What you read below is a list of thoughts that have been rattling around in my head and heart over the last couple of weeks. Pastoring a flock you are not allowed to go near is quite a disorienting challenge. As I have tried to wrestle through some of these issues, I have sought to discern what lessons God would have me learn through this trial. I hope some of these thoughts might be helpful and encouraging to you as we navigate through this strange season.
1. This season of social distancing has promoted my thankfulness for common graces like medicine and technology. If this virus had hit in earlier years, even just 100 years ago, the death rate would be even more staggering. I am thankful for God’s common graces like antibiotics, ventilators, knowledge of germ theory, epidemiological experts, and even communication technology. While not without their unique temptations and abuses, our ability to communicate via technological means has allowed knowedge of the disease to spread faster than the virus itself, thus (hopefully) saving more lives.
2. I hope that this season of social distancing will promote within me (& the church) a greater sympathy for our shut ins, and for any others that are normally unable to attend weekly church gatherings. Our being unable to attend corporate worship should make us more able to identify with the peculiar loneliness and longings that are felt by others are unable to gather on a regular basis.
3. This time has also made me have greater appreciation for and longing for the gathered body, especially the means of grace. I had been in the weekly grind of church “work” in such a way that I rarely stopped and thanked God for the weekly blessing of gathering with God’s people, singing corporately, sitting under the preached word corporately, giving corporately, praying corporately, and observing the sacraments. I can’t wait to celebrate the Lord’s Supper again with my people.
4. I hope that this time of distancing also awakens the church to see the hollowness of video churches. It has become in vogue as of late for churches to go “virtual,” which to me seems to fall woefully short of the New Testament picture of what the church should be. Modern doctrinal reflection in the categories of theological anthropology and biblical ecclesiology is being exposed for its shallowness. I can only hope that this time of social distancing promotes a healthy, robust, and deep reflections of what it means to be a gathered, local expression of the body of Christ.
5. This strange season has encouraged my reflections upon the goodness of God’s pattern for work and rest. What does it look like to keep the sabbath holy (i.e., set apart) from the other days, when all the days sort of run together and feel the same? When work patterns are disrupted, or at least significantly changed, and we don’t have the normal weekly gathering on the Lord’s Day, I feel adrift, teatherlessly floating in a sea of waiting. I, like many others, work better in a routine, and in the absence of it, I struggle to know how to best focus my energies.
6. Related to the previous point, this season has me reflecting upon my contingency vs God’s unchangeableness. I had plans, I had deadlines, I had goals. And it feels like all have gone out the window. I had certainly read James 4:15 (“You ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that'”), but never have I had it so clearly thrust in my face that all my plans are contingent upon the Lord. Regularly saying Deo Volente seemed a little less important a month ago; not any more. The reality of my own contingency is startling at first, but comforting when I remember that I am contingent upon a good Heavenly Father.
7. Jonathan Leeman has described this season as a “disruptive moment” in history, one which I hope will help to realign our priorities in a godly direction. I pray that God will help us to number our days (Psalm 90:12), and foster a longing for what only God in his presence and ordained means of grace can satisfy.
8. In this season I am also learning to grieve more deeply with my brothers and sisters that are suffering in other parts of the world. I spoke yesterday with a pastor in the Midwest that spent all day beside the bed of a man diagnosed with Covid-19. After being beside him all day, the man died. Then, the pastor went home to find out that his daughter had been diagnosed with the same disease after studying abroad. That same evening, a couple in his church, both of whom were medical professionals, came to him asking if he would agree to take their children if they died. They were preparing their wills because their own infection seemed to be an inevitability. As I talked with this fellow pastor, he said, “I started out worried about how we’d get groceries to the senior citizens. Now I am trying to figure out how to teach my people to die well.” I floundered for words to encourage my brother, other than: God is sufficient. He is our good shepherd, and he will lead us beside still waters, in this life or the next. Maranatha.
More reflections to come, I’m sure.