Like all of you, I have been trying to adjust to a new normal. Coronavirus, social distancing, shelter-in-place, flattening the curve, and online worship have all become household terms overnight and our world seems very different than it did a few weeks ago. Nearly everyone I know is trying to do their part to help prevent the spread of this virus and be a good neighbor, but in addition to “stay home” and “wash your hands,” here are three more things I think we need to remember during this challenging time.
1. Bad news doesn’t change the Good News.
We have a tendency to take our future for granted. We have things all planned out: school, work, vacations, retirement, etc. We plan our week, our month, and our year, assuming it will pretty much go according to plan. We forget the words of James (James 4:13-16), who says these assumptions about tomorrow are arrogant:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
If we’re not careful, we lose sight of the fact that our goal is NOT for these plans to come to fruition. Our real goal has nothing to do with attending a certain college, having a great career, taking exotic vacations, or retiring with lots of money in the bank. These things might be nice and make life more comfortable, but none of them are certain and they can even be a distraction from our actual goal.
Our goal and our pursuit is God’s eternal kingdom. Our goal is to live right now, in this very moment, as kingdom people; living with kingdom hope and kingdom joy, anxiously awaiting the day when we inherit a world where God reigns, all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28). We have a King who died to give us the riches of this inheritance and a Father who longs to show us “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).
No shortage of toilet paper, virus, economic downturn, or job loss, can change the fact that the kingdom is our hope, our joy, our present, and our future. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:35-39,
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Good News is still the best news and no amount of bad news will ever change it.
2. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Unfortunately, this pandemic is not likely to end in a matter of days. We may be looking at months of social distancing and modified ways of living our lives. As we said a moment ago, we do not know what the future holds. It would be nice if all this blew over in a couple of weeks, but it doesn’t look as if that will be the case.
With that in mind, words that will become increasingly important in our vocabulary are “patience” and “endurance.” As this pandemic drags on, our neighbors and our Christian brothers and sisters will need more help and more encouragement. Our energy, finances, and even faith will likely be stretched to its limit.
So, we must “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We must pray for the Spirit to fill us and produce his fruit within us. We must be careful not to lose our patience with our community leaders, our neighbors, or our families. We are all in this together and you and I have the gift of the Spirit to empower us to live lives full of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
We can’t set our hope on the brevity of the situation, but on God who will empower us to remain steadfast no matter how long it takes.
3. Gatherings should shape us, not enslave us.
Finally, as Christians, most of us are unable to gather together in person with our church families during this time.
Our Sunday morning gatherings are important. Being together, singing songs of praise, sharing the cup and bread, praying, and be encouraged to live out the Gospel, these activities shape our character and our faith. I have gathered nearly every week of my life to engage in these faith-shaping activities and they are among my greatest joys. I anxiously long to resume gathering with my Christian family as soon as this pandemic subsides.
That said, we ought not feel God is somehow angry with us for not being able to gather in person during this time. If my wife were in the hospital and unable to come to home for dinner, I would not be angry with her. If I was stuck in another city because of a snow storm, my wife would not be angry that I did not help her tuck the kids into bed at night. Eating supper with the family and engaging in bedtime routines are important, but we are not slaves to these activities. We don’t become unfaithful spouses or parents if we are somehow hindered from participating in them for awhile.
Sunday gatherings are important. But, perhaps, not important for the reason some insist. I’m convinced God is not nearly as concerned with our attendance, as he is with our transformation. He wants us to gather together not to fill a seat, but to fill our hearts. When we gather, our hearts are filled with the Gospel, with love for him, and with love for our neighbor (see Colossians 3:12-17).
The right sort of church attendance actually shapes us into people who prioritize certain things over church attendance itself. A lifetime of hearing and singing the Gospel with our church families has shaped us into the kind of people who would rather endure the pain of missing the assembly than the possibility of endangering our neighbor. Moving our services online in order to protect our neighbors is exactly the sort of thing our assemblies have been training us to do all along.
The Gospel shapes us into people who prioritize mercy over sacrifice (Matthew 12:7).
I love you and God loves you,