We are experiencing something so unusual and unique, certainly as a nation, but truly as a world. There have been pandemics before our time, and we can read about them in our history books. We know just a little about the Black Plague that swept pre-printing press Europe, we know a bit more about the global Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918, But now we have such amazing techonology which allows us to have instant updates each day, then endless commentary about each update in real time. We certainly know just about everything about this Coronavirus, even what most people are thinking about it - except the one very big unknown of where this might all be going in the immediate future.
We are all faced with just a few options for reaction:
-we can pretend nothing is wrong and ignore all of the news and all of our neighbors
-we can give into fear and panic, and sink into despair
-we can turn to God and see what He has to say to us in a time like this.
We are learning in real time why it is so important to practice a healthy devotional life in “peacetime.” A real devotional life is letting ourselves have minds that are fully engaged in and in love with God, and it includes daily prayer and study of the Bible, and a healthy diet of reading books written by and about Christians who have gone before us. If you have not been in the habit of a praticing a regualar devotional life, there truly is no better time than the present to start!
All year long, day in and day out, we practice this spiritual discipline of learning and thinking deeply about the things of God. It is like an athlete who spends all year training for the big championship game, or - even more true to our current situation - like a doctor who spends years in school learning how to treat a sick person or a soldier who spends months in boot camp to prepare for war. All of the thousands of hours of preparation serve them well when the stakes are high and the situation is no longer simulation.
It is the same way for us as Christian people. We have faith in God (for more about this, please look back to my first blog post in August of 2018), and we practice our faith day in and day out, year after year. We have been so blessed and most of us have lived rather peaceful and protected lives, and have not had much opportunity to have to lean in on our faith or on our God. But this is what we have been practicing for - the world needs us to show them what people of faith know about God and the reality of life and death. In a time like this, full of tumult and turmoil, we are able to quickly turn in our minds and spirits to what is real and what is true. The Word of God is true, and more real than anything we can see with our natural eyes alone; the ways of God are steadfast, much more real and steady than anything and everything else.
Today, let’s dig into one of my favorite passages, found in the Apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians 4: 4-13, to find comfort, truth and direction for this season…
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This is an amazing exhortation - even more wonderful when we realize that though it was written long ago to a specific group of people, it remains perfectly applicable to our 2020 situation. The Bible says, "Christians, rejoice! No matter what, and let me say it again…rejoice! Don’t fall into anxiety about anything, but thank God for everything."
Wait, don’t be anxious and give thanks, even for a scary pandemic? Yes, even for this. We may not understand how this can be happening, but we know that God is good and we can trust Him to lead us through this (Psalm 23). And we can bring everything to Him - our fears, our hopes, and our prayers for others. We can pray, and that truly is a great work that brings real change through the power of God. Worrying accomplishes nothing; prayer accomplishes much.
As we choose not to give in to anxiety, and as we choose instead to be grateful and give thanks and pray, a miraculous thing happens. “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Ask Paul and Silas, who were able to wholeheartedly worship Jesus in prison. Ask Corrie ten Boom, who survived a horrendous concentration camp in World War 2 - the peace of God was with her and her sister Betsy, even as they lived in hell on earth. It does not make sense to the natural mind, but it is real - God is real, His peace is real. The peace of God will guard our hearts and minds all the time, but especially in times like this. Our friends and neighbors need to know this.
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.
Most of us are home, and the power is on - which means that the temptation is there to watch tv or stay online all day and just watch and read news and commentary. While I do think that we should be informed and know what is going on in the world, I also know that too much internet and television consumption is very bad for us right now. Most of the people writing and commenting on current events know just as much about what is going on as you and I do - which is not much! Do not dwell on negative, fruitless, doom-filled thoughts. This will do nothing to bring you peace and will do nothing to help anyone. Make some limits for yourself - maybe just plan to spend 30 minutes a day catching up on the news and then turn it all off.
The rest of the day, as we all sit at home waiting, follow this scriptural advice to think about noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable things. Put these good things into practice, and watch the fruit of this action be born in your heart and mind. As you dwell on these lovely things of truth, the peace of God - what we need so desperately right now! - will flow in your heart and mind. If your have never shared Bible reading or praying in your home, now is a wonderful time to start.
Speak the Word of God to one another, read great books out loud together, encourage one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (that is Ephesians 5:19). Connect with your church online - most of our churches are making sermons and prayer meetings available, and what a wonderful way to stay connected with our church families. Use some time to call and connect with your neighbors and friends, to speak life and encouragement to them, and to pray for them. We all hope and pray that this disruption will be over very soon, but in the meantime we can make the most of it to bring some peaceful and healthy new habits into our homes and families.
…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
This is such a sobering time for us. I am afraid that most of us took for granted how much we had and how good life was. We were beginning to grumble and complain so much about so many silly things, but almost overnight everything has changed. We as a society have an excellent opportunity to turn our hearts, attention, and gratitude back to God - the Giver of all good things. We have an opportunity to turn away from selfish ways, to thank God for life and to treat it with reverence again, to love our neighbors and to help one another.
As we walk through this season, we can learn this lesson of contentment that Paul learned. We do not need more things or money or activities to make us happy and content. If and when all of that is taken away, we still have God, and He is sufficient; He is and always has been all we need. This is an important lesson to learn in life, and we will be wise to remember it.
So many Christians have been praying that God would help us to share the Good News of Jesus, and that we could see change come to an obviously broken and hurting world. None of us would have expected a pandemic to open doors of conversation for us that just weeks ago were slammed shut in our faces, but the mystery is that, "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).
May the Lord bless and keep you and those you love - may this be a rich time in His presence for you and your family. I pray that God gives you many opportunities to share His love and peace with others over the days and weeks to come.
TRY THIS ONE WEIRD TRICK...
It is amazing how tempting that phrase is. Advertisers continue to use it frequently, which means that it must work, and most of us would have to admit that we actually would like to know any shortcuts which lead to health, wealth and happiness. Truthfully, most of the time there is no shortcut at all, just a lot of hard work and consistent smart, unselfish choices. However, occasionally there really is one trick that makes a big difference in outcome.
For example, I played 18 holes of golf with my parents last weekend. They are very good at this game, and I am…not. Actually, I am not bad until it comes to putting, and then everything breaks down quickly. On one hole, my mom happened to watch my method closely and said, “I think you turned your wrist there right at the end of your swing. Keep your wrists steady as you follow through on the put.” The next hole, I tried her advice, and she was right! I was much less horrible at putting from then on out. It is amazing what one small shift in thinking can do.
Similarly, there is one shift in thinking that can dramatically reduce conflict and misery. This change in perspective was a theme in the writing of Anne Ortland, and it has been so revolutionary in my own life. Her premise is that so much negativity in thought and action comes from the fact that many often enter each day, each room, and each conversation with the idea, “Here I am - what can you do for me?” It is like wearing my feelings right on my sleeve. Then, when people do not care sufficiently that I am with them, my feelings are easily hurt. When my husband or my children or my coworkers or the people in my church do not rejoice and drop everything to pay attention to me, my day is ruined.
What if we were able to start with any tragedy in relationship and work backwards from the explosion to find exactly what caused it? A man and a woman are divorcing. They can no longer stand to be in the same room with one another, and can not say or think anything but vile and hateful thoughts towards one another. Bitter arguing and accusation is the only form of communication left in their relationship. If we pick up the thread and trace it back, we could see that at some point, each decided that the other was no longer for them, but against them. At some point, each of them decided that “here I am” was the only important thing in the relationship.
It can be argued that all of the trouble in the world comes down to how we treat one another and respond to one another. Certainly, on a global scale there are vastly different worldviews that clash, but in the day-to-day, hurt feelings often come down to one person believing that they have been overlooked or slighted by another and then choosing to take offense. Families break apart over this, children are damaged forever because of this, churches fracture because of this - and it is remarkably easy to fix.
Instead of entering each interaction with, “Here I am - what can you do for me?”, everything changes if we enter each interpersonal interaction with, “There you are! How can I help and encourage you today?”
I can handle it if that guy at church says something slightly rude again - perhaps he does not mean to sound quite so condescending. I can handle it if my coworker snaps at me - perhaps she is going through something difficult that I do not know about. I can handle it if my spouse or child is in a grumpy mood - I know that I feel grumpy sometimes, too and do not have to add drama to the situation by reacting poorly. I cannot control what other people say and do, but I can refuse to retaliate, and instead sow only kindness and mercy into the relationship. When a choice is made to focus on the other person’s well-being, everything changes. It is amazing what one small shift in thinking can do.
As Christian people, there is just One whose approval matters. Our security comes from Him, our hope comes from Him, our worth comes from Him, our purpose comes from Him. No one else can take any of that away. If we have the sure foundation of the love and approval of Jesus, then we can face everything and everyone else with a selfless and giving posture - the same selfless and giving posture that Jesus modeled to us...
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” - John 15: 9-14
Jesus has loved us so beautifully; He laid down His very life so that we could have forgiveness and eternal life. Because He has shown us the way, we can follow Him in "there you are" love.
Andrew Murray said this so well in The True VIne…
“Love one another. Let your interaction with the Christians in your own family be holy, tender, Christlike love. Let your thoughts of the Christians round you be, before everything, in the spirit of Christ’s love. Let your life and conduct be the sacrifice of love - give yourself up to think of their sins or their needs, to intercede for them, to help and serve them. Be in your church or circle the embodiment of Christ’s love; let the life in which you live it out be all love.”
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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