REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 30: Some help I might offer if asked
We are at an interesting stage with covid-19. May be critical. I don’t know about how you feel but I swing between a sense of anger at those around our nation who seem to be unconcerned about the impact of their own actions: like refusing to be tested or just plain rebellious about social distancing and the like, to real concern for those whose health, livelihoods and mental health are being tested to the limit. I have been thinking to myself, if I was asked and had opportunity to chat with folks in the Melbourne towers or spend some time with a small business owner/employee in hospitality or tourism, what I might say? Here are a few thoughts that have come my way today.
God knows and cares about what is happening. Whilst this doesn’t answer any of the why questions it does remind us that there is One who cares. The exhortation/promise: cast all your anxiety upon Him because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:8 and Psalm 55:22) is a genuine promise from our Creator since it is in His nature to care. However, it flows out of the previous verse: humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Since there is no point in praying to a God who is not mighty, we are wise to come to Him humbly by putting ourselves in His hands. The answer may come soon or later. Indeed the pandemic might be the very means of humbling that we needed. Professor Blaiklock put it like this: only God can humble us without humiliating us, and exalt us without flattering us. The promise to lift up the humble is worth road testing since it is for our good.
It is not about you! Is the word I want to say to those who are not prepared to take the advice of the Premiers and their advisors. My text would be: Jesus said: love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:39 from Leviticus 19:18) and if there was no inclination to accept the authority of God and the Lord Jesus: so in everything do to others what you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12). In this latter statement of Jesus I would seek to show that this should appeal to our self-interest, since we all benefit if we seek to put the other person and their needs above our own. Other religions and popular philosophy mistakenly think that this golden rule is the same as theirs: don’t do to others what you would not have them do to you. But nothing could be further from the truth since the Christian way is to be actively taking the initiative in doing good rather than being content to do the easier thing of avoiding wrong. Doing the right thing, even if we don’t feel like it, is far healthier because the focus is on others rather than me. Two things we can always do for others: to pray for others that they may have food and strength for the day and that we may grasp the opportunity of calling/writing/visiting/helping someone we know, who will be finding the going tough. Since the Lord who gave us the golden rule is good (the evidence is His coming into the world as one of us and then going to the cross to deal with our sins John 1:14, Rom 5:8, 2 Cor 5:11-21, 1 John 4:7-12), we can be sure that putting it into practice will be best kind of therapy for us, helping us find (as we give) joy and strength to others.
Thankfulness changes everything. Giving thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18) is the habitual action of the person who knows that Jesus can be trusted at every turn. Those who have taken this command seriously know just how transforming it can be. The circumstances usually don’t change but we do, as we recognise that God who is in control, is good and would keep us focussed on Him and what we have, and become, through faith in Christ. As we do we are able to cope with restrictions, disappointments and hardships by enjoying God and the things and people we do have in our life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was able to testify, as lived under Hitler’s merciless reign; that gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy which gives meaning to William Law’s: I exhort you to this method in your devotion: that every day be made a day of thanksgiving, and that the spirit of murmur and discontent be unable to enter the heart. If followed this advice can enrich every circumstance, making it difficult to feel envy, greed or bitterness (Dr Arch Hart).
Character and conviction are more likely to grow out of suffering than times of ease and plenty. Consider it pure joy, in trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith brothers and sisters, when you faith develops perseverance (James 1:2)…and perseverance, character; and character hope (Romans 5:3-4). In the same way as exercise builds strength into our flagging bodies so too trials grow our character and makes us people of real conviction. Conviction that God will not fail us. It is as we are called upon to trust the great Giver of life, rather than the gifts He brings into our lives, that His unfailing faithfulness is tried and then proven. The verse following the one above (Romans 5:5) helps capture the way this works: And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit He has given us. Nothing is wasted when we bring what is broken to God. He delights to enter into our brokenness and fill us with the sheer delights of His comforting and strengthening presence. Our Lord put it so clearly: I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33).
Peter Brain 11th July, 2020