We are gradually coming to terms with the massive changes that have gripped our world in the last few weeks. I have written about 7 temptations we will face in isolation, 7 spheres in which we should be confident in God’s Word during this time, and 7 tips for preaching online.
Now, here are 7 changes that we should pray through at this time:
1. New restrictions on travel– My calendar has suddenly cleared for several months. It used to be so easy to jump in the car and drive, or to book a flight and visit another country. Hopefully this restriction will ease in time, but let’s not simply focus on what we are missing. God remains omnipresent, even if our attempts to be omnipresent are thwarted. Maybe this change can stir us to pray more fervently for situations we would love to influence, and to be more present where God has put us (our families are our primary ministry, after all).
2. New humility in plans– Will we be able to hold that conference next year? Will we be able to fulfil that preaching commitment in October? We don’t know. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. So we ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will … do this or that.” (James 4:13-17) God knows what is coming; He always has, and we never have. Maybe this can stir a greater humility in us all, even when restrictions ease.
3. New uncertainty of life– What James writes in 4:13-17 includes reference to our lives being like a vanishing mist: “If the Lord wills, we will liveand do this or that.” When this crisis started, so much was said about only the over-70s or people with underlying health issues dying from COVID-19. Somehow many people felt relieved, until they started to think about who that might include. Now we are hearing more stories of younger, healthy people dying from it. In actuality, death has always been a real and present threat for us all, even before this crisis. And God has always been God. We may well be immortal until His work for us on earth is finished, but it probably doesn’t hurt us to feel our mortality more and to let that drive us to our knees.
4. New concerns about money– Will we be able to survive these next weeks? Will our income disappear? Will government help be enough? Will our countries recover after this? The certainty we felt financially just a few weeks ago has evaporated for many of us. Whether we have a stable salary, or live on completely unpredictable support from others, let’s remember that God is our provider. He always was, and He has not changed. Our lives may change. Our fervency in prayer may change. But remember John 21, when the disciples were getting used to the fact that everything had changed for them following the death and resurrection of the soon departing Jesus, and then Jesus cooked them a breakfast of bread and fish beside the Sea of Galilee …I provided miraculously when we fed the 5000 here, and I continue to provide for you now.
5. New recognition of need in our churches– I remember a few weeks ago when I could say, “Things are going well in our church … of course there are one or two difficult situations, but generally things are going well.” Seems like a long time ago now. Now every family unit that I think about is facing threat of death, loss of income, no work or overwhelming work, marital tensions, parenting complexities, loneliness, etc. God has always seen our need as it really is. Maybe this crisis is making vivid to us all just how needy the flock of God’s people really are. Perhaps this insight should go with us as we carry our people before God in prayer, whatever a future newfound cultural complacency may suggest. Our people need God. So we pray.
6. New feelings of restriction and inadequacy in ministry– As the five previous changes hit us, we realise not only the difficulties of those we serve, but also our own inadequacy to really help. We don’t even have regular church meetings for face-to-face fellowship and those opportunities to sense that someone isn’t doing so well. As people who minister to others, we should be feeling a profound sense of inadequacy at this time. We can’t protect anybody from the virus (although we can help by not breaking government guidelines). We can’t financially carry every situation in our church (although we are called to stand together and share what we have). We can’t do the job of doctors, nurses, vital delivery drivers, etc. (although we can support them in prayer and encouragement). We are significantly limited. But our God is not. He never was. He hasn’t changed. Our experience has just clarified to us that we are not God.
7. New awareness of gospel need all around –Remember when people were comfortable, secure, invincible, and happy in their hobbies? Now we are surrounded by people with a genuine fear of death, combined with genuine concerns about how they will provide for their families in the coming months. Our continent is humbled. And we are stuck in isolation with some restrictions on spreading the gospel. But God’s Word is not chained. Over the garden fence, through the internet, by phone call … the good news of Jesus has always flourished most in times of real struggle. God has faithfully carried His people through pestilence, plague, persecution, and war all through history. And all through history it has been the most difficult times that have led to the greatest growth in the church. It feels like we are living a key moment in history right now – may it be a key moment in the history of church growth too!
During this Coronavirus crisis I have started making short Bible reading highlight videos. If you find these helpful, please share them with others. Thanks.