The Apostle Paul encouraged the church in Ephesus, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:15-17). Especially in days like these—where uncertainty abounds and our routines have been disrupted—it’s important to be careful, wise, and not wasteful. Here are five encouragements for you as you plan for the days ahead.
1. Remember your family in Christ.
As many churches across the United States are halting corporate worship services in order to abide by CDC recommendations and love their neighbors by “flattening the curve,” we are reminded of our brothers and sisters throughout the world for whom corporate worship isn’t a weekly privilege. As a pastor, I was saddened not to gather together with the people of our church, but the circumstances have made me think of the Christians in North Korea, or parts of the Middle-East, where Sunday fellowship isn’t a given. I’m also reminded of the believers who are currently incarcerated throughout the United States who don’t have access to good Bible teaching and who have difficulty meeting under the word.
Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” As many of us get a small taste of what it’s like not to have the sweetness of the corporate gathering, let us give thanks to God for his kind provision over the years (how we’ve taken it for granted!) and remember in our prayers the dear saints who have been seeking to faithfully follow Jesus without the ordinary blessing of church on Sunday.
2. Serve those who are in need.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The word used here for “stir up” is fascinating. It’s the word paroxysmon, and it is often used in negative contexts for the idea of provoking or irritating. “Irritate one another to love!” It’s said that pearls are formed when an irritant makes its way into a clam, and as a defense mechanism the clam secretes a substance called nacre over the irritant repeatedly, forming the beautiful pearl. As believers, we’re to provoke one another in such a way that the pearls of love and good works are formed in our communities. In a time like this, that might look like visiting someone in your church who is older and completely shut in. Or perhaps it looks like bringing groceries or other necessities to them. Just because we may not be holding corporate services doesn’t mean we should neglect meeting altogether. Smaller gatherings where social distancing is practiced can still happen. We need to be creative as we consider how—in this present moment—we’re helping to form the pearls of love in each other. A brief text or phone call can mean a lot as well.
3. Pray through the darkness.
Be calm and committed to prayer, even when other normal routines have gone out the window. When Daniel was taken to Babylon during the time of the Exile, he made sure that his heart was still aligned with the worship of God’s people. During uncertain and even dangerous times, Daniel was committed to prayer (Daniel 6:10). There’s a tradition we find in Scripture of praying at certain hours of the day. The psalmist said, “Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice” (Ps. 55:17). Some liturgical scholars believe that these “hours” of morning and evening prayer were modeled after the morning and evening sacrifice of the temple in Jerusalem. It could be that Daniel is praying at these times in alignment with what would have been happening at the temple had Jerusalem not been taken by Babylon. This kind of prayer affirms that ultimately, God is still in control. Our circumstances may change, but we can boldly access the throne of grace anytime because of what Jesus, our high priest, has accomplished (Heb. 4:16). Take advantage of that access!
4. Listen to State and Medical officials.
We’ve seen how quickly this disease can spread and get out of hand in places like China and Italy. Sadly, reports are coming to us of doctors being unable to care for patients because they’re at max capacity. Loving our neighbors isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s a massive disruption to our “normal lives,” but it’s what Jesus calls us to. Not having larger gatherings and laying low socially are some of the ways we help to prevent the spread of disease. Because we’re Christians, we should be especially concerned about the most vulnerable in our midst, so that even if we’re healthy (and feel like COVID-19 won’t kill us) we’re eager to preserve the life of our neighbors. This preservation of life is rooted in the sixth commandment, “You shall nor murder.” In line with this, especially when we think about corporate worship (the fourth commandment), it’s important to ask whether we’re doing good or doing harm.
On one occasion Jesus drew the attention of the religious leaders because he healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Prior to performing the miracle, Jesus asked, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mk. 3:4) Of course, the religious leaders were silent. Ironically, they thought he was breaking the Sabbath, but he was exposing that they were murderers. Not only had Jesus truly kept the Sabbath, they had broken the sixth commandment by seeking to withhold good from the infirm man and plotting murder in their hearts (Mk. 3:6). These are strange and difficult times to navigate for many of us, but let’s keep the glory of God and the good of our neighbor central. You can’t go wrong with that.
5. Don’t stop giving to your church.
I was just reading about how devastating this has already been for local restaurants. Some of them are struggling to stay open while already operating on a month-to-month basis. The effects of the virus could completely sink smaller businesses, and we should be sensitive to the great need our neighbors are going to have in the upcoming days. Similarly, many churches and church plants are wondering how all of this is going to affect giving. Yes, these are uncertain times that for many of us have a negative financial result, but don’t stop giving to the work of your church because it’s more difficult or because you’re not able to gather on Sunday.
Paul praised the churches of Macedonia because, “in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord… ” (2 Cor. 8:2–3) This may be a testing affliction for you, one which results in the loss of resources, but don’t let it extinguish your generosity. Continue to give as you’ve purposed in your heart and do so with joy (2 Cor. 9:7). Many churches have options for online giving, and if your church doesn’t, maybe you can help them by working to set it up. Remember, just because your church may not be gathering like normal, doesn’t mean your pastor isn’t keeping busy. It’s often times like these where the job of a pastor becomes even more absorbed, so be patient with your leaders, and don’t stop encouraging them.