As the ban on gatherings increased and churches lost their ability to gather for corporate worship, I woke up in the middle of the night with a familiar passage stuck in my head. …not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb. 10:25 ESV) I thought, “What a cruel passage for a pastor to sit and ponder in the night watch.” But then I remembered what led up to that verse…Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, (Heb. 10:23-24 ESV). These two verses erupted in prayer from deep within me as I sat there thinking about my hope for my family, and the church that I pastor. “God, help us hold fast to you. Make us a hope-filled people that make people wonder who this God is that we have such confidence in. And Father, awaken us, even as isolated as we are, to stir one another up and see the body of Christ love like never before.” It was a simple prayer. I laid back down feeling satisfied like one does after a good meal, and, just as I was about to fall asleep, I realized I was still hungry. I wasn’t finished praying. A flood of prayers and hopes followed, which I wrote down asking God to give the church through this trial. Maybe you hope for some of the same things. Maybe you will pray for these with me…
1. A New Appreciation for Policy Makers: After spending a week following guidelines and making plans only to cancel those plans, and make new plans that before they are carried out are now obsolete is maddening! I sympathize greatly with our elected officials and policymakers. They rely on very little information for BIG decisions that impact tons of people. No matter how great of a decision it is, some people will hate it. Scripture is clear about God’s people honoring these officials (Rom. 13:1-7) yet the body of Christ is often caught playing divisive political games in moments like these. Through our desperation of seeking God and loving others might we find ourselves unable to do so anymore!
2. Renewed Spiritual Rhythms: Among the most common excuses we tell ourselves for not having good spiritual disciplines is that we are too busy, tired, or distracted in life. And brothers and sisters, we are all those things and more! But, the unique gift of practicing “social distancing” and quarantines is that all our excuses are being stripped away, and we are face to face with the true enemy of spiritual disciplines, namely our DESIRE. You see, many of us wake up and no longer have those excuses. The calendar is no longer chalked full of one thing after another, vocal lessons, sporting events, not even bible studies or small groups. We can see clearly in this moment, without our favorite excuses and our full schedules, and we can come to terms with it, confess that we do not love God as we should, and ask God to give us a desire and passion to pursue him as he longs for us to do. Even as J.I. Packer says, “..to detach their love from other things and attach it to himself”.
3. Strengthened Families: So much time, so many opportunities! What if God is giving families a RESET… husbands and wives a RESET? Parents, maybe you’ve fallen short, you have been lazy and distracted. God is giving us a do-over, a unique chance to redeem and rekindle faithful family rhythms that cause spiritual flourishing! What a joy, what a gift. Imagine our churches with exponentially stronger families – stronger marriages, sharpened parenting skills. This is a moment of unbridled influence and impact at the family level. How Christian parents lead in this moment may shape the next generation of Christians. Be present, be creative, have lots of fun, and shape worldviews. May God grant us the gift of fun, rest, engagement and Spirit-empowered discipleship!
4. Slimmer Schedules: If you’ve stood within a thousand feet of a pulpit the past 5 years then you’ve likely heard a preacher say something like, “The pace of life we’re living is unsustainable”. Well, FULL STOP – here is your chance to make it sustainable. I overheard a mother the other day confessing to her gals that she was actually feeling no stress or anxiety about COVID-19 but, instead, a great deal of relief! Why relief? She explained that all the kids' sports and lessons and school events were all canceled. You see, we have a break from the races that we’ve all been running. We have been rescued from the tyranny of the urgent! What if, when this all ends, we do not willfully return to that cruel tyrant of the American family schedule? Also, given the gross amount of time we have now, how might we leverage it to build sustainable practices and set in family values of rest, deep dependence on God, and enjoyment of each other? Then family, might we wisely and shrewdly fight both the flood and the gravitational pull of schedule-filling that is sure to come when this is over. May God grant us a new heart, mind, and strength to accomplish this!
5. Fears Faced: A man popped off to me the other day in conversation about COVID-19, “I do not fear, I am never afraid”. I couldn’t believe he said it. I thought, “You never fear?” Come on, brother! Are there people so disconnected from their own heart and mind that they actually believe that they have no fear, like at all? The bible says, “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid” more than any other command in scripture. Why? Because we are so afraid! And it isn’t saying that the world doesn’t have things that aren’t scary. Instead, the Bible is communicating to us throughout it that the world is broken and tremendously scary. Passages that tell us to not fear usually also come with a promise following the command. Take the words of Jesus in Luke 12:32 ESV “Fear not, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." or “You shall not fear them, for it is the LORD your God who fights for you" (Deut. 3:22) Here, God is confronting our fears and promising to act. What if we brought our fears to God and, through facing them, we found a God who is willing and able to act on our behalf? This is the economy of God’s kingdom – we bring him our need and he brings everything else we need. May God grant us the courage and wisdom to face fear and not pretend it is not present in us, for our good and His glory!
6. Faith Grown: God would ignite a faith that is not divided into neat compartments but that is maturing and growing. That even as we face our fears and seek God, we would develop a nation of intercessory prayer warriors that fast and learn to depend upon God through prayer. One of the biggest reasons that Christians do not grow is that we do not pray. Prayer is essential to Christian growth. What if we didn’t just read a thousand blogs over the next couple of months but we read our bibles, and books that cultivate spiritual depth? Blogs inform, they rarely cause growth- except this one – this one causes growth! What if this crisis causes the church to become missionally astute, practicing radical neighboring, seeking the actual good of the city? Another reason for our faith is being stunted is that our faith is an active, lived and embodied faith on God’s redemptive mission. It takes mission to grow! And I am even praying that God would ignite global missions when the travel bans lift! May God shape and grow our faith in this disorienting season!
7. Greater Compassion: The fact that this virus is hitting the elderly should strike an immediate chord of compassion with action in the church. Now, with a sinking economy, insult is added to injury and church leaders find themselves making lists of people to serve and check in on. Widows, elderly, and families that are simply struggling to make it. Unfortunately it takes a crisis like this to feel the common brotherhood of our humanity. But, fortunately, God has always stirred his church in moments like these to great compassion and Christian charity. My prayer is that, even at the risk of our own comfort, health, and safety, God’s people would exercise a theology of risk for the name and renown of Jesus. We need not be unwise or take unnecessary risks, but as Luther said to those that questioned why he didn’t flee the plague, “Christians don’t leave their posts”! May we leave this time knowing how to embody the love of God through incarnational selflessness!
8. Increased Realization of the Need for Community: What more must be said? I feel it, you feel it. Not just the extroverts! We feel limited, disconnected, and we long for that great connection of the other parts of our body. We strive to connect, to share, to hear, to pray together. We can tell ourselves it is temporary and that standing alone for a period makes a plant stronger. But we know and feel that we’d rather stand together. Yes, there are ways we can supplement by using google hangouts or phone calls, and I hope those are real and meaningful. But I also pray that we long for coming together in small groups, laying hands on one another in prayer, greeting each other with warm embraces (maybe even a holy kiss), and once again sharing our fears, joys, trials, and lives in community!
9. A Pronounced Love for the Gathered Church: There is nothing we can do through technological skills that can equal the gathered church in body, voice, and presence. We can deliver sermons and music over the internet, but it will not be the same thing. We shouldn’t pretend that it is. I think it is wise and good to provide such things for our church family, however, I hope that we are not too good at it. The greatest benefit of not meeting corporately is that it should awaken in us a hunger to be in that assembly. As David traveled through the wilderness and cried out to God his desire to worship God, I pray we would long for our church assemblies until they come. That even in the longing, that God would lovingly confront his church with the ways we’ve taken it for granted and been indifferent to it. May God cause something mighty and special to happen when the church, across the entire world, returns to corporate worship. May expectations be at an all-time high, and the fervor to preach God’s world shape pulpits, and worship teams break out in what our forefathers called “jubilee,” and may it cause a revival, not in one place but globally!
10. God Would Reinstate the Priesthood of All Believers: I almost forgot this one until a friend of mine mentioned it, which is funny because I think this one is key to all the others. Your pastors cannot do all that needs to be done. The ministerial need in your city, our nation, the world, is WAY bigger than clergy can rise up to meet. Inside and outside of the church there is a tidal wave of need! There is a surplus of prayers that need to be prayed, and a shortage of people to pray. That is just prayer. Support, mentoring, discipling, care, service, the list of things we can no longer exclusively pay people in the church to handle is too long. God means for ordinary people, like you, to do his extraordinary kingdom work. When the whole body is awakened, fears faced, faith grown, schedules slimmed, spirits strong and full of love, it is poised to be unleashed like we have never seen before in our country. May God cause leaders to lead in this way, and the church to respond to the priesthood that God has ordained for them!
What if we could see as God sees? This crisis didn’t surprise him, and he has no travel restrictions or quarantines to submit to. His work, rooted in who he is, and his mission on earth is not thwarted and does not slow down. He doesn’t need a team of interventionists to advise him on what to do next with the church, because he has big plans for his church even in the midst of this earthly crisis. God has a way of making everything work to His glory (Rom. 8:28) and nothing passes through his hands to his body without purpose. If we could see as God sees maybe we could see the other thousand things he is doing in his church through this crisis. Today, I am going to pray that these 10 things would happen and I am going to lead his church toward these things because I have fresh hope – a hope like I have never had before!
Please pray with me!