2020. Phew—I don’t know about you, but I went into that year excited. It was going to be my year. But then—COVID. Everything stopped. Everything shut down.
And I can tell you, I was not happy about my plans being ruined and my life being interrupted.
The dreaded corona. It was a test for us, as a church, I believe: How would we hold up when the whole world turned upside down?
- Would we be the lights to the world and help give panicked, lost souls the hope of Christ and the everlasting peace that comes with realizing that He is in control? Or would we lose all peace ourselves?
- Would we bring joy and a renewed perspective to those whose lives were darkened by the loss of their comforts? Or would we complain just like the rest of the world?
- Would we use our freedom to save souls—or to demand our own rights?
- Would we use our influence to preach conspiracies and constitutional rights, or Christ?
- Would we treat those who disagree with us with respect and gentleness, or with scorn and contempt?
While we cannot change what we have done, we need to realize a few things about this trial and others we may face in the future:
God’s plans are not our plans.
I think we all understood this one from 2020 (amen?). I’m pretty sure every one of us had big plans that were waylaid. In fact, I remember posting just weeks before the quarantine about a trip to Singapore, 3 ladies’ days I was teaching, and several markets—all in 2020. When the quarantine was announced I was in denial about its seriousness and its impact on my year for a long time—and when it finally hit me that it wasn’t going away soon, I really struggled with my plans being overturned. But all of this is just helping cement the lesson in me further: I do not know what will happen tomorrow—but I know God, and God is faithful—and He has a plan for me in this moment. However, I can only be useful if I lean into this trial and make myself ready to be useful to Him. I can be a part of His plans—but only if I am willing to surrender my own when necessary.
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—  yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that”
Uncertainty should never shake the Christian.
Sure, it’s not at all fun while we’re living it in this life, but it’s an opportunity to cling closer to the everlasting, rather than this passing world. God’s promises still hold during pandemics—100%. And no matter what happens to this world, our families, our possessions, or even our bodies, nothing can take us away from His promises, mercy, grace, and love. When all else is uncertain—Christ is unchanging, present, and listening closely to our cries.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
Uncertainty is sanctifying.
When things are good, it’s so much easier to praise God and thank Him for how He has been good. But when things are rocky and uncertain? When things are uncomfortable and difficult? It is a lot harder for us to see how He has been good to us. But He is always good. Uncertainty teaches us to lean into Him and praise Him no matter what happens. But to be prepared to praise Him in adversity, we need to practice praising Him when things are easy. Job didn’t get to have such a wonderful attitude to losing everything by accident—He practiced praising and worshipping God so regularly that it was his immediate response (Job 1:1-5; 20-22).
“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.  And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.  In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”
Contentment can always be found.
Is it easy? No—but it is possible. In fact, one of the used (and often abused) verses in the Bible, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) was written by Paul in explaining how he had learnt to be content in every situation. This means that we can be content no matter what’s going on around us and no matter what comforts we lose. And, just like Paul, we can “[learn] in whatever situation [we are] to be content” (4:11) if only we will draw on His strength.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me”.
Complaints should be prayers.
Our cries of discomfort and dissatisfaction should ascend to the throne of Heaven as cries for help and strength—not span outward into our social circle to become discouragements and disagreements. As I think on this point in particular, I am ashamed. I complained all too often and prayed all too little. God doesn’t expect us to be unaffected by our circumstances, but instead invites us to vent all our raw emotions onto Him. The Psalms are full of cries and complaints—but they are cries and complaints to God. God wants to hear them—and any complaint that is send to Him is then able to be replaced with confidence in His ability to carry us through and deal with the source of our complaints as His will allows.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,  casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you”
(1 Peter 5:6, 7)
Our freedom is an opportunity to serve others.
I have heard a lot about freedoms during the last two years—but all too often from a nationalistic perspective. What I haven’t heard enough of is what it means to exercise Biblical freedom. As Christians, our freedoms in Christ aren’t so that we can be free from authority and governmental restrictions. Our freedoms don’t even free us from other people’s opinions—in fact, our freedoms are best exercised in a way that offends the least amount of people possible while still completely following Christ’s law. This is an unpopular opinion, but just looking at all the divisions and tensions that ran rampant during the pandemic and politics of 2020—well, I’m sure we can at least acknowledge that some tolerance of others’ benign opinions needs to be observed, or others will certainly not “know we are Christians by our love” (John 13:35).
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another”
Preaching Christ is our #1 priority.
As a person, there are a number of things I may think are important for me and my family. This will probably come as a shock to you (ha) but there are a great many very strong opinions I hold that I will probably never write about. Why? Because Christ. As a Christian—I need to be fully aware that, no matter what else matters to me, Christ is to matter most of all. I also need to realize that preaching Christ and the Bible as absolute truth is utterly controversial—and so I must be careful to not preach any of my own dividing, controversial opinions above His truth. I saw too many posts preaching conspiracies and opinions in a divisive way—basically calling others stupid who wouldn’t believe these things. Here’s the thing—whether you believe those conspiracies are true or not—no matter how much evidence you have to support them—you ruin the message of Christ by presenting them. Christ is controversial enough for people. If you’re going to be controversial, use all your controversy and confidence to preach Him and His way.
“ For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
(1 Corinthians 1:21-25)
How we handle trouble and uncertainty can win—or lose—souls.
This time gave us many opportunities—but one of the biggest things we need to realize is that how we handle bad news, pain, and tensions can heavily impact our influence on others. We all know someone who has gone through something terrible and yet has done it with grace, faith, generosity, and kindness—and those stories spur us to greater faith and give us strength to go through our own difficulties. On the other hand, we all know someone who has gone through difficulties and has come out harsh, bitter, and hateful. These kinds of people don’t tend to bring out the best in us—they challenge us and our patience—and can even cause our faith to be shaken if they are members of the church. Church members not acting like Christians is one of the biggest reasons people turn away from the faith.
Now consider yourself and the non-Christian friends you are trying to win over to Christ. How you react to/ talk about /post about your troubles, your complaints, the church’s response, and those who disagree with you will heavy impact their idea of Christianity and the church. No matter what you are going through, YOU are a representative of Christ and His people. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have emotions, but it does mean that you need to be aware of how you are handling them and who you go to for advice and comfort.
Allow bad experiences to mold you and make you gentler, kinder, sweeter, more generous, more understanding—and others will see that and be drawn to the Christ who gives you the strength to do so. Also be willing to admit your faults—this is not only something that Christ calls us to do, but also a rare thing in today’s world. When we are willing to admit we are not perfect and we have messed up—people will see we are different. Be humble. Be different. Let your trials change you for the betterment of your soul and others.
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
As you and I look back on this period, we may realize we’ve not exactly handled things in a Christ-like way—I know I certainly failed at times. The good news for you and me is that, if we are in Christ, forgiveness is always near and the future is bright for those who change their lives out of godly sorrow. We may have sometimes allowed our light to go out—but flames can be re-kindled.
But as well as seeking forgiveness, we need to seek out the lessons. What did we learn about ourselves during this period? What did we learn about how we respond to difficulties, discomfort, and different opinions? For many of us, this was a very trying but also a very telling time (talking to myself here too).
The aftermath of the pandemic is a time to grow in grace and knowledge—a time to take the things we have learnt and let them shape us for a better future.
There are souls out there that are hurting from this—let’s change for them.
Set our hearts on fire, Lord—for you and for the souls who feel lost and insecure.
Help us be lights for them.