John Willison pastors an evangelical church in Shanghai, China....
As the coronavirus pandemic forces us to stay at home, many are lamenting the loss of freedoms they enjoyed just days ago. Jennie Pollock explains how Christians can hold onto hope and fight for contentment during these difficult days
We all know that life doesn’t always go as we plan, but COVID-19 has taken that to a whole new level. None of us is living the life we planned, or even the life we vaguely expected just a couple of weeks ago.
When our freedoms are curtailed and fear lurks at the door, how can we find peace, and even joyful contentment despite our difficult circumstances? Is it even possible?
The apostle Paul certainly thought so. When he wrote to the church in Philippi, he was imprisoned in Rome. He was unable to work or to travel around preaching, visiting all the believers he loved so dearly. And yet his letter to the Philippians absolutely bubbles with joy and delight. He had “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (4:12). And we can, too.
Here is a summary of just a few of the lessons I’ve learned from Paul and others:
1. Cling to the truth
The world is a crazy, confusing, uncertain place right now. But “the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8). What he has said is trustworthy and true. It is unchanging. We can rely on it completely. God is good. He does love you. He can be trusted.
So often in scripture when people cry out to God wondering what is going on, he doesn't tell them, but points them to himself instead. The book of Job is a classic example. Job has lost everything. He is sick, lonely and desolate. He pleads with God for answers, but when God finally speaks, he doesn’t give Job a ‘why’, but instead talks about laying the foundations of the earth, walking in the depths of the sea, giving horses their strength. The point is to remind Job of God’s incredible power, authority and creativity. It’s not the answer he expected, but it is the answer he needs. The source of our happiness, joy and contentment can only be found in relationship with God. So read his word, meditate on his truth. Press in to him.
2. Learn to lament
It's ok to be deeply upset by the loss and the fear. It’s natural and human. We Brits are famed for our ‘stiff upper lip’ – for putting a brave face on things, for keeping calm and carrying on. We may need to do that in order to help others, but we don’t need to do it before God. Don't be afraid to tell him what you really think, to rattle the gates of heaven as you cry out in despair. After all, he knows already. Just remember to remind yourself of who he is, too. Psalm 13 is a wonderful model of this. In it, the psalmist spends two verses simply crying out his distress, then two verses presenting his request to God, then two verses choosing to trust God and to believe that he is in control and worthy to be praised. Look it up and use it as a model for your lament.
3. Cultivate gratitude
It is so easy to look at all the terrible, scary, difficult things in the world right now. Choose to turn your gaze to the good, instead. Get out a notebook and write down everything you can think of to praise and thank God for. The breath in your lungs, the sunshine pouring through the window, the people you miss, the doctors and nurses working night and day to serve and help us.
Thank him for your salvation, for sending his son to die for you and take your punishment, so that one day, when all this is over, you will live and reign with him. Meditate on the good and on all God has done for you, and, as the old hymn 'Turn your eyes upon Jesus' says, “The things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace”.
4. Dig in to community
I know, that's exactly what you're grieving the loss of at the moment, but we live in a time of enormous connectivity. When Paul wanted news of his friends he had to wait months for his letter to reach them and for theirs to return. We can do it in seconds. If your church has any online chats going, make a point of joining in with them whenever you can. Share your prayer requests and pray for others. Share your recipes for simple meals using up the tins in your cupboard. Share ideas for entertaining the kids in an enclosed space.
Many people have used this opportunity to put notes through their neighbours’ doors offering help to those in need, or simply starting a WhatsApp group for the street, sharing needs and ideas. If you are feeling sad and lonely, it’s likely that others around you are, too. And there is an incredible openness to the gospel in many people as they see the confidence and joy that we have and start to ask, ‘what is the difference?’ May we be able to say, with Paul, “what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).
5. Choose to be content
It’s easy to forget how much control we actually have over our minds. The 20th-century preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Have you realised that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?” Our tendency is to let our minds run where they want with a constant stream of thoughts. But Lloyd-Jones points out that the psalmist’s response was usually to talk back, to refuse to allow his “self” to dictate his thought life. Three times, in Psalms 42 and 43, he asks himself, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” Then instructs himself: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”
Talking to yourself isn’t a sign of madness, it’s a sign of wisdom. You get to choose, in lockdown or in liberty, in coronavirus or in radiant good health, whether to be discontented with your lot, or whether to trust in, lean on and praise your Saviour and your God. Which will you choose today?
Jennie Pollock is a writer, editor and speaker. She is locked down in central London. Her first book, If Only: Finding joyful contentment in the face of lack and longing is available to preorder from the Good Book Company now.
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