Reflecting on Lockdown
Like me, you may be tired of hearing the word ‘unprecedented’; I think we’ve heard that word an unprecedented number of times in the last number of weeks. But It bears repeating that we are living through a unique moment of human history, and if your soul feels a bit topsy-turvy, that’s to be expected.
Some of us carry concern for family and loved ones, especially those who are vulnerable to the novel coronavirus. For many people who are continuing to work - away from home - there is the added stress of concern for our own health.
And for everyone, so many life patterns have been disrupted! Apart from shopping and excercise restirctions, many of us are learning ways to cope with working from home, with working from home and caring for children, with working from home, caring for children, and sharinbg space with a spouse who's doing the same!
Difficult for all of us is the lack of social interaction with friends. And we’ve been learning a new way doing church. BTW, I much prefer preaching to live audiences!
As we finish our sixth week in lockdown, I want to reflect on this moment we’re sharing. These thoughts are not necessarily profound, but perhaps offer perspective to frame how we should calibrate our souls during this time.
Reflections On Our Coronavirus-induced Lockdown Moment
1. This is real.
Jean and I keep looking at each other, wondering, Did we wake on the wrong side of the bed and stumble into a bad dystopian film? The answer is, ‘No’. And we can also skewer the other myth, that we have somehow crossed into a parallel universe where coronavirus happens, and back home on the real planet earth, everything is just fine. No, it’s not fine on the real planet earth; this is real.
Part of this reality means accepting it: for many of us, life has gotten more complex. We’re juggling working at home, a new routine, and managing the kids, or learning how to not drive our spouse bonkers. Our exercise routines have been disrupted; a general sense of unease may exacerbate fatigue. Recognising the reality of our moment means adjusting life expectations to the current situation.
But more, the implications of our current reality prompt us to be proactive in tending our soul life. Proverbs 4:23 says
Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.
Watching over our heart means to good gardening - water the flowers and pull up the weeds. We pull up the weeds of doubt, anxiety and fear by identifying unhealthy thought pertains trying to dominate our minds. We water the flowers by feeding faith with God’s word.
For some of us, that may mean limiting our exposure to the news cycle and rather prioritise meditation in God’s Word. Practice your 15 minutes a day - build a pattern of reading 3 chapters of the Bible every day. In other words, position your life so that God is the dominant voice.
2. Now is the time for action, not interpretation.
The 1970’s and 80’s were an interesting period in modern Christianity as a number of popular books predicted the imminent return of Christ. Books like Late Great Planet Earth;, 1980s: countdown to Armageddon; 88 Reasons Jesus is Coming Back in 1988 attempted to draw the body of Christ away from its mission (go into all the world and make disciples) and into speculation about whether or not Jesus was coming back at any moment.
Even though Jesus cleary taught that it’s not for us to worry about the date of his return (Acts 1:7), we are hard-wired to want to link current events with biblical prophecy. We are susceptible to perspective most generations have had – an apocalyptic complex, believing Jesus is coming back in our generation. Most generations since the ascension of Jesus have believed this; eventually, one generation is going to get it right. But we must be careful about trying to read current news headlines into the Bible.
This is one of these moments: too many people are trying to link the coronavirus event to biblical prophecy. Should we long for the return of Christ? Yes – maranatha, come Lord Jesus! Might Jesus come back soon? Yes. We should always live as if Jesus is coming back at any moment, but we should always work faithfully in God’s mission as if he return is far in the future.
When the Church doesn’t live like Jesus could come back soon, we get worldly and materialistic; when the church fails to build for the long term, we get insular, introspective, and ineffective. Rather, God calls us to both holiness and faithfulness – living righteously, and living on mission. If we cultivate both, we’ll be ready for whenever he does come back, and we’ll be effective all the time.
3. Be prepared for a new normal.
Pundits are paid to predict what it might be like after all this goes away. And actually, one of the predictions is that it might not go away – coronavirus may become a seasonal issue like the flu. The truth is, it’s way too early to know how the novel coronavirus may or may not be with us.
And it’s too early to predict the economic impact of government stimulus, what it will be like to re-open the economy, and the continued cultural impact of social distancing. But be prepared for a new normal; it may be years before a full reversion to ‘normal’, if ever; it may be a while before our cultural, social, and economic patterns return to normal. And they may not.
The highest-ranking American captured in Vietnam was James Stockdale. He survived years of torture by embracing two paradoxical thoughts – facing the brutal facts of his captivity while never relinquishing hope that he would be eventually freed.
The ones who did not make it were those overly-optimistic soldiers who put a date on their releasee – ‘we’ll be out by the end of the month, or by Christmas, or by my birthday’. Stockdale explained his approach like this: "You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."
An Imperial College London study predicts an alternating pattern of more and less social restriction for the next 18 months (two months on lockdown, one month more relaxed). It is too early to say. We may be in this – a new normal – for a long time. But what seems certain is that things will be different going forward.
4. Church is still church, but we have to work harder.
Remember, the church is God’s people. That is, more than going to church, we are the church. But at the very heart of the church, at the very core of what it means to be the people of God is the deep personal, spiritual, and social connection we have with each other. We don’t aspire to be one; we are one in the Spirit.
This is what’s so difficult about online church – we can hear music and worship, we can hear preaching and grow – but just as there is something different between being at a concert vs hearing the same music played on the radio, there is something special, something intrinsic to our identity that requires us to be together.
And so, we have to work harder at connecting with people during this time. That is, while it feels new and fun right now to be doing church online, this is not a convenience, it’s a necessity. One of the key marks of the church is our love for one another, and we can’t do that as well online; it takes being together to love as we are meant to.
Our enforced separation should prompt us to long for, relish, and value deeply the opportunity to gather together – physically – as God’s people. In the same way that Jesus’ absence prompts us to long for his return, we should anticipate with affectionate desire the moment of returning to worship in person. And when we are together again, may we never take it for granted, but esteem each moment we gather as God’s people.
5. God is bigger than coronavirus … and everything else.
In the midst of the storm, it’s easy to lose sight of Jesus. in the middle of the storm we are tempted to question God’s goodness. Some people evaluate Jesus on the basis of circumstances rather than evaluating their circumstances on the basis of Jesus. It is tempting to question God, but the Lord invites us to recognise that He is the sovereign king who is in charge.
There are two simultaneous storms that are waging – the storm on the outside, and the storm on the inside. Right now, there is a coronavirus storm that is shaking the world. For some of us, that outside storm is creating an inside storm of fear, anxiety and worry. Remember: God is bigger than the storm. We can’t control the outside storm, but Jesus can always speak peace to the inside storm.
6. The mission is still the mission.
In 2 Timothy 2:9, Paul makes a remarkable statement: ‘But the word of God is not bound’. He was writing from a prison in Rome, contrasting the growth of God’s word with his own imprisonment for the gospel. Rather than being concerned about himself, suffering ‘to the extent of being chained like a criminal, he tells Timothy in verse 8 to ‘remember Jesus’. Even in lockdown, Paul was focused on the mission.
We’ve been living in lockdown in Scotland for six weeks now, and I confess – it is easyfor us to be dominated by thoughts regarding our temporary but immediate issues – houses and mortgages and jobs and social distancing and … what’s life going to be like after coronavirus? Don’t be distracted by this ‘temporary, light affliction’ (2 Corinthians 4:17) – we are working for an eternal weight of glory. Stay on target!
7. In times of need, keep giving.
There is a self-preservation instinct that kicks in when we face unprecedented moments like the coronavirus epidemic. And, without question, we need to be wise regarding our stewardship of God’s resources. But Jean and I are deeply committed to continue our habit of giving; there are many things we may cut, different ways we might need to tighten the belt – but we want to continue practicing generosity even in the face of need.
This is what so encouraged Paul about the Macedonians: ‘In the terrible ordeal they suffered, their abundant joy and deep poverty overflowed into rich generosity’ (2 Corinthians 8:2). Paul is teaching a remarkable principle: When we give in the face of adversity, we position ourselves for overflow prosperity.
8. In times of distress, encourage each other.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Paul encourages Christians , ‘Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing’. And the author of Hebrews tells us to ‘encourage one another as long as it is called today’ (Hebrews 3:13). God has ordained the encouragement we give each other as a means of spiritual strength and growth. We all need encouragement, and we all have a need to give encouragement.
What is encouragement? Simply, to encourage means to give support, confidence, and hope to someone else. If you need encouragement, let someone know!!! It’s not weakness, it’s normal, to need encouragement. And for all of us, let’s find someone to encourage.
There is much more than we could say, but I want you to be encouraged. Now is a time to reach up in worship and reach out in faith. In the middle of this challenging time, we are trusting God to open doors for the gospel and opportunities to speak peace and comfort to friends and neighbours.
Like a line from the film Gladiator, ‘If we stick together, we’ll survive’. More than surviving, I’m praying that we will thrive like never before. God is bigger than coronavirus, and He’s going to take us to the other side.