March 20, 2020
Dear Rockford Reformed Church Family and Friends,
My social extrovert wife, as I walked into the room where she was sitting quietly alone, just said, “This is going to get old.” (Apparently, I am not enough for her. ☺) On the other hand, two days ago, a friend communicated her glee at finding out that her normal daily lifestyle is called “quarantine.” But even for the introvert, this is a bizarre and eerie season that levies radical adjustments. It seems much longer than a week ago that our consistory met to discuss whether to hold worship as we are now settled into isolation and dependence on some internet-fed rectangle for worship, communication, and connection.
So, what do we do with this? As we saw in my most recent sermon, the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Philippian church about thriving with joy while he is shackled and suffering horribly in a tiny, dark, stench-filled prison cell. Now that would get old. And as I noted in my sermon, one thing we know from God’s Word is that we are called to and can be actors who thrive rather than reactors to the direst of circumstances who survive.
How do we act and thrive in these circumstances where so many of our joys in life are stripped away? We miss our granddaughters, interacting with neighbors and friends, and going to Meijer every other day to pick up fresh produce and meats. Outside in the open air today, in a conversation with a couple of guys, the question was, Of all the sports watching or events that we have lost so far, which is the worst for you? And one of the guys said he was devastated by the loss of not being able to watch the Masters coming up in April. I laughed because I am bit shaken as well but then I realized that he was dead serious. We all have our own list of inconveniences, struggles, and lost joys.
C.S. Lewis wrote,
“It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.” So when a virus strips away even our “mud pies” and “fooling about,” our struggle and mere surviving may reveal how we had all along been settling for a life of mediocrity rather than a “holiday at the sea.”
There is a reason that I am not enough for Ruth. Because the holiday at the sea is God himself. David observed how there is sorrow for those who run after other pleasures/gods and then declared (Psalm 16:11):
“…in your presence there is fullness of joy.” Or Jonathan Edwards wrote:
“God is the highest good of the reasonable creature. The enjoyment of him is our proper; and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of any, or all earthly friends. These are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.”’
And so if the enjoyment of God is our sun, fountain, ocean, and holiday at the sea, and our half-hearted fooling about with sports, friends, and adrenaline-producing schedules crashes into a heap, the virus could be for us a grand gateway to real joy. What more needs to be stripped away before we will “be still and know” that he is God (Ps. 46:10)? Our new social distancing, and even the anxiety and fear, could lead to a new or renewed intimacy with God.
“Whom have I in heaven but you?” (Ps. 73:25)?
So we can act and thrive in these circumstances only when we are constantly refreshed with finding our joy and rest and identity through Jesus as he is revealed in the gospel. And that refreshing comes through his Word and fellowship with him in prayer. And I understand that some of us struggle to do that. God’s Word and prayer don’t always work like that for us. And so begin with prayer that God will reveal his beauty and love to you. And then work your way through Luke or John and the Psalms. And our staff and I are going to work to resource and encourage you for this crazy journey together. This refreshing also comes through our fellowship with each other. And so we will really need to be creative and work at maintaining the connection through technology and other means.
This is all going to be really different. But it doesn’t have to be worse or depressing. It can be amazing when we think of this as a journey with Jesus and for Jesus. Jesus was forsaken by his Father and suffered deep sorrow so that we can revel in an eternal, uninterrupted-by-anything party of perfect security and joy in God.
On Sunday, I will preach on Jesus’ words about anxiety in Matthew 6:25-34. And so you could prepare by reading through Matthew or at least the stunning Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7. And then for now, you will find just a few recommended books/links below that will be helpful for you. I confess to you that I am with you in feeling the weight and anxiety of this season. But I am also genuinely excited and hopeful for what God can do to revive our hearts, lives, community, and nation—for his glory. Let it begin with us.
- “Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest” by Edward T. Welch
- The Gospel Coalition website is always a great resource for practical, theological, and biblical articles. But they have compiled an abundance of articles/blogs that are very helpful for biblically understanding and working through the coronavirus season chaos at this link: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/topics/coronavirus-covid-19/