Uncertainty. Just that word can make our stomachs churn, our hearts pound faster, and our minds race. Everyone is dealing with uncertainty right now due to the upheaval of the Coronavirus—whether it be your travel, work, schedule, group meetings, church, school, childcare, etc. It all boils down to our PLANS becoming uncertain. Less fixed. Less known. We are used to booking our schedules weeks or months in advance, always having what we need (or want) in the stores, and rarely inconvenienced in a way that technology or a little willpower won’t “fix.”
The Illusion of Control
But it’s all an illusion. Your well laid plans, your schedule, your “tap of the iPhone and ___ happens” gives you and me a sense of control. But it’s not actual control. Times like this really drive that home.
I don’t know about you, but I really like to be in control or to have systems in place that make me feel like I am in control. My planner, schedule, timelines, phone, etc., while all God-given tools that can and should be used to serve Him and others, are often more about my own little kingdom than about His. This really points to the pride of my heart that the Lord graciously peels back in times like this.
Scripture speaks to this concept over and over:
“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.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil'” (James 4:13-17).
“The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9)…
When it comes to He Who Must Not Be Named, most of us know full well what not to do by now—but what can we do to encourage one another as we go about our quiet days at home? It’s not a difficult reach to guess how disconnected and unmotivated we might feel without regular interaction, and especially without communal worship and fellowship. And it doesn’t take a PhD in Social Psychology to know many of us may be diagnosed with a raging case of the empties (if not the actual Coronavirus) before the Covid-wave passes.
Knowing I’m about to have a lot of time on my hands, I’m looking for ideas for those quiet midday Tuesdays when it’s going to be tempting to find myself hollowing out to a sneaky and unintended Netflix binge or playing the day’s 10th round of that addictive phone game. I’d love to make some choices that edify Christ, myself as a Christ-follower, my family whom I want to love well, and my friends and neighbors—believers and non-believers alike—both over the fence and over the WiFi.
With that in mind, here are a few ways for you/me/us to consider the lonely, and expand the definition of who that could be and what that could look like.
Say hello to your neighbors. Knock on a front door and tell them you just wanted to see their face and ask if they needed anything…
Years ago, a friend of mine was convinced that air conditioning was destroying the fabric of American community in the south. I thought he was over-reaching and I pushed back against his claim. But he noted that before air conditioning, at the end of the day, people were forced to spend their evenings taking walks or sitting on their front porches. The heat festering in the house simply drove them outside. They couldn’t avoid their neighbors. Today, many of us drive home, pull into our garages and close the automatic door behind us, hoping to only engage with the people with whom we cohabitate.
Maybe my friend’s theory about AC wasn’t that over-reaching.
We like our space, our TV shows (I mean, I live alone and have three TVs…why?), and our agenda. But, what’s so wrong with all of that? I think the bigger question is: what does our obsession “having it our way” cost us?
Stephen M. Lukes wrote, “Individualism can be described in terms of a kind of moderate selfishness that disposes humans to be concerned only with their own small circle of family and friends.” That definition stands in stark contrast to Philippians 2’s mandate to count others more significant than ourselves (2:3-4). Like you, I imagine, my love has a pecking order. It’s a fact that I love my close friends and family members more than a complete stranger. I’d rather be given a short list of people that I’m required to love and build into, than an open expectation that I’m supposed to die to my own agenda and show mercy to virtually anyone who crosses my path…
In my mother’s bedroom is an antique armoire. Its open doors reveal folded quilts, carefully stacked, and hinting at their kaleidoscope of pattern and color. As beautiful as they are sitting on the shelf, nothing compares to the glory that appears when each one is taken down and spread out on the bed, displaying the stitches and handiwork that went into creating them. I love hearing their stories: the feed sack cloth, the shirt scraps, this one that came from an Easter dress and that one made from a soft velvet. The women, over years and generations, gathered together to piece and sew and form these bits of fabric into something more wonderful in their combining than was possible in their separate existence.
When I think of my life in the community that is the body of Christ, I think of these quilts. God, the master creator and craftsman, has fashioned us— his covenant people— into a whole that is much bigger than the sum of its parts. Each of us brings our own beauty, our own personality, our own gifts, and yes— our own quirks, sins, and faults. Just as the quilt maker trims and shapes each piece for its intended use, so does God fit us for use in his kingdom. As a member of this kingdom community called “the church,” I am called with a purpose, I am called to be present, and I am called to pray.
Called with a Purpose
Calling can be a scary concept to ponder and an even harder one to figure out. We like to make things complicated, as if God has some secret plan for our lives that we just need to decipher. Thankfully, God has made it abundantly clear in his word. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) Love God. Love my neighbor. But where? And how? And what does this look like?…
I’m an up-front kind of girl—of the church that is. Every Sunday my husband, boys and I walk right up to about the second row of the sanctuary and make ourselves at home. Immersed in worship I push the distraction of others behind me and enter into communion with our Lord. We sit so close that one time another church member joked “You keep moving up and you’re going to have to preach the sermon!” I’m comfortable in the front, maybe a little too comfortable.
Worship from the Back Row
Awhile back my husband was asked to serve as a “safety officer” during worship. Every so often, our family would have to move to the back of the church, and I mean the last row so that he could safely observe the congregation in full view. I was not so eager about that part of the commitment. Did you catch the beginning paragraph where I listed all the reasons I love the front row? Did you notice a recurring theme? Me, right? What I wanted, what I felt I needed during worship. Oh, the distractions we would face! My self-absorbed spirit was crushed as I thought of all the visual annoyances I would have to push aside in order to worship. In God’s magnificent providence, he gently turned my sin-filled spirit from one of begrudging a change in scenery, to a beautiful picture of his bride, the church.
As I slid in next to my husband in the last row of the sanctuary my eyes wandered to the people around me. So. Many. People. I had an immense sense of trepidation as to what the next hour of worship would hold. If I could find it this easy to wander my eyes, would my heart and spirit follow? Could I even worship with all this spiritual noise before me? Self-absorbed and truly wanting for God’s grace, I made each minute more about myself. I could not have been more devoid of the welcoming and loving presence of my Savior I was supposed to be worshipping. But instead of chastising me, or worse, leaving me to wallow in self-pity, the Lord graciously painted a portrait of how he sees his sheep in the Son-drenched pasture of worship.
The Bride Worships
I saw a woman struggling with debilitating pain throughout her body break down in tears during the opening call to worship. Another woman from our Bible Study small group noticed and scurried over to put her arm around her, comforting her with a tissue and her own empathetic tears…
What do your daily prayers look like? When I consider my own prayers, I often find myself praying through a list of things I need help with or concerns I have for loved ones and friends. More often than not, my prayers focus on the temporal rather than the eternal, the physical rather than the spiritual. While such prayers are not wrong—for Jesus instructed us to pray for our daily bread—they are missing something. They are near-sighted.
Whenever I read Paul’s prayers in the Bible, I see what’s lacking in my own. Paul prays big prayers—prayers which stretch beyond the here and now and into eternity. The prayers he shares in his letters focus on the spiritual health of the church and the growth and spread of the gospel. Prayers such as this one to the church at Colossae: “we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (1:9-10).
Jonathan Edwards once noted, “…if we look through the whole Bible, and observe all the examples of prayer that we find there recorded, we shall not find so many prayers for any other mercy, as for the deliverance, restoration, and prosperity of the church, and the advancement of God’s glory and kingdom of grace in the world.” If the Bible places such an emphasis on these prayers, should not our prayers be the same?
As believers, united in Christ by faith and adopted into his family, we pray to the same Father in heaven. Imagine what might happen if we all came to the throne of grace and asked the Lord to strengthen his church? What if we prayed for the leadership of our churches each day? What if we asked for opportunities to shine a corporate light in our dark communities? What if we prayed for greater unity, a unity that shows the world who Christ is and what he has done (John 17:23)?
To that end, here is a prayer for the church…