REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Reflection 1: Whilst everything is changing nothing has changed!
“I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. (For the director of music. On my stringed instruments). Habakkuk 3:16-19.
Habakkuk’s world of the 7th Century BC was under threat of famine and invasion. He was a faithful prophet of the living and true God. He knows what is coming and it causes him considerable and understandable distress (16) but there are other things that he also knows to be true. He is able to help us because there were truths that he knew about his relationship with God that had not changed because of his circumstances.
These include: ‘the Sovereign Lord is my strength’ (19). Nothing is outside of God’s loving control; neither Habakkuk’s troubles, nor those that face us, and our world community, today.
‘Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour’. His relationship with God is neither diminished nor threatened by the famine or invaders.
And us? We must resist the temptation of self-pity (it is not as bad as it could be. We are not suffering the locust plague of east Africa and Pakistan, nor are we being persecuted and we do have good leadership, a first rate health system and considerable social security/resources).
We must resist the temptation to fret and worry since we have a gracious Heavenly Father. I suspect that this may be a once in a life time opportunity of proving God’s Fatherly care as set out by our Saviour so clearly in Matthew 6:19-34. Pagans, those who are strangers to God, may do so, but we must not give into this temptation. Here are four proven ways of combating worry: Big doses of reading the Bible (Psalm 119, Romans 15:4-6), regular coming to our gracious Heavenly Father in prayer (Matthew 6:9-13,1 Peter 5:7,Phillipians 4:4-7,Hebrews 4:14-16), consistent thankfulness for what we have and for who God is (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) and a willingness to think of and actively serve others (Galatians 6:2, Matthew 25:34-40).
The temptation to be disappointed with God (the seeds of which Satan will be working overtime on) must be resisted (1 Peter 5:8-9, James 4:7-10). Christians down through the ages have been able not only to do this, but to grow in and through trials like we are facing. Habakkuk stood firm on promises that were no-where near as clear and complete as we have through our Lord Jesus Christ. Our salvation is secure because of His atoning death and bodily third day resurrection and our relationship with God richer because of the indwelling presence of God the Holy Spirit. There is no room for disappointment with our Father who is lovingly Sovereign (Romans 8:28-30), with our Saviour who gladly went to the Cross to deal with our deserved judgement in our place (Romans 8:31-38) and our wonderful Companion, the Holy Spirit who understands our worries and helps us to pray (Romans 8:26-27). And all in a world groaning under the sufferings and decay caused by our rebellion (Romans 8:18-27). There need be no disappointment with our God who has done so much to rescue, redeem, restore and reform us (Romans 8:1-17).
We, along with our friends and families will still have questions like why is it happening? Why is God allowing it to happen? When will it end? Will I survive? Listen to C H Spurgeon’s wise advice: “God is so good to be unkind and he is too wise to be mistaken. And when you cannot trace his hand we must trust his heart”. We find His heart revealed and broken when we go to the Cross of Calvary. Here are some texts to ponder: Jeremiah 31:3, Isaiah 53:4-6, Luke 23:26-56, Romans 5:8,2 Cor 5:17-21, 8:9, Galatians 2:20, 3:13-14,Philippians 2:5-11,Colossians 1:15-20, 1 Timothy 1:15-16,2:5-6, Titus 2:11-14, Hebrews, 1 Peter 1:18-21,2:21-25, 3:18, 1 John 2:1-2, 3:16-20, 4:9-12 and Revelation 5:9-10, 7:13-17.
Reading Romans 8 will go a long way to dispelling any lingering doubts about God’s goodness, expelling Satan’s barbs causing us to either give up trusting in the gracious and glorious God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ or to become stoical and resigned to our fate that could so quickly sour our first love for God who has been so good to us in Christ.
In the 2nd and 3rd centuries there were a number of epidemics that took the lives of many, yet became a vital means by which God grew the early church. The impact of, and more importantly, the Christlike response of our brothers and sisters, has been documented by sociologist Rodney Stark. The two major epidemics were in 165 and 251. The Christians did two things: they nursed their own and they nursed the pagans who were abandoned by their fellows. The result: more Christians survived than other groups and many surviving pagans turned to the Lord whose people had lovingly helped them. Writing in his Easter letter of 251 the Bishop of Alexandria, Dionysius said:” Other people would not think this is a time for festival, but far from being a time of distress, it is a time of unimaginable joy”. Stark adds his own commentary: “Acknowledging the huge death rate, Dionysius noted that though this terrified the pagans, Christians greeted the epidemic as merely’ schooling and testing’. Thus at a time when all other faiths were called to question, Christianity offered explanation and comfort. Christian doctrine provided a prescription for action. That is, the Christian way appeared to work.” (The Rise of Christianity Rodney Stark. Harper Collins. 1997. Pages 81-82).
The Christian way was shown through our forebears as a faith that worked. This challenge to us remains and has been the burden of New Testament teaching since our Lord spoke to the disciples on the eve of His crucifixion: “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). We have the reminders of our persecuted fellows whose Christlike response been used of God to grow His church all over the world. Here is our opportunity, not only to prove for ourselves God’s never failing promises, but to commend His Son through our Christlike response to the medical, economic and reminders of our own mortality and frailty of this current epidemic. The following Scriptures read, pondered, trusted, prayed in and put into practice will most certainly drive away any fears, doubts and uncertainties that we have: Psalm 119:67,71,75,76; Job 2:10, Acts 14:21-22;Romans 5:1-5, 2 Corinthians 1:1-7, 4:16-18,12:7-10; James 1:2-8 and 1 Peter 1:3-9.
Remember: We are not alone in this.( Psalms 121 and 139, John 10:27-30)
God is Sovereign (Romans 8:28) who will use this to make us more like Christ (8:29).
He will never test us or allow us to be tempted beyond our strength (1 Cor. 10:11-13)
He will grant us the strength to be the people He has called us to be (1 Thess. 5:23-24)
We can always rejoice in Him since nothing of substance has changed (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
Our Father loves to hear His children pray. (Luke 11:1-13).
Peter Brain. March 28th, 2020.