We may die in this pandemic. But, more than likely, we will live. The number of Americans infected with the COVID-19 virus stands today at 927,000, and the number who have died at 52,000 — that’s 5.6% of those confirmed as ill. That means the vast majority are fighting it off. Praise God!
The number of people who are asymptomatic is still unknown, however, perhaps 25% to 75% more. Having no symptoms themselves, probably totally unaware that they carry COVID-19, they spread the disease. This is why we wear masks, so we don’t infect others with something we may never know we had, reigniting the vicious cycle of spiking numbers.
In these realities, we’re all struggling with the same issues, the same realizations, the same dismay. We seem simultaneously to have reached the end of our natural abilities. We’ve surpassed our limits. We’re a comfortable society. We have few hardships. We like to think we’re in control. But now, since late February/early March, which feels so very long ago, eons perhaps, we’ve collectively been under the strain of the pandemic and social isolation.
In our confinement, we’ve discovered that our sinful natures are alive and well, that we can still easily turn into selfish, petty, argumentative persons, whom we thought had been long overcome — “the old man,” the unredeemed self. To try to gain a sense of control, some have turned to conspiracy theories and anecdotal evidence, to fear mongering and edgy politics.
“Change is an opportunity,” our pastor broadcasts from his location to ours. This is the time to adjust, he reasons, to grow, to turn from our own exhausting efforts and denials, and to follow the Savior. This season of difficulties, filled with obstacles, can transform us into men and women who grow in real reliance upon the Savior. Will we seize the opportunity?This season of difficulties, filled with obstacles, can transform us into men and women who grow in real reliance upon the Savior. Will we seize the opportunity? Click To Tweet
Enter Paul, who penned from prison one of the most powerful passages in the New Testament, saturated with joy in the Lord as he awaited a death sentence from Nero. First, Paul renounced his credentials, as we need to renounce ours: Our churchie upbringing, our record of Christian service, our Bible study leader badge, our credibility as an author or teacher, the things we lean on for identity, anything that tempts us to rely on ourselves, our reputations, or our fallback, rather than relying on Christ.
“If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless” (Philippians 3:4b-6 NIV).
Look at me, strutting my Christian stuff. Aren’t I something? Then why am I pouting and sulking and bickering and complaining and stewing and crying? Where is my joy? Where is my endurance? Where is my faith?
Now is the time to examine ourselves, determining just who exactly we’ve been relying on and where we’ve been finding our joy. If we’ve been relying on ourselves and finding our joy in our American comfort and ease, then we’re in big trouble, for this test is stretching us thin and lean and mean.
These habits and labels that make us so sure of ourselves all need to take a backseat to our current relationship with Christ and our reliance upon him right now in this crisis today. How are we really doing?Habits and labels that make us so sure of ourselves all need to take a backseat to our current relationship with Christ and our reliance upon him right now in this crisis today. How are we really doing? Click To Tweet
Paul wrote, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21 NIV). Whether by life or by death, Paul wanted Christ to be exalted through his living. What takes us to this level of maturity? Typically hardship.
For Paul, as he awaited his death in that foul prison of horrors, nothing compared to the nearness of Jesus. Past pursuits felt disgusting as the privileges of the world faded away. In our evolving world, we also find that many of our previous crutches for getting through hard times have been stripped away. For weeks, we haven’t been able to meet with other believers, to see their faces, to lift our voices in song, to have the fellowship of the body of Christ. We can’t meet with friends to get face-to-face input, interaction, praise, or encouragement. In person, real humans, face to face.
No, we “only” have Jesus, who hasn’t left us and hasn’t forsaken us, nor will he ever. This reality is an invitation to messy transformation, to real change. Will we really, finally, truly let go, relying entirely upon Jesus himself? We have no strength in and of ourselves.
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11 NIV).
To know Christ is our aim, our pursuit, to comprehend him with all of the fragmentary knowledge we can grasp this side of heaven, to share in his life, to fellowship with him in this suffering. I want to know Christ.To know Christ is our aim, our pursuit, to comprehend him with all of the fragmentary knowledge we can grasp this side of heaven, to share in his life, to fellowship with him in this suffering. Click To Tweet
“By the work of the Spirit in our lives, we can alter the trajectory of our lives,” our pastor says, his earnest eyes pleading via the electronic screen. He urges us toward self awareness, repentance, and maturity. If you’re like me, this is much needed. This transformation is essential. It’s time to develop an eternal perspective, not an American perspective that relies on our wealth, our comfort, and our own efforts at growth.
What is the condition of our faith?
It’s time to yield to the Holy Spirit’s work, to submit to his conviction and urging. It’s time to find our joy in the Lord, to trust him, praising him for the blessings he has given and for his promises. We are far, far from having yet attained these things, our confinement shows us clearly. For this situation will last. Everything has changed in our culture and in our economy. We will need to rely on the Lord like never before in our lives.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it” (Philippians 3:12-13a NIV).
Meanwhile, the shifts and changes in our economy and the discomforts this may bring, coupled with continuing needs for masks, social distancing, and handwashing, even as we get back to work, will perhaps be our greater test, for it looks to be a slow and uncomfortable trial spread over time.
Will we persevere, taking hold of an eternal perspective and investing ourselves deeply in knowing Christ and loving him more passionately? Will we enter into his alteration of us, yielding to his work, fixing our hearts and minds on pleasing and loving him in return?Will we take hold of an eternal perspective and invest ourselves in knowing Christ and loving him more passionately? Will we enter into his alteration of us, yielding to his work? Click To Tweet
Like Paul, we haven’t yet fully grasped it. None of us have arrived at perfect faith. None of us know Jesus as fully and completely as we will one day, and that is as expected, for our bodies are but dust, housing eternal souls. And while things are difficult and our souls strain toward heaven, our condition is not nearly as dire as Paul’s was when he wrote these words.
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Let us live up to what we have already attained, for our citizenship is in heaven. We eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:13b-14, 16, 20-21 NIV).
That’s the goal, no matter how we arrive. We don’t know how we’ll enter God’s presence, but we will be transformed, a metamorphosis as we are made like him. We will be changed. He’s already at work, urging us to press toward him and to take our eyes off our circumstances, fixing them instead on him.
Will we step toward him? Will we make him the focus of our lives? Will we practice awareness of his nearness, turning to him in our every need? In short, will we participate in his messy transformation of us?
A musical blessing on Instagram by Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes.