By: Nathan Hart
I can point to one main thing that sustained me through the challenges of 2020: the inexhaustible grace of God. On my own, I would have become overwhelmed, desperate, or unable to cope. But by the grace of God, I am still standing, whole and hopeful as ever. I sensed the presence of God with me in the gauntlet hour by hour. The reality of God’s gracious presence was conveyed to me through the music, books, and programs listed below. (For the complete list, along with links to the resources, visit my website: www.nathanhart.og).
I can’t imagine enduring 2020 without the worshiping community of Stanwich Church and the songs we sang together. In March and April, when the panic of the pandemic landed on our shores, Katie Nelson Troyer (our Praise Team Leader at Stanwich) led the congregation in a song entitled Reign Above It All. In the chorus we sang, “You [God] reign above it all, you reign above it all. Over the Universe and over every heart.” These words were such a comforting reminder that even though we all were surprised by the pandemic and what it wrought, there is a divine authority who sovereignly reigns over every twist and turn of human history. While the earth shakes, God is still upon his throne and right here among us.
Another song that sustained me is called Graves Into Gardens. The lyrics really helped me see some redemption amidst the turmoil. That’s how things work for people of faith—they have eyes to see how God can “turn mourning to dancing, give beauty for ashes,” and “turn shame into glory.” With his resurrection, Jesus turned a grave into a garden. And even now, he can offer that same kind of redemption in our worst-case scenarios. If you look for them with the eyes of faith, redemption stories are happening all around us.
New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional by Paul David Tripp. This devotional pointed me to the never-ending love of God with profound and accessible daily reflections. On some days Tripp’s writings hit me like a ton of bricks; on others, like a gentle breeze.
A Credible Witness: Reflections on Power, Evangelism and Race by Brenda Salter McNeil. Obviously racial reconciliation was a huge topic in our nation in 2020. There were many secular/partisan books on the subject, but this one richly describes racial reconciliation as an outflow of the reconciling power of the gospel and near to the heart of God. Amen to that.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. During the springtime quarantine period, my family gathered each evening as I read a chapter or two from Anne Frank. My twelve-year-old son and ten-year-old daughter are the perfect age to hear about young Anne’s excruciating experience. Learning about her “lockdown” and what followed, which was far worse than our predicament, gave us some much-needed perspective. It bonded us as a family.
Television and Film:
Ted Lasso. What if a truly non-cynical, gracious person was placed into our world of revenge and selfishness? Ted Lasso answers that question. On the surface it’s a farce (be warned about the cussing) but deep down I believe Ted Lasso is some sort of (imperfect) Christ figure showing us the world-changing power of grace and kindness.
Formula 1: Drive to Survive. It took me a while to figure out why my wife and I have become so engrossed in this documentary, even to the point of following current Formula 1 races. I think it’s simply because it brings us out of the pettiness of U.S. politics and reminds us of some the wonder and drama in the rest of the developed world.
The Social Dilemma. It might seem strange that such a disturbing documentary would be included on this list of examples of God’s sustaining grace. But this movie offers hope, on some level, in the form of a proper diagnosis of two of the major ailments of our society: isolation and division. I consider this movie to be required viewing for all Americans. With a proper diagnosis we can hopefully begin the collective cure.
May God’s grace continue to sustain and redeem us all through this winter and beyond.