Written by Jonathan King, Director of Outreach
Saturday, March 21, 2020
While walking the streets of Champaign this morning, I stopped to listen.
I thought about how this unprecedented stillness isn’t just here in our quaint university town in east central Illinois, but everywhere.
Okay, not every city, state, region or nation has mandated a lockdown like Illinois’ governor did yesterday. But, COVID-19 – and the coronavirus – has placed much of the world at an unprecedented standstill. The pandemic is affecting every inhabited continent on the earth. Churches, schools, offices, restaurants, pubs, libraries, fitness centers, community centers, tourist attractions – tranquil with an unprecedented stillness (and anxiety for many). Where humans have ceased in their hustle and frenzy, the earth is enjoying an unexpected sabbath – a year of jubilee – if you will. (e.g. the waters of Venice clearing up).
Yes, we’ve had many pandemics, and may more lethal than this one, as well as wars, disasters and tropical storms that have taken many, many more lives and brought more havoc and destruction than this, but for a 21st century, hyper-connected, global community to be halted as we are presently witnessing is a marvel. And, yes, for much of the majority world and global South, this kind of felt vulnerability is nothing new. As I thought about this unparalleled moment in human history for our context and for much of the world, these words flooded my mind this morning:
“Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations.” (Psalm 46:10)
What might God be saying to us in this stillness? Are we listening? How is he moving among all nations to exalt his name? The Story which God is writing in human history – his ways, his movement – are beyond us, but I believe he is speaking to us in this unique moment. He speaks and summons the earth!
Hopefully, as we are being “stilled”, we aren’t more distracted than we were before this era of social distancing and quarantining. But, thanks to the internet, we just might be. In this stillness, let’s do just that and actually be still.
How could we redeem this forced stillness?
1. To remember God.
“My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan…” (Psalm 42:5) At all times – in joy or sorrow – remembering God, who he is and what he has done for us, in us and with us, will be the fount of abiding joy and peace we were created for. In his presence alone there is fullness of joy. (Psalm 16)
“Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first.” (Revelation 2:4)
The believers in Ephesus had forgotten their first love – King Jesus – and it was time to remember him, his kindness and grace and return their allegiance to him supremely.
2. To pray for God to redeem this crisis for good.
Rather than finger pointing, blaming, shaming, fearing or worrying, let’s pray to our good Father that he will take this crisis and make it a crucible in which the bride of Christ is strengthened and the lost are returned home to their Father in heaven.
Remember Jesus’ response to the blind man’s accusers, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:3-4)
3. To pray for healing and an end to the spread of this virus.
While God allows sin to run its course in his creation and distort and mar everything, he is also Lord over all creation. The earth is groaning and waiting for redemption and will continue to undergo the effects of alienation and fragmentation wrought by Adam’s original sin in Eden, but through the cross, Jesus has vanquished the powers of the evil one and his kingdom is coming on earth as it is in heaven. Let’s pray for a swift medical solution to the virus.
4. To consider who are the vulnerable ones we can serve.
In the 3rd century, Western society experienced a horrific pandemic. It was Christians in the Roman Empire who were the ones caring for the sick, putting their own lives at risk, gloriously displaying the upside down gospel of the kingdom of God.
In our scientific advancement, of course, now we understand the benefits of social distancing for mitigating the spread of the virus and that’s a good thing; however, many are still suffering in loneliness, abuse, depression, anxiety, hunger and sickness – many in isolation.
But no medical or scientific advancement will ever replace the transforming power of Christ’s love embodied in his people to those who are hurting. Let’s pray and ask God to open our eyes, ears and hearts toward those who need help right now. For example, there is a Facebook group – Champaign-Urbana COVID-19 Mutual Aid – which posts alerts and volunteer needs and the local Unit 4 and Urbana schools are arranging food pickups for vulnerable families. Many churches are stepping into the gap to serve at-risk children and the elderly in this time of crisis – praise God for that. Perhaps you can write a card of encouragement, make a phone call, help deliver groceries, offer to pray with someone or make a financial gift to a family who has lost income.
Let’s also pray for the people and places in the world that will likely suffer even more from the spread of COVID-19 because of the lack of healthcare, leadership or communications infrastructure or places where people cannot afford to or are incapable of doing “social distancing”.
Even in a time of social distancing and self-isolation, Paul’s exhortation is worth considering: “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:24) Perhaps seeking another’s good is not visiting with them, because their immune system may be vulnerable to the virus. Perhaps it’s forgoing that additional Netflix episode, to take some time to write someone a letter
5. To not waste this moment, but let this existential crisis be a reminder of the greatest enemy of all creation (sin, death, the accuser) and a reminder of the ultimate hope we have in Christ.
Neither the coronavirus nor social distancing can take away the hope we have stored up in Christ and his death, resurrection and promised return. Death no longer has the final say. Sin, injustice, oppression and sickness are his enemies that he is crushing under his feet, as his already-but-not-yet kingdom comes to earth as it is in heaven.
Let’s pray and look for opportunities to share with others around us – gently, respectfully, winsomely – to the resurrection hope we have in Christ. Let’s pray that our neighbors hearts would be sensitive to the conviction of the Holy Spirit during this time and would be drawn to the Father. Perhaps with everyone being online more there will be more opportunities through social media than ever to share your hope in Christ.
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,” (Ephesians 1:18)
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15)
6. To discover and establish new spiritual practices to position you to receive from God during this strange period of isolation at home.
For extroverts, this might be torture. For many parents, this might be stressful and overwhelming. For introverts, it might be bliss. Regardless, we are all being forced to exit our normal rule and rhythm of life. Regardless, let’s guard against a scarcity or fear mindset, and remember God’s abundance and generosity even in the midst of our “scarcity” culture – fresh air, a neighborhood walk, a good book, the communication options to stay connected with others, a new practice with prayer or Scripture intake that will get you out of a rut, writing an encouraging note to a friend.
One of those new practices may be leading a time of prayer and worship at home (with your children, with your roommates, with a very small, appropriately distanced, group of neighbors, or a backyard prayer meeting). While many churches are still doing livestream worship services, let’s try and hold on to embodied koinonia and worship where we can – how ever small it may be!
The words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer – which felt distant just a few weeks ago – now grip my heart with their significance: “It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart…” (Life Together)
Because it is the season of Lent, many Christians are already paying attention to throwing off sin and unhealthy habits in order to make room for Christ and his holiness in our lives. Even if you aren’t fasting for Lent, you’ve been forced to “give up” a lot. Regardless, perhaps this time of isolation will break us down even more, making us weaker and even more dependent upon Christ. Afterall, He is what we truly need – not just during COVID-19 social distancing but always. Without him, we have nothing.
In closing, Lord, let your glory be known among the nations through this time of reckoning.