The year 2020 was an extraordinary experience. There are very few who look at the year with gratitude, and the 2020 jokes are everywhere. A whole new set of words have become standard, such as COVID-19 and social distancing. While we long for “the good old days,” we look with anticipation for a new, “COVID-free” year.

The loss of life has been horrendous. Hardly anyone has been untouched personally or through a close friend or acquaintance. We will never regain this loss. We are all grieving deeply.

But if we believe in the sovereignty of God; if we look for His purposes; if we genuinely believe that He “works all things together for good” to those who are loving Him and are called to be conformed to His Son’s image; then we must think biblically about the year.

Here are eight thoughts that could change our perspective about 2020. What has God accomplished through this pandemic, and why?

1. We have been stripped of that which has been distracting us.

In just six weeks, the entire world was shut down in early 2020. Many things we lived for were wrenched from our hands: sports, entertainment, travel, independence, health, financial stability, community … the list is long. The church was not spared. The ministries and norms we held up as a sign of our health were suddenly gone.

Many of these things had become gods to us—idols we worshiped and lived for. Jesus gave a gracious but strong rebuke to a friend He loved because she had been drawn away from that which was most important:

Mary … was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations. … But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:39-42 NASB).

Few Christians pre-COVID were giving undistracted devotion to Jesus. We had been lured away from Him by cheap substitutes. Our time, money, and attention were more diverted than anyone wanted to admit.

In 2020, most of these distractions were removed, and we learned there is much we can do without. We would be wise to carefully evaluate what, if anything, should be re-introduced into our lives.

2. We have been pushed into New Testament Christianity.

The most effective moments of real Christianity have always occurred when the church is laser-focused on a few primary things—loving Jesus and our neighbors, studying the Word, prayer, genuine community, ministry, generosity, and a relentless witness to a needy world. All of these were accomplished in the New Testament world with minimal resources. But what they did rely on was the power of the Holy Spirit.

Most pastors I know are re-thinking how to establish the simplicity of Acts 2 Christianity. How has the church survived (and thrived) in persecuted countries? under harsh government control? when they have had little access to buildings? when there is little money and time for extensive programming?

Hasn’t an undistracted church been far more effective in its mission?

What if we began the next season with a clear focus on the few things that matter, that would genuinely advance God’s kingdom? Saddleback Church has reported seeing 16,000 people come to Christ in 2020, and 12,000 were through one-on-one witness. Every one of us must learn to do the same.

3. Many professing believers have left us.

The apostle John noticed a telling reality in the early church:

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us (1 John 2:19).

Jesus had warned his disciples about this possibility. He prophesied that there would be chaff along with the wheat in the church. The presence of professing Christians among real believers would open the door to the Enemy’s presence in the church in debilitating ways.

Everyone understands that many people cannot attend now. But many who attended in the past are not engaging anywhere, even online.

Is this a devastating loss? Some of those who have left may be disenchanted Christians. But many may not have been Christians at all. Their presence inflated the statistics of the church while giving no spiritual power. Many of these people never gave, never served, and were often a poor witness to a watching world.

While we all want to reach everyone, could this loss in our churches’ inflated membership be a blessing, trimming the church back to an authentic membership and greater possibility of a vibrant, serving church?

4. Light and darkness have become clearer.

Isolation and loss have brought out the worst in us. In a highly political year, we’ve seen the depths of our humanity. We’ve experienced anger, racism, despicable social media tantrums, rioting in the streets, wanton violence, and seemingly irreconcilable differences. The value of such darkness’s visibility is that now we know, more clearly than ever, what we’re dealing with.

A nation that forgets God is in serious trouble. The future will be exponentially worse if we do not repent. A scan through history will tell us what we’re capable of if we walk away from our Creator.

The pandemic did not create what we have seen; it just revealed it. It is healthy for the church to more clearly see herself and the world we live in, and note the desperate need for Jesus Christ.

5. Families have been forced into greater community.

The final prophecy of the Old Testament concerned the coming of John the Baptist and the Sun of Righteousness who would “restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:6).

The downfall of a nation begins with the disconnection of parents from their children—when a society becomes fatherless; when work and sports and “my time” pull parents away from their primary responsibility to raise the next generation to be disciples of Jesus.

COVID-19 forced families together. Some resisted this closer proximity, but others embraced it, adjusting their schedules and growing dramatically closer. Children certainly have not objected to parents being with them, teaching them, and blessing them with greater security by tighter family bonds.

God’s prescription for discipling the next generation has never changed. It is the only path to spiritual success.

“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).

6. Eternity is closer.

In November of 2020, my ten-year-old grandson died of a rare brain tumor. Carter had become a Christian the year before his diagnosis. For our family, eternity is very real. Heaven is close. Although hard, we now live in greater ways with the frailty and brevity of life.

My older brother told me that he has lost eight dear friends through COVID-19. Eternity has not become a reality during 2020; it was always a reality. But the visibility of death has forced us to realize our mortality. We have seen our frailty and need to prepare ourselves and others for eternity.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4:13-14).

No one should be more awakened by a worldwide pandemic than the church, whose sole mission is to prepare people for eternity. The result of hundreds of thousands of deaths around us should stir us to serve God and others with more evangelistic zeal, more urgency, more passion.

7. We have been humbled.

Pastors are wonderful men, devoted to their mission. But if you gathered a group of pastors pre-COVID, you would hear some boasting in all of us. Some was subtle, some more direct, but every pastor struggles with the desire to speak of their high attendance, successful programs, financial success, etc.

The problem with this vanity is that God despises it. It indicates to Him that we have forgotten the source.

What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Three times in Scripture, God reminds us that He resists the proud but will pour out His enabling grace on the humble. Pride is the wellspring for every sin. God simply will not bless a proud person, a proud leader, or a proud church.

Most of our boasting ceased in 2020. Our statistical numbers were decimated. Our mouths were shut.

We would do well to keep them closed. Perhaps it would open the way for God to use us again in ways that fully glorify Him alone.

8. We could be on the verge of a spiritual awakening.

If you have studied church history, you will notice that nationwide revival in the church and spiritual awakening among the lost have always occurred during the darkest times. It is here that the church realizes its depravity and begins to cry out for that which only God can do.

More prayer has happened in 2020 than perhaps any other year in recent memory. Millions have cried out to God across the world.

And God is always uniquely moved by a united cry. If spiritual awakening comes, the pain of 2020 will be viewed as birth pangs to perhaps the most extraordinary spiritual movement in history.

It’s time to stop griping about 2020. The year was hard, but a complaining spirit in the midst of divine providence is an indictment to us. It’s a clear indication that we’ve missed the point. We have failed to find God, although He is always here and is not silent.

Where repentance is needed, we should turn quickly and fully. If the church will return to the Lord and adjust to His simple, unadulterated mission and methods with a humble heart, God will hear and forgive and heal our land. He has promised it!