In the unprecedented time of the coronavirus pandemic, fear plays a role from every side. Whether you are fearful concerning where your income will come from, the state of our economy, the guarantee of our freedoms, or of COVID-19 itself, the situation that we find ourselves in is challenging for all of us. Perhaps you find yourself juggling between a combination of these things. Or you might have a simpler and more subtle fear. Whether you’ve been laid off, you’re just working from home, or you’re working from home while your kids are doing school at home, a more subtle question that we are all thinking is “When will things go back to normal?”
As humans we enjoy normal. Normal feels safe, understandable, and controllable. Now some may say “Not true, I crave new adventures and challenges!” Well, what about when you can’t have those new adventures of your choosing? Like after months of stay-at-home order? Your usual opportunities that you enjoy are not reality right now and thus you may still crave your normal. Even going to the grocery store doesn’t feel normal anymore.
Through my last post I discussed that situations of fear like the coronavirus are not new in our day despite the unique experience we are having and that all fear, even the fear of life not returning to normal, is rooted in our fear of death. As Christians, we are not immune to fear, but we have been given wisdom from God for how to respond to fear. We must carefully study the Scriptures to see what God desires for us in these difficult situations.
We will have trouble
As we consider our response to fearful situations there is a crucial piece of understanding that we need to come to. Leading up to His crucifixion Jesus spoke at length to His disciples. At the end of His sharing He told them the following.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33
Let’s break this down. First, Jesus tells them that he “told [them] these things.” The Word of God, shared His Words with His followers for a clear goal – so that in him we may have peace. In the same way, God’s Word is testified to us and He has a goal for us to find peace by knowing Him through it. What comes next is kind of crazy. He says “In this world you will have trouble.” In the same breath of explaining that His goal for us is peace, He promises trouble! Notice that He doesn’t promise our human rights, our health, or even our normal. In fact, according to Jesus, our normal is trouble. In the Greek, this sentence is actually present tense meaning that we can expect our lives to continually encounter trouble and difficulty. But Jesus isn’t finished there! He commands us to take heart, that is, to have confident courage in the midst of our trials. Why? Because He has overcome the world!
Jesus wants us to know that we will have trouble and to have courage in the face of it because we are able to experience peace in the midst of it. Now let’s discuss how we do exactly that.
The Response of Faith
Trials will come. The core issue is will we “take heart” as Jesus called us to. This response begins with faith in the fact that Jesus has overcome the world.
Without faith, we can’t have a courageous response. Faith is not merely knowing a fact. Knowing a fact like Jesus died on the cross and rose to life is not faith. Faith is confident belief in what that fact means for your life so that you are led to respond to it. So often we start and end the Good News of God with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Yes, He overcame the world in this way, but there is so much more to it!
All of us need a greater understanding of what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection mean for us. To begin we should cry out to Him and pray, “Increase our faith!” How do we increase our faith that leads to the peace we need? Jesus told us how when He said “I have told you these things.” If you need more faith, you can’t just pray for it and hope you believe more. Jesus’ words in the Scriptures were given so we might receive the peace found in Him. You cannot receive His peace without receiving His words.
If you find yourself needing more faith, read the New Testament to see Jesus’ words and how hope was stirred in those who heard Him. The meaning of Jesus’ life is too great to fully grasp so dive in! If you find yourself struggling in this time, it may be because you are not in the Word of God, and thus the Word of God may not be in you. When it is in you, it leads to greater and greater understanding of reasons to have confident hope in Him that lead to true peace.
Here are some quick ones! His resurrection gives us hope for the bodily resurrection from the dead! No matter what happens in your situation, He will raise those who truly believe in Him that they may have eternal life! Don’t let this life and its troubles worry you. You have a resurrection to come! Not only that, but Jesus is going to establish a kingdom where justice, peace, and joy will be the norm and we will reign with Him! Our desire for normal points us to Him and he will make the normal that we long for- the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth! We need faith for this. If we don’t even believe this, then what’s the point of our faith at all?
Response of Repentance
Perhaps you haven’t sought God recently. Maybe you call yourself a Christian but you don’t know if you believe even the simplest truths about the resurrection from the dead and the coming of the Kingdom of God. Maybe you’re not sure that you can put your faith in those things. After all, they seem impossible. If that’s your case I have good news for you- you already have faith!
Let me explain. We all see brokenness around us. We see pain, injustice, disease, anxiety, and far too many other issues to list. These things aren’t the kingdom and we all want better. We are human after all. What do you think will be effective in dealing with these things? Some trust the government to change laws to improve the situation while some give to charities. Some put their whole hope in medicine while others find confidence in natural remedies. Some trust that corruption will be worked out by the system and others call for revolution. Some call for stricter boundaries while others cry for freedom. And still others simply think everything will work out without any effort at all. Even some share “good thoughts” and “good vibes” that “the universe” will make things work out. But isn’t the universe the problem?
Let’s be honest here. We all have a capacity to put our faith (read as trust or hope) in something. What we place our faith in comes down to what we truly believe. Think about what you put yours in. Has that ever really worked before? Did the government solve our problems? Did revolution make everything just? The true peace we long for will not come in these other things. Some may say, “Why can we be so confident in Jesus?” Easy, because of His resurrection. Our faith is not in His resurrection alone, but when we accept His resurrection as fact, our belief in everything else comes into focus. If He really overcame the world, we can have hope that we will too, even in death. And in the meantime, we can work in medicine, government, charities, and all the other good things asking God’s hand to be on it that it may help bring the kingdom in the midst of the trouble.
If you have placed your trust in anything other than Jesus the action step is simple. Repent. We need to redirect the focus of our faith from those things to Him who promised the peace and kingdom that we really want, even if that means we need to change ourselves in the process.
In fact, the trouble of this world comes for this very reason. As we have trouble, that trouble challenges us to listen to Him who guides us. The writer of Hebrews put it this way concerning the trouble that Jesus promised would come.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their Father? If you are not disciplined - and everyone undergoes discipline - then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Hebrews 12:7,8
Track with me here. Notice this does not say “hardship is discipline from God.” Rather, If you consider your hardship as discipline, then you will get out of it what God wants you to have. Discipline is not punishment for punishment’s sake. It is direction!
Think about normal discipline from a parent. Why is discipline necessary? Discipline is only necessary when the child does not listen to the parent. Discipline guides the child to listen to the parent’s directions that are to help the child be healthy in every way. In the same sense, hardship directs the Christian to turn to the Word of God for direction because nothing else should win their attention if they have faith in God. The Father wants us to receive His Word and truly comprehend it as His children and our troubles serve as constant redirects to His Word. How do we do that? The action step of repentance is the same as the action step of faith! Obediently dive into the Scriptures, engage with it in a community of believers, and respond to what you learn. You cannot learn too much and the more you place your faith in it, the more you will respond to it.
This is how the author of Hebrews relates human discipline to God’s discipline.
They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:10,11
This process of discipline is difficult, but God has designed even the trouble of this world to lead us to Him. And guess what the result of this process is? A harvest of RIGHTEOUSNESS and PEACE! Peace, just like Jesus wants us to have in our trouble, and righteousness, Jesus’ likeness in us. As we find peace in hardship we know that we are living a life that has faith in God and godliness being formed in us confident of the hope to come.
The Response of Intercession
As we put our faith in God and grow in peace and righteousness through the Word of God, we will find ourselves more and more aligned with God’s heart. The response of intercession during times of trouble can be summarized in two parts.
The first I will call “Deal with me.” When our faith is in God, our prayers for ourselves from a place of confident peace show humble recognition of our need for God. We will never grow past our need for God to direct us to Him through His Word. Our prayers will reflect this just as the Scriptures do. From the beginning to the end, the righteous humbly ask for mercy and grace in their lives, and they find it! (See Hebrews 4:14-16)
Then we have “Deal with them.” There are others who are placing their trust in so many other things including other gods. God has revealed His love to all people, for we were all His enemies. We are meant to pray for those in times of trouble that they would place their faith in Jesus and experience the same life. Sometimes, for those that reject Him outrightly, this is accomplished through difficult trouble. Think of Jonah who was swallowed by a fish yet saved through it. Peter rejected the Lord but found reconciliation back to Him. Paul the apostle was blinded by God and then saved from that blindness so that He might truly see the love of God. We pray for the lost and believer alike that God would guide them to Himself even if it come through His wrath.
Intercession is our duty as believers, but to do it well we must know His heart for ourselves and others. There is no other way to know this besides knowing His Word. If you need help reading, engaging with, and understanding the Scriptures choose humility and get help. Ask your tough questions and share your confusions. There are answers if you are willing to search deep enough. You might not find the answer right away, but keep asking, seeking, and knocking and you will find Him who wants to give you peace as you wait patiently for Him.
As always, feel free to ask me any questions you may have.