak, when purses were small, these saints rehearsed God’s tremendous work from the past.
As we step into this new year, we can do the same. Are you longing for God to move in big ways in 2022? Does his seeming absence in your pain cause you to doubt his goodness? If you’re struggling to have hope for the future, remember your own Red Sea. Rehearse your old and well-worn songs of praise, and bring your stories of God’s past provision to speak into your current pain. The landscape of your sorrow may be vast, but it’s not unending. The God who loved you in years past accompanies you into the year ahead.
The God who loved you in years past accompanies you into the year ahead.
Expect Water from a Rock
Despair keeps our expectations low. We hedge our bets on the future by hoping for less. We hesitate to get excited about anything because we’re just not sure goodness is possible anymore. We may call ourselves realists, but if despair drives our perspective on the future, our mindset is an unhealthy pessimism.
COVID surges around the country, and school shootings still make the news. Loved ones die, and wars and famines mar the global landscape. When we consider how bad life is, it can be easy to despair. How could God fix this mess now? Is it too far gone? When despair looms large, God calls us to the desperate faith of Moses in the desert. He tells us, “I am who I am”—the daily Provider, the mighty Savior, the sovereign God (Ex. 3:14). And he implores us to have faith—to expect water from a rock.
Poor, beleaguered Moses approached God on behalf of his thirsty tribe. The noise of thousands of angry, hungry, tired people rang in his ears. He knew God was good, that he could provide; but those voices wore down his hope. “What am I to do?” he cried out, and God’s miracle of water from a rock silenced the crowd.
Do you expect God to work in amazing ways in 2022? Or have you hedged your disappointment with lower expectations? When you pray, does despair have the loudest voice? If the future feels bleak as you step into this new year, remember: in the midst of a pandemic, this is still God’s world and he has control over it in every way. God can do the impossible in your life. You too can expect water from a rock.
Jesus assured his followers: if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, it could move mountains. Left on our own, we could never muster enough faith for hope in a new year. But, thanks be to God, his sovereign goodness reigns over all our days. As we place our trust in him and rehearse his promises, we can step into this new year with true hope. Despair and pessimism need not mark the 2022 calendar. God goes before us and walks beside us. As you enter this new year, then, “fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today” (Ex. 14:13).