Difficultly in life is nothing new. When Adam and Eve first rebelled against God, all sorts of difficulties invaded the world. Conflict between Creator and creation, difficulty in our laboring, sickness, evil, selfishness, and every other sinful aspect of our existence. Adam and Eve’s rebellion sprout a vine of all sinfulness in the world. Welcome to reality. For thousands of years we have battled hunger, wars, plagues, murder, sickness, and much more as a result of our rebellion against God. While this may sound like a hopeless existence, this is not the full story. In the midst of all our turmoil and suffering, the very same God who created us is working to redeem us. This is what we believers call the Gospel.
While Adam and Eve committed the first human sin against God, God’s first response to humanity included a plan for redemption (Genesis 3:14-19). It is important to always view our current life in light of God’s grand redemptive story because we know that God’s purposes will come to fruition and nothing happens outside of God’s will (Isaiah 46:8-11). Therefore, in our current global pandemic, what does it mean to ‘be the church’? The answer is simple yet complex. Lets take a look at Matthew 22:34-40:
“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets”.Matthew 22:34-40, ESV.
In answering the question, Jesus exalted two commands above all others and at the same time shows how these two commands are the foundation to the Christian life. This is an astounding discovery because when we boil down the Christian life to it’s bare ingredients we find that everything we believe and do comes from two primary mandates: love God and love your neighbor. This is the call of every Christian. It was the call of Moses when he led God’s people out of Egypt, it was the call of Peter when he became a leader in the first Christian church of Jerusalem, and it is the call of every born again believer. God simply directs us to be 100% surrendered to Him and in everything love those around us. So how does this inform us about what we should do as the church in difficult times?
We are to first unapologetically seek the Lord. This may be a morning bible reading, prayer in your ride to work, an afternoon worship session, reading God’s word as a family at dinner, or even silently sitting on your front porch to appreciate who God is. Whatever stirs your affections for Jesus, do it! Secondly, pray and seek the Lord about how you can be checking in and encouraging 3-5 people in your church. This could be a meal together, a written letter, or even a simple phone call. However you are led to love your neighbor, do so out of gratitude for what God has done for you and with genuine love and hope for your neighbor. For many of us in the U.S. (and the world), we are being told to stay home and avoid contact with other people. This mandate from national and world leaders is a response to our global pandemic of COVID-19. In this unique time, we are given more time at home than we usually would have. I want to encourage you to use this time diligently.
Many times in history God has brought plagues, nature disasters, and anything else he wills to disrupts our ‘routine’. If you are like me then you enjoy having a routine. Wake up at 6 everyday, enjoy God’s promises and Word as I get ready for the day, labor heartily in whatever work I put my hands to, come home to the blessing of a home and loving wife, and go to bed blissfully assured in hands of my savior. (More honestly I rush through my day not savoring the these blessings, but the Lord is gracious nonetheless.) This disruption from our normalcy can easily feel like a punishment but almost always it is actually a merciful wake up call from the Lord. In the same way that God did not have to answer Job in his epic rant full of misunderstanding and accusations, God does not have answer to any of us about our complaints. When Adam and Eve broke the covenant that God made with his people, God had every right to justly send all humans to eternal damnation. But God. God chose out of his own free will and sovereign choice to chase after his creation in such a spectacular redemption plan that the end result would only produce reverence and awe back to the Creator of all things. What’s the point?
Our suffering is not pointless. God is ready and able to use everything within his power to draw his creation back to himself. The world is faced with a pandemic for a reason, to produce repentance in the hearts of sinful men back to their God. The same God that strung the fabrics of our reality is the same God who is constantly sending us wake up calls to repentance. More often than we realize God’s blessings to humanity are intended to produce awe in us that we would give praise back to God (Romans 2:4). However, God has and is willing to use calamity, storms, and even pandemics to shake the world in order that those who are in a state of rejection to God might humble themselves and seek the Lord. More important than anything we will ever experience or endure, God is calling us to an eternity with Him that will surpass anything we can experience on this earth! Praise be to God that He would use anything necessary to produce repentance and reverence in my heart back to God!
So what does a church do in hard times? Thrive. Love God and love our neighbors however the Lord leads us too. This may look very different for many people but the ultimate goal will be the same – spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a broken world. God’s Church is made up of His ambassadors to the world to tell of his glorious Gospel in times of blessing and in times of panic so that the Holy Spirit might draw people back to God! Praise God that he loves his world too much to leave us in our comfortable routines that we might miss the call of salvation. God is constantly, mercifully whispering to all creation, ‘Return to me my beloved child.’