I was asked by someone yesterday if I was looking forward to everything going back to ‘normal’ once the spread of this coronavirus pandemic is contained. If I’m honest I struggled to answer for a moment, because although I am aware of the disruption and anxiety many are experiencing – I am also aware of the some of the unexpected benefits and crucial lessons we are learning and experiencing.
I don’t want to, in anyway, underestimate or underplay how hard it is for us all right now – but even in this, let’s seek to follow the Bible’s teaching:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4.8-9)
Such things. There are so many true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy things taking place right now – and when we refocus our perspective on what God is doing and inspiring among the church and nation, we see very clearly: “The God of peace will be with you!”
There are lots and lots things I hope will never go “back to normal” in the life of our church, here are just three of them:
1. We are not so building-dependent.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth!” (John 4.23-24)
In John 4 Jesus is having a long conversation with the Samaritan woman. The conversation moves on to talk about the where of worship (a theologically hot topic back in the day and a massively decisive issue between Samaritans and Jews!); mountain here in Samaria or Temple back in Jerusalem. Jesus’ reply graciously demonstrates that the spot itself is simply not the issue – rather it the God we worship who is worthy of the full focus of our attention!
The Father is far less interested in our co-ordinates, and far more interested in the orientation of our heart (1 Samuel 16:7). True worship must be “in spirit and in truth.”
Although there is something so special and precious about gathering together (Jesus’ promise to be present in the midst of us for a start!! Matthew 18:20) we can fall so quickly and easily into the human trap of equating the place to the purpose. Someone sent me a message yesterday to say they’d been reading a reflection that: ‘the church is not closed… only the building.‘ And they are absolutely right.
When Jesus said He would build His Church and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it – He had not commissioned the creation of one single physical building, but a spiritual temple where God could dwell by His Spirit (1 Peter 2:4-5). I am happy to report today that Jesus is not on lockdown! He has not self-isolated Himself from His Church! The Holy Spirit is not socially distancing Himself from the people of God! The work continues on unprevailed – Jesus is building His Church, today and tomorrow and till the end of time.
So we can’t physically meet in a building for a while (by the way, some of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are never able to have that luxury) – but the ways in which we are discovering to connect, to serve, to gather around His Word, to seek His face have already been so powerful that even when we are able to meet again I hope we never stop using all means necessary to spread His Word and bring Him glory!
2. We are getting creative in connecting.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching!” (Hebrews 10.24-25)
While it is certainly true that we have had to “consider how” we can spur one another on – this challenge certainly hasn’t stopped the “encouraging one another” from going on!
Live streaming, youtube channels, whatsApp groups, Zoom meetings, Skype as well as the old fashioned telephone have all been utilized in ways like never before – and this is only early days! My sense is that we are connecting with each other far more than we were before, and seeking to support each other and inspire one another’s faith more than ever before – and I honestly hope and pray that that will never change.
The real challenge now will be to keep on doing it, “and all the more” (as Hebrews tells us) as the new normal gets more normal for us.
3. We are praying earnestly for our church and nation.
“From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.” (Psalm 61:2)
Something happens to us when our hearts are overwhelmed – we ‘cry out’ in an instinctive, deep and honest way. When our foundations shake and crumble we become aware that we need to stand upon “the Rock”! We often sing about Christ being our cornerstone – but it only really when the storm comes that we truly realize where we have been building our foundations (Matthew 7:24-27)!
We have been greatly humbled, we are being reminded powerfully about how frail and fragile we really are – but this humility affords us a greater view of “The Rock that is higher than I”! The calls to prayer have been coming thick and fast, and as a church it feels like we are crying out to God more now than I can ever remember – and to me, that is incredibly exciting.
Any student of revival knows that there has not been one major move of God’s Spirit that was not first preceded by a renewed hunger for prayer within the people of God. Speaking personally, even if it takes being on lockdown to shake me and take me there – I hope I never go back to a place where I drift into self-reliance and spiritual apathy.
I am praying for God to move sovereignly in this situation, (He is the God who can always do immeasurably more than I ask or imagine!) but I am also praying that the good that God is able to bring out of this situation (Genesis 50:20) will have a very real and long lasting impact on how we think of His ‘Church’ from this point on.
With loads and love and prayers for all,