While the Coronavirus makes its way across our world, impacting nearly every country on the globe, another plague is following in its wake: anxiety levels are rising fast as people realize that their sovereignty over their future is an illusion. In America, where the pervading ethos is one of determining our own destiny and controlling our circumstances through hard work and right living a virus like this shakes us to our very foundations. It strikes everyone from the wealthiest and most well-known (think Tom Hanks) to those whom society has cast aside (think the elderly in a Washington state elder-care facility).
Christians are not immune to anxiety and worry. If we live in this world, we know we will have trouble – and worry at the threat of trouble is a human response but one our Lord has given us ways of dealing with.
I’ve had my own moments of anxiety and struggle over the last couple of weeks. On the lower end of the anxiety spectrum, I’ve had to deal with feelings of protectiveness towards my toilet paper. What is it about toilet paper that this has become one of the most coveted commodities in American society at this moment of national crisis? A quick google search for the psychology of toilet paper hoarding gave me this answer. "[A] human pitfall that makes the virus dangerous is selfishness…We do what is selfishly good for us and not what’s good for other people" (Jeremy Hobson and Lynsey Jeffery from NPR's Here & Now). In short, no one wants to be without toilet paper! When a friend of mine with a cadre of kids let me know she was out of toilet paper, my first response was not to bring her some of my own. I had to wrestle with myself to get there. “What if I and my family can’t find anymore? What if we actually are reduced to using magnolia leaves.” Ultimately, however, I preached the Gospel to myself, reminding myself that in order to find my life, I must lose it… and yes, that applies to toilet paper shortages too. I brought her a six pack of toilet paper and drew comfort from the mounds of magnolia leaves in my backyard as well as from the conquest – at least in this instance – of my own selfish instincts.
More significant has been my anxiety over my 22-year-old son who works as an intern in Goma, Congo in the heart of Africa, a place not known for its adherence to the rule of law or its measured response to crises. As we considered bringing him home to “safety”, the borders began to close and it quickly became apparent that instead of finding himself at home, he might find himself in an airport thousands of miles away. Best for him to stay put. But the what-ifs started to wreak havoc on my heart and peace. “What if food shortages take hold?” “What if unrest and violence ensue from the food shortages?” “What if he gets the virus without good medical help nearby?” “What if he DIES?” That’s when I hit the floor, listing each one of my fears to God, begging Him to hear the prayers of a mother and casting every care on Him. (1 Peter 5:7) And then a funny thing happened. The Lord lifted my burden. Nothing had changed in my or my son’s circumstances, but the Sovereign Lord, who calls me His own, who loves the son He gave me even more than I ever could, spoke peace to my heart. Now to be sure, we are in touch with our son every day just to hear how things are going. I pray for him constantly and have asked others to do so as well. But anxiety is no longer ruling my heart.
As each of us struggles with our fears and anxieties in the midst of a new and untested reality, may we – may I – remember that we have a God to whom we can pour out our every concern, who is waiting to listen, and longing to lift our burdens and guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus with a peace that surpasses understanding. (Phil 4:7)
I hate not getting to swim. Those muscles were used to being worked. It felt good to leave the pool out of breath and spent. Mabel and I walk daily but it’s just not the same. I need a regimen that gets the heart going a bit more.
Our current isolation requires some new spiritual muscle regimens, doesn’t it?
That’s what Sunday’s sermon was about: Both new regimens (of service) and the reason for them (the vision of Jesus serving us). Our shorter format wisely calls for shorter sermons. But it is frustrating to leave out some things we want to say. So here goes.
One reason we want to keep Jesus’ commandment (like serving others) is that, when we do, we experience more of Him. He put it this way in John 15:10:
If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.
He isn’t saying that His love is conditional upon our perfect obedience. We’d be doomed if that were the case! What He’s saying is that, if we want to consciously experience His love, to abide constantly in His love, to have His joy in us which will be the most full joy we can experience – if that’s what we want, then we will want to obey Him, including service to others.
This cuts two ways.
Negatively, we’ll find ourselves not wanting to obey through serving. Don’t be surprised or get depressed over that. Abiding in His love means we go to Him and ask for a fresh desire to obey when we least want to obey. And He graciously grants it through His Spirit. Joy is restored!
Positively, we’ll find ourselves experiencing joys in new ways, like new muscles being used. I heard joy in the voices of two friends last week as they responded to opportunities to serve. Let me close with their joy. Names are changed to protect identities
Mike’s a salaried guy who is able to work from home. Nothing is changing financially for Mike. So he sends an email suggestion: How about encouraging PCCrs whose financial picture isn’t being changed to consider giving all or some of the Covid-19 government check to the Chapel’s Helping Hand Fund so we can help those who have lost hours or jobs. Who thinks like this? Only people who are finding such joy in obeying Christ that, when extra money comes available, their first thought is What’s Jesus want me to do with it? How does He want me to serve someone with it? Mike is experiencing the joy for which we were created.
Bob is a very fit Air Force guy (15 of whom now think I’m talking about them!) with unplanned time on his hands. Last Saturday he had just been praying, asking the Lord to show him how he could use his extra time to serve somebody. I had just gotten off the phone with a friend who was loading logs from just-felled huge trees in his back yard. I (think/hope?) I offered to help. Either way, he told me he didn’t want to be responsible for my back going out. OK, I didn’t argue. But when we hung up I thought of Bob and gave him a call, letting him know of a need to serve. You won’t believe what I was just praying about! was Bob’s reply. Bob’s a guy who is abiding in Christ’s love and it had him primed for service.
May such joy be yours as you serve your family and others this week.
Redeeming the Time
Each week, we the pastoral staff would like to provide you with a variety of resources and thoughts for you to reclaim your time during the current pandemic. Some of these will take the form of encouraging thoughts and journal entries, while some, like today’s entry, will highlight a practical resource for edification. Although COVID-19 has provided speed bumps for all of our lives, God is also gracious in providing little blessings in our quarantining. One such blessing might potentially be having extra time for us to educate ourselves in theological training with others via distance learning.
Enter in Ligonier Connect, which has decided to bless the global church by giving away over 100 of their courses for free for a season. Inside their platform, you can sign up to take any course you wish either by yourself, or by creating an online study group with several friends. Even if, like me, you have kids in the house and your workload has increased exponentially with homeschooling, or juggling children and work with every limb you have, course lectures may be a beneficial way to reclaim time folding laundry, doing dishes or perhaps while riding your peloton.
Easily Accessible Seminary Level Training
Perhaps the main thing that continues to impress me about Ligonier Ministries is the way they’ve been able to make high-level, academic, seminary-level material accessible and digestible for the broader church. Inside the course brochure, you’ll find courses on Biblical Studies, Christian Living, Church History, Theology, as well as Worldview & Culture. Although each course is quality, if you’re not sure where to start, I’d recommend any of the following:
To find out what courses you can take for free, please visit here: https://connect.ligonier.org/library/
I have been struck by the variety of ways people have been impacted by the coronavirus and social distancing. Parents of young children are stressed as they adjust to homeschooling, while others long for something to do. Some are wrestling with anxiety over pressing financial concerns while others are grieving the loss of pivotal life experiences. Despite our varied experiences, we all respond to them with one common thing: emotions.
You should know that I am not a very emotional guy. I rarely cry and I tend to be even keeled in my disposition. Even still, I have recently been learning about the valuable gift our emotions are from God.
In the book Untangling Emotions, authors J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith explain what emotions are, how we experience them, and how we can engage with them for our own good and for God’s glory.
I highly recommend that you read the book for yourself but here are a few key insights from the book I have found especially helpful during this unique season.
Sometimes it’s good to feel bad
We experience emotion because God experiences emotion and we have been made in God’s image. Throughout the Bible we see God experience a wide range of emotions including negative ones. God is angered by sin and injustice. God grieves the increasing wickedness of Adam and Eve’s descendants. God is often “jealous” for the worship and adoration of his people. Jesus mourns over Jerusalem’s rejection of him as their messiah and he weeps at the death of his good friend Lazarus.
Groves and Smith explain:
In other words, there are times when it is right and God-glorifying to be angry, upset, sad, or concerned. As Christians we can sometimes mistakenly think that negative emotions reflect a lack of faith. The reality is that negative emotions are sometimes a healthy expression of our faith. If you are grieved, angry, or concerned about the impacts of the coronavirus—those are appropriate emotional responses to negative circumstances that are a result of living in a fallen world.
Emotions reveal what we love
Emotions are powerful communicators. They communicate to us (and others) what we most value and love, even if we are not consciously aware of our love for that thing. Think of a young child. When they get what they love, they are happy. When someone else gets it, they are jealous. When someone deprives them of it, they get mad. When they lose it, they get sad. Are we really so different? “While humans grow in maturity and our tastes change,” Grooves and Smith explain, “the core dynamic of our emotions remains. Our feelings express our intuitive view of how well our situation is providing for and protecting what we love.” (Pg. 34)
You might say that it’s not that simple. And you’re right, it isn’t. Our emotions are complex, and they do not come in single file. As the plot of Disney’s Inside Out demonstrates, it is possible to experience multiple and even competing emotions all at once. That’s possible because we love a lot of different things! Sometimes we love competing things and so we may respond to a new circumstance with both joy and sadness. This is because the new circumstance may help one thing we love while at the same time threatening another one of our loves.
The biblical response to emotions is to engage
There’s a Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s girlfriend notices that he never gets angry and she encourages him let himself get angry sometimes. When he does, he ends up opening the floodgates for all his emotions to come out (“What’s this salty discharge coming out of my eyes?”) and he becomes an emotional mess! That’s one flawed way in which we tend to respond to emotions. We make them everything and let them rule us. How we feel becomes more important than our character or God’s glory.
Another flawed response to emotions is to try to ignore them. This response is usually rooted in the belief that emotions cannot be trusted and those who are emotional are weak. Therefore, we must keep a stiff upper lip and bottle it up whenever we begin to feel something. Not only does it not work to repress emotions, but it also fails to recognize and make use of the gift that emotions are from God.
Emotions help us to connect with others. One way we are commanded to love others in Romans 12 is by weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. Emotions motivate and energize us to take action. Emotions also help us to connect with God. Emotions are an expression of what we worship. That is why God can command us in Philippians 4:4 to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
So, instead of these flawed approaches, God’s Word models for us what it looks like to engage with our emotions. Engaging our emotions simply means that when we begin to feel something, we should take a moment to look at it and see what we find before we decide how to respond.
We can engage our emotions through four basic step
Groves and Smith recommend that we engage our emotions using the following steps: Identify, Examine, Evaluate and Act
This is a practice that will take some intentionality at first but eventually can become a healthy habit. Here is what it looked like for me recently as I walked myself through the process before bed one night after a hectic day adjusting our new normal with the coronavirus:
Jesus and the authors of the psalms engaged with their emotions and poured their hearts out to God. Rather than running from our emotions or letting them rule us, we should engage them too. During this unique season, make a special effort to view your emotions as a gift from God. By engaging them you will grow in your walk with him.