I’ve seen a lot come down the pike in my years of ministry. Back in 1999, there was something call Y2K that had everybody up in arms. The fear was that the antiquated programming of computers wasn’t ready to roll over when the calendar turned to 2000. Worldwide disruptions to banking, travel, and the electric grid were feared. Our church – along with many churches – devised a plan to cope with the fallout – which in the end never materialized.
2001 changed our world in ways that few saw coming beforehand. The 2008 housing meltdown brought us to the edge of an abyss that was close enough for us to peer down inside, and tremble.
Now the spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus (declared yesterday a pandemic by the World Health Organization, on the same day the NBA scrubbed its season) has grabbed us each by the throat and squeezed hard, introducing word-pairings like “social distancing” and “self-quarantining” into the national lexicon.
My point is not to downplay this at all. Nor is to look back at those prior threats with a sense of ‘See – we had nothing to worry about’ parody. Those were very real threats, and the center buckled but held, though no one knew for sure if it would.
So how should followers of Christ respond to this sudden outbreak of disease and dread that seems to be looming larger by the day? I see three ways to face this threat.
First, we face times like this with faith.
I recently began reading Genesis in my daily quiet times. And there it was, flashing like a marquee on my heart: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” That’s really all you need to know right there. God’s the Creator, and ‘he’s got this’. He doesn’t have a secret lab of angels somewhere desperately trying to figure out how to contain this strange virus that appeared out of nowhere.
The Bible is filled with dozens of promises which you, Child of God, need to lay hold of right this very minute. In fact, I’d memorize them if I were you (I seem to recall hearing a sermon on that recently.)
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” ~ Psalm 42:1-3
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” ~ Psalm 73:25-26
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” ~ Isaiah 42:1-2
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be one the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength.” ~ Habakkuk 3:17-19
And that’s just a sampling from the Old Testament. We haven’t even gotten to the New Testament yet!
Always, always, always dear ones…choose to meet fear with faith….“for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9…another Old Testament verse. Don’t ever let anyone try to tell you the Old Testament isn’t worth your time.)
Second, we face times like this with stewardship.
Exercising faith is never done in exclusion of our own responsibility. Faith without works is dead, James said. God has called the humans he created in his image to walk as kings and queens upon the earth, filling the earth, subduing it, exercising dominion.
That means we’re to use these great, big, beautiful brains of ours and figure out how God the Creator made things to work on the earth, by learning all the laws he set in place. And not just the moral ones either, but the biological ones, and the engineering ones, and those that apply to chemistry and sociology and just about any other -ology you can come up with.
Years ago, Janis and I were fishing with some Christian friends who went to one of those “faith-is-everything” churches. They forgot to bring some water, and when their little daughter complained of thirst, they were seconds away from dipping her into the lake to get a drink. “Absolutely not!” my dear wife exclaimed, remembering her Giardia and brain-eating amoebas. Now, if we were caught in desperate straits, we’d trust God for a miracle, but being caught in carelessness, we didn’t dare put God to the test.
Everything we’re being told now about washing your hands, and social distancing, and wiping down door knobs and phones, and stocking up a pantry (which you should all have anyway, at least 7-10 days worth), are all things that good stewards will practice.
And if things really get out of hand, we’ll practice a form of digital church for a week or two (though no one’s yet figured out how to digitally send out a communion wafer) until things settle down.
And in all likelihood, things will settle down.
Finally, we face time’s like this with holy fear.
Not fear, but holy fear. There’s a difference.
I’ll never forget what my brother-in-law, who was an emergency room physician at the time, said to a family-member with hypochondriac tendencies. He said, “Look, if you hear the sound of neighing outside the window, it could be a zebra, but it’s probably just a horse.”
That advice has always helped me face uncertainty with calmness. Nine of out ten times, the thing that’s alarming you is just an everyday horse. So keep your panic in check as you figure out what you’re dealing with. “Let the day’s trouble be sufficient for the day,” our Lord counseled us when besieged by worry. A missionary friend of mine once said, “God doesn’t give dying grace for a living day.”
But notice – there are such things as zebras.
What do we do then? Well then, we go back to step one, and throw ourselves afresh into the arms of our Lord. For “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 – there, a New Testament verse).
If it’s a sickness-day, then God will give sickness-grace. If it’s a job-loss day, then God will give job-loss grace. And yes, if it’s a dying day, then God will give dying grace.
This is how followers of Christ have faced tragedy and disaster for hundreds of years.
Those of you under 40 in all likelihood do not have a fully accurate perspective of how normal life operates. What we’ve enjoyed as Americans since the early 1980s – all the 9/11s and school shootings and political infighting aside – is arguably the best 40 year run for one nation in the history of humanity. (And looking through kingdom-eyes at this season, is it coincidence that we have seen during this time perhaps the greatest global gathering of souls ever?)
When I turned 18 and signed up for the draft, I did the math, and realized there hadn’t been a decade in all the 20th century where there had not been a major war, global conflict or economic disaster of some kind. Zebras roam the range.
Additionally, being steeped in a biblical worldview, I knew that we sinful humans just have a way of making a colossal mess of things. We summon the zebras.
Then sometimes God allows the zebras to come. Why would he do that?
To wake us up, truth be told. To open our eyes to the fact that this world is broken, “here we have no lasting city”, and we were made by God and for God.
But when large numbers of us, and entire nations, start strutting about as if we need nothing, that we’re our own gods, and our own saviors, and we’ll bend the earth to become whatever paradise we choose it to be – well then God takes a step back, allows the zebras to come and says, “Tell me how that works for you.”
So in holy fear, we pray for God’s mercy to pour out upon us, for his kingdom to come, and his will to be done.
“He has told you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
Bear Clifton, writer and screenwriter, is the pastor of BridgeWay Community Church in California, Maryland. His blogs, screenplays and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, “A Sparrow Could Fall”, and his latest – “Living Under The Cross”, a collection of essays on the Beatitudes – all available through Amazon.
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