REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 8: Living in an Unplanned Place at an Unplanned Pace
This comment of Eugene Peterson’s has been in my thinking for 20 years or so, and has come into sharper focus these past couple of months. Mind you, there is nothing new about the truth of it, especially ministering to congregations and living in this world, where sudden accidents and predictable aging being par for the course have led many a person and family, to navigate all the pressures of living in an unplanned place at an unplanned pace.
One of my friends, following the reflection on DV shared how he had been helped in his recent cross-cultural missionary training to have observed how much harder it is for us Westerners to live with ambiguity than for those in the majority world.
Most of us find sudden change difficult, even annoying, often causing disappointment, or worse with God. Although we may not hold to the erroneous and simplistic theology of perfect health and wealth, we can run perilously close to this, when things go wrong. This attitude is betrayed by our upset with God which renders us cool to Him, less joyful in worship and less ardent in our expressions of love for Him. It is not a good place to be. Perhaps that is one of the reasons we are being called to learn, in the fairly mild frustrations and inconveniences of the pandemic, (which if we are honest for most of us living in Australia and have not lost our jobs are relatively mild).
A number of challenges that I have to work hard at taking to heart include:
- The call to contentment, from the example of our imprisoned apostle in Philippians 4:13 along with his exhortation in 1 Timothy 6:6. He has every right to be heard given his current imprisonment, bad-mothing by fellow believers, chosen in the interests of the gospel hand to mouth life-style and life time of on the run opposition (Phil 1:7;1:15-18; 2 Cor 7:3-10; 11:25-28). His contentment claim “I can do everything through him gives me strength” was forged in the unplanned places and paces of life and out of his experience of our Lord’s planned purpose to sustain him in every place. I am so glad for his testimony and need the exhortation of “but godliness with contentment is great gain” to ring in my ears when I am “so prone to wander”. All that I might be weaned from my Western comfortable Christian expectations and experience.
- That I remember my self-interest in learning this. For though I would love to die peacefully in my sleep, there is a good chance that my last chapter of discipleship could be to testify to Christ, by my contentment with Him above all else, when incontinent and alone in a nursing home, living at an unplanned pace in an unplanned place. The promises of 1 Cor 10:13 and 1 Thess 5:24 I trust will be uppermost in my thinking. Perhaps these present temporary discomforts will help me to prove these promises more now for then. I need to be reminded that nothing is ever lost with our Father, and in the words of the old hymn, that “Each victory will help you [me] some other to win”.
- The reading of missionary biographies and testimonies of our persecuted brothers and sisters will help me far more than books on self-fulfilment, principles of assured church growth and the like will ever do. I suspect this is the import of Hebrews 11 and 1 Corinthians 10:1-13.
- Remembering that just as saints like Bonhoeffer and the Reformation martyrs whose best work was often done either under pressure, on the run, isolated or in prison will have more to say to me than most. Indeed my time(s) of isolation and trial might prove to be the context for the best (and longest!) sermon I am ever called to preach. St Paul’s epistles, Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress, Tyndale’s Bible and Bonhoeffer’s Letters were produced in these unplanned places.
- Being more understanding of brothers and sisters who, in God’s good providence have been called to live in unchosen circumstances like bereavement, desertion, debilitating illnesses, singleness and rejection due to their faithful commitment to Christ, and hopefully more willing to learn from their faithfulness, uncomplaining and winsome Christ trusting testimony.
I have found Andrew Murray’s four words helpful: (i) God has brought me here. It is His will that I am in this place. In that fact I will rest (ii) He will keep me here in His love and give me grace to behave as His child. (iii) He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends for me to learn and working in me the grace He means to bestow. (iv) In His good time, He can bring me out again. How and when, He knows. So let me say I am here.
Peter Brain 24th April, 2020