Things Can Only Get Better

A message of December 27, 2020 for Akron Alliance Fellowship Church, Akron OH:

For audio of this message, please click here.

Today, I’m presenting a message with a little bit of levity.  It’s been such a heavy time for all of us for almost ten full months now, and it’s time to look forward to the New Year with the expectation that good things are indeed ahead of us.  We are still in a pandemic, and it may continue for a little while longer, but I’m prayerful that, with an open heart and mind, you’ll hear this special message.  It’s a message of hopefulness and remaining steadfast in your faith in Jesus Christ.

I was watching the local news earlier this past week, and my wife and I saw something that we thought was rather unusual.  It came from the words of Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield during his post-game press conference with the local media.  Apparently, he was finding a way to use pop culture references within his answers to the media’s questions.  Now, everyone knows that press conferences for virtually any sport are fraught with clichés and sports metaphors.  They are very repetitive in nature and can be boring whether the team wins or not; however, Mayfield was using the lyrics of songs from the group “TLC” during this presser to describe the mood and attitudes of himself and his teammates:

“We don’t want no scrubs, we have some dogs outside.”

“Stay in there and realize as long as we don’t go chasin’ waterfalls we’re gonna be in the game.”

“Gonna get knocked back and able to creep, creep back in and overcome those penalties.” 1

These references are hilarious to me!  And these were not accidental.  Apparently, every week, he has an agreement with his other team members who play quarterback that if he fails to make a pop culture reference during the news conference, then he will get fined.  It’s a silly thing, for sure, but it certainly makes the press conference more interesting if not outright enjoyable.

This made me think even more about the importance of music and pop culture.  I wasn’t a huge fan of TLC, but I knew about their songs.  As I was reflecting on today’s message—a New Year’s message—I was becoming more and more nostalgic as I looked back in time for something that reminded me of good news and positivity.  It’s a natural way for all of us to overcome periods of negativity and outright bad news.  We all try to do this, and hopefully we are successful in the end.

One of the best ways I do this is through music.  (I have drawn upon songs in pop culture in the past with a least a couple of my messages.)  Music has had a huge impact on my life as a way of coping with emotional moments, and even those when you are unsure of the outcome.  And that is what this year was all about.

This year started with hope and is ending with a myriad of emotions.  Many of us can’t wait to turn the page of the calendar into 2021.  After a year like this one, I concluded that things can only get better.  And that’s the name of the song that came to mind. 

In 1985, thirty-five years ago, British singer and songwriter Howard Jones wrote and performed, Things Can Only Get Better. 2

Things can only get better.

This is a more than appropriate theme song—at least for this message—as we move from 2020 into 2021.

Interestingly, there were a lot of things that happened in 1985 where people were fearful, looking for hope and yearning for brighter days ahead.  Within a year of the release of this song, there was famine relief for Africa (USA for Africa), AIDS was at epidemic levels, there were a number of terrorist attacks and natural disasters, and the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded upon liftoff.  This was a very turbulent time in America.

Howard Jones wrote this song to pick people up through a very tough time.  That was his style.  He said in 2006:  “My songs are not about drug-taking or debauchery or rock and roll. They’re about positive thinking and challenging people’s ideas.  I wasn’t fashionable.  I never got good reviews.  But I’m proud of the fact that I wasn’t liked by the media.”3  He may not have been a media favorite, but this song was quite popular upon its release in 1985—it was #6 on the UK Singles Chart and #5 in the United States on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  It also crossed over to the R&B charts in America, peaking at #54.  Perhaps you may remember it.  To stay focused on the message, I will play the song for you later, but let’s look at the lyrics.  They read like poetry:

“We’re not scared to lose it all

Security throw through the wall

Future dreams we have to realize

A thousand skeptic hands

Won’t keep us from the things we plan

Unless we’re clinging to the things we prize

And do you feel scared, I do

But I won’t stop and falter

And if we threw it all away

Things can only get better

Treating today as though it was

The last, the final show

Get to sixty and feel no regret

It may take a little time

A lonely path, an uphill climb

Success or failure will not alter it

And do you feel scared, I do

And I won’t stop and falter

And if we threw it all away

Things can only get better.” 4

You’ll see that while the message is a simple one, it is drawing attention to the importance of releasing what you’re holding on to and not allowing fear to keep you in a place of stagnation.  Let’s take a look at this first stanza more deeply:

“We’re not scared to lose it all

Security throw through the wall

Future dreams we have to realize

A thousand skeptic hands

Won’t keep us from the things we plan

Unless we’re clinging to the things we prize”

What does Satan do to prevent you from wanting to move forward through a difficult situation?

  • He instills panic and fearfulness. 
  • He builds upon one’s insecurity.
  • He dims and blurs your vision of the future.
  • He makes you more comfortable in holding on to skepticism.

Each of these points hamper your relationship with Jesus Christ.

Much of what we have been exposed to over the course of this year is a lot of information about the virus and the pandemic.  Much of it was valuable.  Some of it, upon reflection, may have been overblown, but the result of too much information over a period of time can create a state of mind that is commonly referred to as “analysis paralysis.”  We have a right to be well-informed at times like this, but there is also a psychological effect on each one of us when we are hammered with data day after day after day.  It can cause us to get stuck in the mud and feel as though there is no escape.  When you’re sheltering in place, you can see how this can be a huge problem.

This is where it is very important to be in a routine that brings you back to where you need to be.  It is a reliance upon the presence of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ.

Psalm 40:1-3 BSB

1 For the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. I waited patiently for the LORD; He inclined to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me up from the pit of despair, out of the miry clay; He set my feet upon a rock, and made my footsteps firm. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.

This is just one verse in the Psalms (and there are many others) that emphasize how God can bring about greater certainty in your life to help you overcome uncertainty.  God’s Word has many great reminders as to how to live in a healthy manner.

Take a look at the next set of lyrics in the song:

“And do you feel scared, I do

But I won’t stop and falter

And if we threw it all away

Things can only get better”

Note that there is an expectation of fearfulness during a difficult time:

“And do you feel scared…I do.”

Fear can be paralyzing.  It provides no solace or comfort.  It only dispirits you.  It keeps you from making rational decisions.  It keeps you from realizing God’s presence and His goodness.  This is another symptom of analysis paralysis…fearfulness.  Fear of the unknown.  All of the protocols of today that must be followed in order to lessen the probability of catching a virus.

Let’s spend a moment addressing our fears.  We have fear when there are unknowns involved. 

The song’s lyric does not hide from fear.  It recognizes it. 

And now it’s time to deal with it.  We are to face our fears with the power of God in our lives.

Isaiah 41:10 ESV

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Philippians 4:6-7 ESV

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 56:3 ESV

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.

2 Timothy 1:7 ESV

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Psalm 34:4 ESV

I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.

When things appear at their worst, we are given encouragement by the presence of the Holy Spirit to look beyond the present.

Things can only get better.

Note…there is also a very popular expression that says “things can’t get any worse.”  If you look at this statement closely, it is, in fact, an acknowledgment that things CAN and DO get worse.  It’s almost as if making such a statement is actually a precursor that things are really bad now and that they really can get worse.  It is a statement of pessimism, for sure.  Well, I would much rather look towards a better tomorrow than dwell upon a really bad present situation, and that has everything to do with your outlook.

Satan wants to see God’s people live in discouragement.  He wants to see you live as the world does…without the need for faith and without hope.

God’s Word gives clarity and leads those lacking in faith to have hope and expectations for a good outcome.

Romans 12:12 ESV

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

Romans 15:13 ESV

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

He does not want you to dwell on how things can’t get any worse, but rather have the expectation that good things are around the corner.  Things can only get better.

If there is nothing positive in this moment that you can point to, then we need to focus on God’s love for us in that He gave of Himself in order for each and every one of us to experience a life of eternity with Him (John 3:16).

James 1:12 ESV

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Now, please consider this point…even if you were to lose everything you owned in a natural disaster, would you be able to move forward?

I’ve learned a lot from this passage in Habakkuk.  I hope that I never experience anything close to what Habakkuk prayed about during the ravaging of his country, but his response, in my opinion, is epic.

Habakkuk 3:16-19 ESV

16 I hear, and my body trembles;

    my lips quiver at the sound;

rottenness enters into my bones;

    my legs tremble beneath me.

Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble

    to come upon people who invade us.

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,

    nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

    and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

    and there be no herd in the stalls,

18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

19 God, the Lord, is my strength;

    he makes my feet like the deer’s;

    he makes me tread on my high places.

Can you find it in your heart to rejoice in the midst of fear and devastation?  It is all about your faith and drawing strength and courage from none other than Jesus Christ.  To paraphrase from John 14, verse 6, He is the way, the truth and the life to peace, strength and security.

The next stanza in the lyrics of our song is also a declaration as to how we are to live in the midst of uncertainty:

“Treating today as though it was

The last, the final show

Get to sixty and feel no regret

It may take a little time

A lonely path, an uphill climb

Success or failure will not alter it”

Here, we are reminded of the importance of living your life in such a manner, to use a sports metaphor, where you don’t leave anything on the field.  Another way to state this is to live each day as if it is your last.  There will be successes and there will be failures, and there will be times where you will feel as though you are alone and all of the paths taken will be difficult.  What’s the lesson here?

Is it to give up and stop trying, or is it to stay the course and persevere?

What does Jesus tell us to do when we are uncertain of the outcome?  He tells us to keep after it.

Matthew 7:7-8 NIV

7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

James 1:2-4 ESV

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

In spite of fearfulness, in spite of obstacles, in spite of setbacks, in spite of all odds, you are to persevere and keep trying as you seek after the Lord. 

The Holy Spirit is your Advocate to overcome everything that you face.  Everything that you have faced during this pandemic can be overcome if you consistently seek after the Lord.  Remember, Satan wants to distract you in a number of ways.  God wants you to remember Him in order for you to experience success.

1 Chronicles 16:11 ESV

Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!

Success is not always measured in victories.  Success may mean getting by from day to day.  But even in setbacks, you’re not really losing any ground in Jesus!

Our ultimate victory is in Jesus, our eternal Savior.

1 Corinthians 15:57-58 CSB

57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

So after all is said and done, with the kind of year that we had, it’s time to get ready to turn the page as we move into the New Year.

Things can only get better.  And things will get better.

Jesus will see to it.

Have a Happy New Year, Everyone.

© 2020 Melvin Gaines

Music:

“Things Can Only Get Better”

Music and Lyrics by Howard Jones

Published by Howard Jones Music Ltd., all rights for the world controlled by Warner Bros. Music Ltd., all rights for the Western Hemisphere administered by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp., (BMI)

© 1985 WEA Records Ltd.

1 MSN. 2020. Baker Mayfield Quotes TLC To Discuss Browns’ Week 15 Win. [online] Available at: <https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/nfl/baker-mayfield-quotes-tlc-to-discuss-browns-e2-80-99-week-15-win/ar-BB1c6KMp&gt; [Accessed 22 December 2020].

2 Wikipedia contributors. (2020, December 16). Howard Jones (English musician). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:25, December 23, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Howard_Jones_(English_musician)&oldid=994675499

3 Lee, Marc (2006, August 9). “How Howard changed his tune.” The Daily Telegraph [Accessed 25 December 2020].

4 Jones, H., 2020. Things Can Only Get Better Lyrics. [online] AZLyrics.com. Available at: <https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/howardjones/thingscanonlygetbetter.html&gt; [Accessed 23 December 2020].

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