All of us are struggling to cope with the reality of this lockdown. It has greatly impacted our daily lives. And it directly impacts the way we worship and express our Christian faith. While we are on lockdown, we may assume that the church and its worship and God’s Kingdom are “on hold”. As I write, the upcoming Sunday is Easter. Christians globally will miss worshiping together, hearing beloved music and sharing Jesus’ resurrection together. We can easily assume that God himself is somewhat on hold, waiting for this crisis to pass so the expansion of his Kingdom can resume.
But I want to assure you that God is not on lockdown. WE should be on lockdown, carefully observing social distancing and pausing worship services. But Jesus Christ, who conquered the grave, is not in any way affected by the coronavirus. The Lion of the tribe of Judah is roaring as loudly today as he ever has!
While restaurants are closed, Jesus is still freely distributing the Bread of Life. While clinics are postponing elective surgeries and routine exams, the Great Physician is making house calls. While we can’t meet with small groups of friends for dinner, Jesus is still knocking on your door and will dine with you if you open up to him. National borders have closed but the gates of the Kingdom are still wide open with a banner that proclaims in huge text “Whoever will may come”. While call centers are overwhelmed, the lines of prayer are open 24 X 7 with no automated answering service, no wait times, and you are always first in the queue. While stock markets are dropping, the streets of the New Jerusalem are still paved with gold. While missionaries are losing their visas and being called home, the Word of God has never been bound. While churches are not able to conduct public worship services, the Great Shepherd still says “Where 2 or 3 are gathered together in my name, I am in the midst of them.”
2,000 years ago, a tomb could not hold Jesus down, and a virus cannot stop him today. He is actively at work changing lives and expanding his Kingdom. But he is not doing it in the typical ways we have come to expect. I believe there are 5 powerful moves of God occurring today that affect every one of us.
In response to these waves God is sending, there are 5 things we can do to respond:
We will look at each one of these quickly, and some of them we will unpack in more detail in weeks to come.
The last decades have brought an unprecedented wave of health and wealth across the world. Lifespans have lengthened. Global poverty rates have dropped. Wars have remained regional instead of global. We just ended the longest bull market in history, and the average American enjoys a level of comfort unimaginable to kings of just 200 years ago. These are all the rich blessings of God.
But blessing brings danger. The times of prosperity for Old Testament Israel were the times when they forgot God. The times of adversity were the times they turned back to seek his face. Jesus warned that the deceitfulness of wealth and the business of life easily crowd out his Word. While many people walk away from their faith when they face adversity, even more lose the zeal of their faith when they enjoy prosperity. God often sends adversity so that we no longer rely on our savings accounts, Social Security or medical systems but on him alone.
We have all been alarmed as we’ve read the number of Americans who may die from this virus. The numbers globally are even worse, as many nations are not able to do social distancing or provide quality medical care. Unemployment rates have skyrocketed, and we have seen declines in our savings accounts. Many restaurants and small businesses will close. Some churches and other ministries may also close their doors. All of these things make us realize that we cannot depend on our political, medical or business institutions to fully take care of us. They are not able to.
All of this results in brokenness. When we are broken, we realize we cannot depend on ourselves and our resources, and we are inclined to more desperately depend on God.
Here is what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10: “God said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest upon me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The anxieties of this time are making people more aware of their need for God. They also make Christians aware we cannot rely on our organizations and worship services alone to bring people to Christ. If we are sensitive to the ways God is using this time, we will be naturally prepared for a new wave God is sending us:
2. God is calling for a new wave of PRAYER
Having lived in Asia for 13 years, we’ve been among people with amazing prayer habits. Several Asian networks hold 6:00 AM prayer meetings 6 days each week. Some go to prayer mountains or retreat centers to fast and pray over holidays. I’ve wondered for a long time why prayer meetings and prayer movements don’t get much traction in the Western church. Honesty, I don’t know what to do about it. Everybody knows we should pray fervently. But few of us do.
Nothing makes us pray like need. The more urgent the need, the more fervent the prayer. Right now lots of people are laid off. Others are working or studying from home, but it’s not necessarily as much as before. Lots of people are bored and binge-watching Netflix. God is giving many of us a fresh opportunity to spend more time praying and seeking his face.
New to prayer? Here’s a ADHD beginner's guide to prayer that you may find helpful.
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3. God is anointing his people to provide a new wave of COMFORT FOR THE MOURNING
In the upcoming months we are going to see a lot of death. Many who lose their loved ones won’t be able to visit them in the hospital or nursing home for that final farewell. It may be some time until we are able to conduct funeral services for crowds over 10 and even then we may advise against hugging or other close personal contact. We are going to face a lot of mourning, and many of our customary ways of empathizing will not be there for us.
At this time all of us need to improve our abilities to empathize and show compassion for those who mourn. Most of us aren’t naturally wired to be empathetic listeners and comforters. Typically we focus on the body of Christ, believing that God has raised up enough people with the gift of mercy to comfort those who are hurting. But not today. The numbers are too many. We need Christians of all personality types and all spiritual gifts to cultivate the skills to comfort those who mourn.
General Motors used to say, “We are a company that makes cars.” Then the President of the United States said, “For now you are a company that makes ventilators.” General Motors said, “We don’t know how to make ventilators”. The President said, “The engineers at Ventec will teach you how.” That’s how we are today. No matter your personality, experiences or passions, right now our Commander in Chief says to all of us in Romans 12:15, “Mourn with those who mourn”.
Some of us will be better at it than others. But this is a skill any of us can improve without going to night school. If you spend 1-2 hours online looking at the right websites, you can develop habits of knowing what to say and what to not say to those who grieve. There are many out there who are cut off from family and friends and unable to share their struggles with anyone. We need to proactively seek out those who are grieving and share God’s comfort with them.
When many Christian friends did not know how to comfort her at the loss of her daughter, Nancy Guthrie wrote “What Grieving People Wish You Knew”. She lists some things to NOT say:
Guthrie also lists helpful things you CAN say:
There are many good resources online to give you more ideas of what to say and not say to those who are grieving. It can help to learn 3 or 4 sentences that feel right to you, to help you overcome the awkward silence of not knowing what to say.
In addition to family and friends you know well, there are many in our communities who are isolated and lack even one good friend who will listen to their pain. Many of them are online. Ask God how you might find ways to find and minister to them.
4. God is calling for a new wave of LISTENING.
What I mean by this is that instead of forming our typical long-term strategic goals, we need to focus on the short-term. None of us know the exact path this virus will take us. We don’t know when public worship will resume, or how long it will be before new guests will feel safe making their first visit. Over the years I’ve held 3 titles: pastor missionary and now director of a non-profit ministry. I talk to others who hold all 3 rules. We’re all struggling to change. We are all in flux. We don’t know what will happen over the next 6 months. And it’s not just us. Business leaders in most industries can’t say when things will return to normal. No politician of any party anywhere in the world had the ability to be fully prepared for a pandemic. We haven’t had one in a century. It’s nobody’s fault they weren’t prepared. Nobody could be. The reality is that we are in the middle of rapid change and we are all going to have to adapt.
Some of us don’t like change. We want the 5-year plan or at least the 12-month plan. Right now a 12-month plan is meaningless. Nobody can say what things will be like in 12 months. If any of us were to compose a 12-month business or ministry plan today, a year from now when we read it we will burst out laughing.
We are used to having a greater degree of control over our circumstances. Now we don’t. We need to listen to Paul’s exhortation in Galatians 5:25: “Keep in step with the Spirit”. Suppose that you and I decide to go on an extended hike with our friend Chen. Chen is an experienced hiker so we decide to let him lead. We don’t need a map. We don’t need Siri or anything else. We just need to keep our eyes fixed on Che and do whatever he does. When he goes straight forward, we go straight forward. When he sits down for 3 days, we sit down for 3 days. When he takes a sharp left so do we. When he breaks into a full sprint we do too. Chen may not tell us how long we will hike, how long it will take, how much it will cost or anything else. All we need to know is that Chen knows where to go and we are going to follow right behind him no matter what.
That’s how the Holy Spirit is moving right now. He knows what will happen over the next 12 months but he’s not telling. He’s only giving us enough light to follow him day-by-day and moment-by-moment. We need to stop fighting that. If God has chosen to give us a period of rapid change, we need to accept it. And we need to carefully listen to his voice every step of the way.
5. God is sending a new wave of POWER.
We Christians long to see our ministries empowered by the Holy Spirit. Many of us can quote Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” That verse has inspired believers of all walks of life to passionately proclaim the good news of Christ around the world. God-anointed ministry agencies have set aggressive goals for Bible translation, church planting, leadership development and more. But today many of those projects are on hold as staff must return to their homelands.
That doesn’t mean that the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of any of those people has diminished. God wants to use them just as powerfully in ministry; he just wants to use them to do different kinds of things than they originally intended.
Many of you are frustrated because you can’t do some of the things God wired you to do: give a hug, play the drums in a worship team, run the sound board, mentor friends at a coffee shop. You may feel that your ministry is on hold. That doesn’t have to be true. God wants to powerfully use you today, but it may not be in ways you expected or trained for.
Here are a few of the ways God can use you powerfully in ministry right now:
I’m sure you can think of several more ways based on your networks and experiences.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:10: “Therefore I will boast in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” When does the power of Christ rest upon us? When we are well-trained, well-connected, well-funded and well-organized? No, it’s when we are weak. It’s when we don’t know what to do next. It’s when there are no experienced guides who can show us what to do.
The Lion of Judah is powerfully at work today, and we can join him. But we don’t get to define what that looks like. If we keep in step with the Spirit, we will come through this difficult time with a greater sense of our weakness and a greater confidence in God’s power. I believe that many of us will have effective ministry at this time if we do these things: