THE ‘GIFT’ IN THIS VIRUS

(August 1, 2020) Charles Schwab challenges Christians to consider a different aspect to the Covid-19 pandemic that has affected so many lives worldwide …

The ‘Gift’ in This Virus – isn’t that an utterly crazy and irresponsible use of words?

How can the Covid-19 pandemic that has killed multiplied thousands throughout the world, disabled economies leading to job losses along with stress and strain, forced countries and regions into lockdown, thrust normal living into a mess… horrendous for many, decimated tourism and freedom of travel… causing such pain and pandemonium be considered a ‘gift’ from God?

Sounds crazy
How in the world could this idea of ‘gift’ possibly be true from a biblical perspective? Sounds like heresy, the babblings of a religious zealot, the sign of a demented mind, the ramblings of a soul in a theological desert and, at face value, devoid of any biblical warrant.

What madness is this ‘gift’ notion?  Or… could it be a surprising reality for good in the midst of horror? The phrase, ‘the gift of this virus’, came unexpectedly to mind as I emerged from sleep well before dawn… and I knew within to what this strange phrase referred.

The use of ‘gift’ in association with ‘virus’ does not appear in scripture… but I suggest that the idea and its potential are biblical. While illness, fear, death and economic disaster are widespread and accompany this awful Covid-19 virus, God is giving us – Christians and churches – the ‘gift’ of opportunity.

The real ‘gift’
This ‘gift’ of opportunity is one to carefully and prayerfully…

  • Reconsider some things
  • Keep some things
  • Axe some things
  • Discover some new things or new ways that will be effective now and into the future.

I’m talking about things and ways that will last beyond the virus to bring glory to God and multitudes to know and to worship him.

Rightly we see this super-virulent virus as a curse, a disease to be avoided if possible, a wrecker of life and well-being. Some would see it as –

  • A work of darkness, a manifestation of evil.
  • Part of creation’s ‘groaning’ as it waits for its redemption when Jesus comes again.
  • As a judgment on a sinful world.
  • A call to repent – to turn from sin and embrace Christ as Saviour and Lord.
  • A discipline of Christians that they might repent of luke-warmness in their faith or living.
  • Possibly being some or all of the above with various aspects applicable to various people.

(See the response of Dr John Piper to an enquirer for biblical pointers to the above).

Reality is that according to the Bible, it could be any or all of those things. Of one thing we are sure – God is with those who love and trust him. Oh how the 46th psalm speaks to this – here.

The ‘gift’ is the time and motivation to earnestly seek him as to how we can most usefully serve him and our communities in this very changed world.  I suggest we and our churches almost certainly will not go back to life and church exactly as they were before January this year. (And I would suggest that even if we could, we ought not).

Responding to God’s ‘gift’
Churches and their activities largely came to a screeching halt from ‘business as usual’ just half a year ago. Governments of all ‘stripes’ have closed cities, towns and countries to much of what was considered essential for normal living. And church life, as it was with people meeting together in person, has been heavily restricted or halted.

In the Bible, and in history, God gets his work done often within the context of horror, difficulty, unpleasantness, dislocation, human weakness.

So… could an aspect of the current ‘virus epidemic season’ be that God is giving churches, their leaders and their people time and opportunity to seek him, in prayer and in Holy Scripture, to find out what he would say about what really matters to him, and hence how we should respond?

Bible examples
Joseph
In a sense, Joseph received the ‘gift of slavery’ – though it was not termed such. God was in charge of young Joseph’s imprisonment so that in time he would be raised up to become the second in command of Egypt. At the right time he would be in place to engineer plans for Egypt to outlive a prolonged famine – and to provide food and comfort to his own Israelite family (Genesis 50:18-21).

And Joseph responded promptly to his ‘God-given gift of opportunity’ in a time of great national and international need!

Paul
The apostle received the ‘gift’ of persecution
and adversity so that he might trust in God all the more whereby he exalted in his weakness so that the ‘power of Christ’ might rest on him (2 Corinthians 12:2-10). Despite times of perseverance Paul went on  ‘demonstrating the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles’ (v12).

Man born blind
Jesus said this man’s blind condition was not the result of sin, but rather that the works of God might be displayed in him. Then Jesus moved to promptly and miraculously heal him (John 9:1-7).

God is sovereign
In this pandemic time, we will not understand or accept this ‘gift’ unless we see that –

  • God is Sovereign – meaning that he has always, still is, and will be God and hence the ‘Ruler over all.’
  • God can use calamity and disaster for whatever purpose he has… in this case our being given time and motivation by which we can think and pray that we’ll be amenable to his time-schedule, his plans.

Rightly Paul exclaimed in that God’s mind is unsearchable (Romans 11:33)! Unless of course he chooses to reveal (see Deuteronomy 29:29).

So – if we see, in among this horror – the ‘gift’ of opportunity bringing to us time and motivation, what might God accomplish – if we respond? What can come out of ‘now’ that God calls good, and what might that good look like?

  • As dictionaries explain,  ‘Reset’ meansto make it start working correctly again.’
  • Beyond exercising Jesus’ 13:34-35 godly ‘Love thy neighbour’ command, here are some more ‘reset‘ thoughts about opportunity-taking in this time of pandemic…

Time to press the ‘reset’ button
1. Bible-informed, Holy Spirit-powered changes
Many churches at present cannot meet as they used to. So in this virus season leaders and people can choose to be refreshed and discover more about the biblical values and church life practices and how they can be expressed effectively in the current restrictions.

Keeping in mind, of course, that some methods will remain fruitful after the virus has gone. (Christians meeting together as churches is the norm from a biblical and practical perspective.  See Carey Nieuwhof’s In-person attendance v. online attendance and the emerging trap of doing nothing well)

God is leading many to find ways of practising biblical ministry Online. This is a season for rethinking – a ‘connected age’ accessed by computers, tablets, smart phones, smart TVs. Some who have resisted some aspects of modern technology for church and personal ministry are thinking again… and responding positively.

  • The internet is not going away any time soon.
  • Many who saw this medium as one of distraction or of dubious value for the gospel are thinking again and harnessing the internet to reach, teach and interact with people – saved and unsaved.
  • Many are concluding that the internet should be recognised as a gift from God and harnessed for his glory.
  • There is no telling beforehand what the ingenuity of the Spirit of God will put into hearts that love him.

For example, ‘Zoom’ (here) and alternatives allow interaction between two or more people and can facilitate discussion, life groups, caring and praying together. YouTube, Facebook and alternatives are being used to preach, teach and sometimes with live on-the-spot interaction.

Acclimatisation will take time for some, but the trend to online will continue in a world where ‘online’ is already normal.

  • Perhaps there is more ‘zoom’ in a directly spiritual sense that the Lord is creating in spiritually hungry hearts.
  • Perhaps all sorts of new initiatives, based in God’s eternal word, by which his people shall find a ‘season of re-set’ in which what is worthless or even what is ‘good’ might both be upgraded in our comprehension and practice as we wait on God in this covid-19 season.

2. ‘Worship-less’ worship and reviving biblical worship
The virus season gives opportunity for leaders, churches and Christians to review pre-virus church activities – such as singing and music in worship for when churches gather again in person.

Two questions for Christians personally and for churches are these:

  • Have our worship activities really been expressions of genuine worship of God? Or have they become tainted with being pleasing to the senses with minimal connection with the biblical definition of true worship? (see John 4:19-24).
  • Have some of God’s people been wandering mindlessly down the track of habit devoid of what God requires in terms of worship arising from the hearts of people whose chief and soul-gripping purpose is to give true glory and true worth to the Father and the Son?

Now is the time to ensure worship is on ‘solid ground.’ True worship is not thoughtless singing nor is it solely the feel-good stimulation of music! True worship is not only expressed in singing, music or prayer – it is also the yielding of our whole selves including our bodies to God (Romans 12:1-2).

Singing and music can be an expression of worship, and can aid it. But true worship can only come forth from human hearts that know so clearly who God is and what he has done in Jesus to transform his people from the kingdom of Satan (darkness) to the kingdom of God (light).

So when we use singing and music in association with worship, may such ministries aid true worship coming from the hearts of people overawed with the love and grace and the saving power of Almighty God.

3. The early church’s adaption in its time of trouble
While typing this article an Australian missionary teacher (unable to get back to the overseas opportunities due to the virus) wrote an Australian church, ‘A few years back, my wife and I went into the catacombs under Rome. There are kilometres of tunnels, everywhere. It is a sign that the church adapted to the tunnels due to persecution above ground. And it was interesting for my wife and me last Sunday when we were allowed to go to the church building, for the first time in a few months. We did our home group after church in the building. But my wife and I actually like the Zoom format more, as it is more informal, and people tend to be more open on Zoom.’

Methinks I hear the Spirit stirring hearts not only to trust God, seek him in prayer, pour over his word, talk together but to adapt to using Skype, Zoom, phone and numerous other apps on our digital devices – as well as shouting across the street or sitting 1.5 metres apart in a coffee shop where permitted by law.

And may God arise again in our hearts and in our churches – including perhaps the emergence of some different types of churches to the ones with which we are familiar – until any apostasy and undiscerned muddle-mindedness is driven off into eternal darkness where they belong.

As for me, I see people, ordinary people, rising in this dark time to shine for Jesus with the pure light generated in them by the Spirit and the ‘word’, reaching out to each other and to needy others to live out God’s will through to the end of our physical sojourn on earth.

Then Christians shall rise to be with Jesus and his people forever, where not only ‘moth and rust doth not corrupt’ but where the Saviour is worshipped forever in a world without pain, suffering, death and virus. Charles Gabriel’s old hymn says it well, ‘When all my labors and trials are o’er…’

Grasp our opportunities in this virus season!
I feel I’ve merely shared a few here – what other godly things might be birthed or reshaped in this virus season for his glory?

Let’s take this covid-19 ‘gift’ of opportunity to be putty in his hands and freshly honed by Jesus. May we share his gospel of love and salvation by all means possibleand encourage those who already know him.

 

And may we take with us into post-covid-19 times those revelations and practices gained during ‘lockdown’ times that have value for the future.

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Charles Schwab lives in Geelong, Victoria. Having served as a staff associate pastor for lengthy periods in two churches, Adelaide and Geelong, and ministered in the Philippines and Fiji, his vision these days is to encourage churches and leaders wherever the Lord ‘opens the doors.’ Email: cmschwab1 at hotmail dot com

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