I would like to offer you some encouragement. In 1 Thessalonians 4:18, we are told to encourage each other with “these words.” The words Paul is referring to are his recent exhortation about the Resurrection, and while this is a timely message of hope for the future, I want to encourage you all with a few other words.
These are extraordinary days we are living in. Days filled with great fear and uncertainty but, at the same time, great possibility. Not that we should ever deny the severity of COVID-19 or its global effect, but can we be challenged to see how God is working in these days?
I’m thinking about Paul’s words to the Corinthian church, when he said that his light and momentary troubles were achieving for him an eternal glory (see 2 Corinthians 4:17). And James’ words to the church, saying that patience in suffering produces fruit within our lives (see James 5:7-11). In every trial we face, we should be quick to ask the Spirit where he is leading us, and what we are to receive and learn in this season.
Can I encourage you to have patience? We can all think of areas where we could use more patience—whether we feel stuck at home, are trying to work from home or with our kids as they do school at home. But beyond that, I encourage you to have patience and wait upon the Lord through these difficult days, to wait on the Spirit and hear his voice. No circumstance in our lives is ever wasted; God has something great for us.
Nearly all of us have had our regular schedule disrupted because of COVID-19. For some, the disruption has been greater than for others, but disruption has hit us all, none the less. I encourage you to take this disruption as an opportunity to evaluate your schedule and priorities, to make more time to talk with Jesus.
Increased prayer results in two outcomes. First, spending more time with Jesus will quiet and enliven your soul. Prayer is a key to tapping into the wells of living water that Jesus promised would spring up within those who believed in him. Prayer accesses the deep anchor of our faith that cannot be affected by the external factors that often rage around us.
Second, prayer builds up those we love and serve. Prayer is one of the bonding elements of the body of Christ; prayer connects us to our brothers and sisters in Christ. In these days when we can’t connect with others in all the ways we’re used to, we need to spend extra time in intercessory prayer, especially for our children and youth.
In his earlier years, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent a couple of seasons serving as a youth worker or pastor at a church in Berlin while he studied theology. When the day came for him to farewell to other opportunities, the church held a worship service and the children publicly prayed for him. Reflecting on the moment later, he wrote that the prayer “sent shivers down [his] spine,” and that “Where a people prays, there is the church; and where the church is, there is never loneliness.”
This is a profound truth for us today. Let the church rise up in prayer to be connected even when separated, and so, in turn, to push back the loneliness that can so easily accompany isolation. This could be a season of discovering new depths of communion with Christ. No circumstance in our lives is ever wasted; God has something great for us.
Noting again the disruption that COVID-19 has brought to all our lives, I want to suggest one other way we can leverage it for kingdom glory. We have been forced to rethink how we do church and what it looks like to reach the lost and disciple each other. The result of that rethinking has been a wellspring of creativity bursting forth from nearly all corners of the church.
We now have both the impetus and the focus to examine and evaluate all our methods and reduce things to foundational elements for maximum creativity and impact. What an exciting possibility to arise from such difficult circumstances! We don’t know how long we may be in this situation but, for a moment, think about the innovation and development that will take place within the body of Christ the longer it carries on. I’m not simply talking about nifty ideas of how to utilize technology and media (though that excites me very much), but about the deep ideological and missiological thinking and innovation taking place. I believe that the church is positioned for impact through and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic like rarely before seen in its history. We are facing a global reset. There have been many localized resets over the history of the church, often resulting in culture-shifting revivals, but rarely global ones, and perhaps never on this scale. What does God have in mind? God knows! But I am excited to be around to anticipate it.
Can I encourage you toward progress? What is your part in this move of God? Where is he leading? Friends, don’t miss this moment. Settle into it. The vitality of the Godhead is coursing through the veins of the church and may we be a people who respond to it. Ask God to give you eyes to see kingdom realities, both now and in the days ahead (see Matthew 6:22-23). No circumstance in our lives is ever wasted; God has something great for us.
I encourage you in patience, prayer and progress. I know that this journey is hard, and there may be darker days ahead of us yet, where we as the church will need to bear down and dig deep to support our communities and be the light they will so desperately need. But none of this is wasted in the economy of God. His Word is going forth through his church, and it will not return to him void.
Stay hopeful, stay holy and stay close to Jesus. Greatness awaits!
Major Terence Hale is the territorial youth secretary and assistant secretary for candidates in the Canada and Bermuda Territory.
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