Learning good lessons from the COVID-19 season
‘We won’t and cannot pass through this difficult season without being changed’
For six months now this unexpected and unwanted COVID-19 virus has been shaking up our settled lives and rattling our presumptions.
Its consequences are broad and they also run deep. We are being forced to exercise our knowledge, experience and creativity in whole new ways. It’s introducing new stresses and anxieties, and exposing new personal challenges. It’s causing many to seek security in their unsettledness and meaning in the face of possible sickness or even death. We don’t know how bad this will get or how long it will continue. We thought initially we might have had it tamed, but now it’s clear that it is off and running again.
Change is a positive biblical reality – God expects us to change.
Lots of helpful articles have been written addressing our anxieties and fears associated with our health and that of our loved ones, loss of jobs, and the like.
But let’s think a while along a different path. We won’t and cannot pass through this difficult season without being changed in various ways. Our aim is to move forward not backward. We recognise that change is a positive biblical reality – God expects us to change as we read and contemplate what he has to say to us.
So, what positive, significant truths can be learned from our present circumstances? What lessons does this demanding season teach us that will help us modify our relationships, our priorities and our current world view, so they better reflect truth and reality? For instance, are there clear pointers in this about what it means to be truly human? Have we properly grasped what is genuinely important for us to focus our lives on?
I share some of my own reflections below. I hope you will add the discoveries that come out of your own thinking and experiences.
1. We don’t have the ability to control our world as we once thought we had
We understand that although we might be able to modify some of the disastrous effects of a tsunami or volcanic eruption and certainly respond to COVID-19, we are in the end powerless before their brutal intrusions.
This COVID-19 intrusion has left us realising that we are less in control of our world than we might have thought we were. COVID-19 has knocked us around. As a community generally, it has caused enormous dents in our presumption that we are an autonomous and sophisticated community, confident to handle whatever comes.
Instead, it is raising fundamental questions about who is really in control over our nation, over our community and ultimately over each of our own individual lives. Are our lives really autonomous or is it true that we are answerable to the God who is wielding history according to his own awesome plan, moving it inevitably to a truly magnificent end point? And if so, isn’t it very wise to place our lives under his control and share what he has prepared?
For the Christian, the reminder is just as timely and strong: if we genuinely trust Jesus for our life and salvation, that trust will show itself in a life brought under his authority and acknowledging his control.
2. God does have the ability to bring good things out of the heart of a calamity
Consistent with other people’s experiences, my wife and I have watched God build faith, character and purpose into the lives of our children over the last 25 years, as they’ve sought to handle serious chronic health issues. Out of adversity they have grown a new strength and resilience. And that’s down to the touch of God’s hand!
In response to the COVID-19 challenge, we are watching the medical community make significant advances as they search for both an antidote for those with the disease and a serum to inoculate people against catching it in the first place. Wonderful side benefits flow from such a focussed search.
Out of our separation, Jesus is helping us to appreciate in a fresh way the value of being in close community.
With the variety of lockdowns and social distancing being experienced, we feel the loss of face-to-face contact. Out of our separation, Jesus is helping us to appreciate in a fresh way the value of being in close community with one another, of friendship, of looking out for each other and of mutually building each other up in the faith.
Our challenge is to keep working hard on staying in touch at the best possible level, because the fellowship of God’s people is a deep and attractive thing that we both need and benefit greatly from. In valuing one another in a fresh way, the often selfish trend towards individualism is being slowed. In our limitations, God has supplied alternative ways of meeting that don’t involve being physically present with one another. And the day is coming when hugs will be on the agenda again!
Actually, when you think about it, we ought not to be surprised that God is displaying this wonderful capacity for bringing good things out of bad. After all, in the face of the injustice, death and seeming defeat of his own Son at the cross, he actually drew the greatest victory of all. Out of his victory, he caused to flow the forgiveness and salvation that is now offered to you and me when we trust him with our lives. Instead of death and separation from God because we have walked away from him, he can offer life in Christ and reconciliation as his free gift.
3. We’ve been given the chance to reassess our lives in the light of the future
If it’s true that we have been understanding our lives and priorities in the same way the world generally has, and our vision has been limited to the “now”, this COVID season is giving us a chance to realise afresh how limited that view is.
Instead, Christians are taught to lift our eyes to see the huge view of the future which belongs to God. His future is already secured and, by faith, it has become our inheritance too. When Jesus returns, he will gather up all those he “took hold of” during their earthly lives and they will share with him in the New Heaven and New Earth. There will be no tears, no grief, no pain, no death. Instead, we will be face to face with the Lord Jesus as he fulfils every final area of blessing, joy and righteousness. This is when the incredible potential he has built into each one of us is no longer potential but a magnificent reality.
The Christian sees their present life and experience in the light of this glorious future. The way we live now will be inevitably changed by this eternal perspective. It’s not that the “now” isn’t important; it’s that our future with Jesus is the ultimate important reality to make sure we are grasping securely. Now is a good time to check our perspectives.
4. We have lost significant things but also gained significant things as a result of this crisis
To lose a loved one or our employment, or to have our financial security reduced or our mental health shaken, can only be described as awful. But my question is: Do these losses strip us of our significance as a person?
You may be feeling like it has, but let’s just rethink this. In fact, our significance is established by much greater realities. Consider the following: Firstly, God chose from the very beginning to make men and women in his own image. That immediately gave us a unique status and significance in his world. In his eyes, we are each of the highest importance and therefore accountable for the way we respond to him. He cares about who we are!
Secondly, because God loved and valued us so much, he was prepared to win us back into relationship with him by the sacrifice of his own Son. As an example of love and commitment, the death of Jesus on our behalf finds no match in all of history.
Have you felt the force of what God teaches us here? He is assuring us that if a person trusts Jesus, no matter what else we might lose in our life, these two magnificent gains remain foundational for establishing our genuine value.
5. Time spent stepping out of our normal routine can be so renewing
I know it’s a hackneyed observation, but most of us do live life at a fast pace. Unless we are very well organised, we rarely put time aside to stop and think, reflect, catch up. But at the moment, many have slowed in their life simply because they don’t have any other option. We’ve been forced off the merry-go-round. The result is we have less of a sense of chasing our tails.
God, in his grace, is giving us time to re-engage with him.
So, how do we use the extra time we’ve got? This has a very positive side. At one level, Bunnings sales are through the roof because long-promised jobs around the house are no longer being put off. At a more significant level, God, in his grace, is giving us time to re-engage with him. People have more time to reflect on how their lives are working out, the state of their friendships, the directions they are moving in and about their relationship with God. There are rediscoveries of the value of knowing Jesus and being secure in him. There is a fresh appreciation of how good it is to be united in fellowship with God’s people.
So that we don’t fall back again into the world’s pace and priorities, it would make sense that planning regular “stepping out” times in the future to refresh and refocus would continue to be invaluable for maintaining our spiritual progress.
6. There is a new openness in the community to considering spiritual truth
Sure, this situation has caused the light to be shone on people, their character and their responses. There is a heightened mix of selfishness in some and loving consideration in others. But in the middle of all this, our evangelistic God is very much alive and active!
In talking to other church leaders, they have shared instances where people’s responses such as anxiety, fear and uncertainty have led to a new openness to the existence of God and the meaning and purpose of life. In some churches, more are attending church online than were previously attending in person. Some who have been on the fringe are now regularly watching. New people are attending online gospel courses, searching for the opportunity to clarify who Jesus is and how he can help them find genuine security and significance. They want to be sure of what’s truly important, both for now and in the future.
Jesus is the One who exercises the initiative for people’s responses to the gospel. But we can be praying that trickles of spiritual interest will become waterfalls of changed lives, and God will be glorified in them.
7. There is a renewed appreciation for the blessings we share
The experience of loss has focussed many on the value of what they have left. Although we have felt the bite of this pandemic, in comparison with other nations, Australia has fared much better than most. We have leaders of government, health, education and religion who are working extremely hard to care for everyone. We have excellent medical testing and care facilities.
We are not so focussed on a sense of entitlement, self-centredness and individualism.
Many families are finding they get on pretty well, even when housebound together for such a long time. People are deliberately considering who to ring, FaceTime or Zoom, and are being well received. As a society, we are not so focussed on a sense of entitlement, self-centredness and individualism that has been building in and amongst us for some time now. We are grateful for these modern alternative ways of keeping contact with each other.
Meanwhile, we have weapons we can turn against this virus. We can establish or continue routines in our day that will nurture, reassure and calm us. We can agree on a plan to follow while we are in this COVID season together. We can keep God’s promises prominent through regular Bible reading and prayer. We can take care of ourselves through exercise and healthy eating. We can keep our minds active through reading. We can keep in contact with those who may be struggling more than ourselves.
And we can give thanks for the constant presence and support of the God who is in control.
8. We’ve been reminded of our ability to respond creatively to a challenge
We are especially aware of all those who are involved in frontline responses. We know we are “all in this together”, but have we also remembered the enormous variety of gifts and expertise that God has nurtured in us? There is a lot of creative thinking going on about how best to tackle the challenges of this present time. Thank God for those with the capacity to prepare online services in church.
But how do we creatively look after those who are disabled or elderly and are not IT savvy? Thumbs up to the leaders who are learning to approach their talks differently – the pray-ers and Bible readers and musicians and those who teach kids and youth, and so on! God has built a varied creativity into us which is complementary and comes together to build up his people and those amongst whom we live.
At the heart of everything, we trust the Romans 8:28 God. As in every succeeding generation, he is moving his unstoppable plan forward. We eagerly await the time when the pandemic is under control and we can regularly meet again face to face. Even more so, we look forward to our ultimate gathering around the Lord Jesus.
But in the meantime, what are you being convicted about in this current season? I challenge you to write your own list of the lessons you are learning. My hope is that you will find the exercise eye opening and reassuring.
Chris Burgess is an Anglican minister in Sydney.