I am an optimist. I am a perpetual optimist. In fact I say that my cup is not even half full, it is in the process of being filled! My wife has told me more than once, “could you please just be upset about something?!” What can I say, I have always been one to see the positive.
Last week I was texting with a friend who asked me to pray for his co-workers. He went on to explain that so many of them are anxious, scared, and paranoid during this time. I am sure that you know people that feel the same way. Maybe you are experiencing those feelings now yourself. But it was his next comment that stopped me in my tracks. He said, “This is an opportunity for me to show faith not fear.” Wow! Let that comment sink in. Where those around him day in and day out are overcome with anxiety, fear, and paranoia he sees an opportunity to share his faith!
For those of you who have been able to watch any of our online prayer services at First Baptist Church of the Islands you know that one of my prayers during this time has been for God to give us gospel opportunities. This time of social distancing has indeed caused anxiety and fear in many, I am sure that you have talked with someone over these last weeks that is dealing with this. But in 1 Peter 3:15 we read, “If someone asks about the hope that you have as a believer be ready to explain it.”
When we accept Christ we are changed, we are a new creation. Peter says that those around us, the people we work with, the people we do life with, will notice the difference. That difference is hope. Hope that we will survive this storm. Hope that God has got it all in control. And even in the midst of a pandemic like we find ourselves in today, our hope shines through.
People are going to notice this hope, and they are going to curiously question how we can have hope in times like these. When my friend’s coworkers see the unwavering, non unexplainable hope that he walks through this struggle with they will not be able to help but ask for the reason of his hope. And I can gladly say that my friend will be ready to explain the reason for his hope: his faith in Christ!
Are you ready to explain the hope that you have? Are you walking through this pandemic with faith or fear? You don’t have to take another step in fear, because you have hope in what He has done for you. As we journey through this season of rest, spend time with God in His word and in prayer. Grow your faith and put your hope on display as you observe the rest!
I am tired. I am exhausted, both physically and mentally. I am drained. Can you relate to these feelings? Have you found yourself at this same place this week. Has it really only been a week? It feels like this new normal has been the normal for forever. I am tired.
We all find ourselves at this place at some point in this journey called life. There are times that just seem to require so much of us that they truly drain us dry and run us down. It is in times like this that so many lose hope.
As a pastor, this coronavirus pandemic has totally changed so many things about how we do ministry. I am so thankful that last fall we at my church decided to look toward live streaming. We never intended to use live streaming the way we are now, we were simply looking for a solution to help us with overflow video and audio and the ability to allow our shut-ins to see the service. I have, more than once during these last two weeks, found myself overwhelmed by the goodness of God to us in all of this! His timing is far better than our timing, and His ways are far better than our ways. What we didn’t know back last fall as we started this, He did, and He put us in the perfect place step into this season of technological ministry that we find ourselves in today. But we also see how unprepared we were as well. Doing ministry in this era of social distancing requires so much more creativity and tech savvy in the way that we do things. I know so many of my pastor friends that I have spoken with over the last two weeks all say the same thing, that they are burning their candles at both ends. I even know some who would consider the place they’re in right now a place of hopelessness and despair. Are you there too?
Today as I was thinking about these conversations I have had and my own tiredness, I was reminded of one of my favorite scriptures from the book of Isaiah. In Isaiah 40:31 we read, “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Maybe some of you find yourself, like my friends, in a place of hopelessness. Maybe some of you find yourself in a time of great weariness. Take heart, place your hope in Him knowing that he will renew your strength. The translation I memorized uses the word wait instead of hope. It reads, “those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.” It seems that every day we hear new numbers of those affected by this virus, and new dates that seem to push further and further out before our lives will go back to normal. Waiting is hard, but in this season of rest that is exactly what we need to do: wait.
What areas of your life do you need to learn to wait in? I know this is something that God is teaching me right now, and I am enjoying learning to rest and wait. Please don’t misunderstand me, this is not easy! As I said in an earlier post, resting is hard for me, and waiting is even harder! But I know that is what God is calling me to do, and I also know that on the other side of this my strength will be renewed and my weariness will be gone. Stop, be still, rest in Him and allow him to restore you and renew your strength. Don’t miss what he is doing in this time as he calls us to observe the rest.
Rest. Silence. Still. I have trouble with these words. Well, lets say I have trouble with these words in their verb tense. Take the word still, as a verb it is defined as to become motionless or silent, or my favorite, to arrest the motion of. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I am never still. I seem to always be in constant motion, some part of my body is moving all the time. I can remember being told as a child to sit still, in school, at home, at church, everywhere! I just can't be still for any length of time, it is a struggle for me.
Next we have silence. As a verb, silence is defined as to compel or reduce to silence. Now we know what silence is, it is the absence of sound or noise. Ok, again here, anyone who knows me can attest to my infrequent silence. My mom has even told me that I started talking at eight months "and never shut up"! My wife and children are always joking that I can turn a quick trip to the supermarket into a multi-hour excursion complete with many conversations. My son said to me just recently, "Do you really know everyone you meet or do you just like to talk?" I guess I am guilty as charged, I really struggle with silence.
And that brings us to rest. Rest, as a verb, is defined as to cease from action or motion, to be free from anxiety or disturbance. Wow, is that even possible? When I cease from action, I feel lazy. I feel like there is always something that needs to be done. I have been told more than once by my wife that I need to just rest. I truly struggle to rest, really rest, according to these definitions.
So what does this social distancing and shelter at home orders do to folks like me? What do you so when you are forced to rest, to be silent, and to just be still? How do you handle it when a global pandemic stops you in your tracks and makes you rest?
I am reminded of what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 46:10. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God." Be still: become motionless or silent... and know. Know what? That he is God, that he is who he says he is. He is the same God who took you through yesterday. He is the same God who is with you today. And he is the same God who has promised to be with you tomorrow. That's why we can be still.
But I love the entirety of Psalm 46. As you face the challenges that this COVID-19 virus has brought upon your life, you can observe the rest because of the truths of this chapter. It opens with these words: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear. Are you looking for a place of refuge? Do you need strength to make it through this day, and tomorrow, and the day after that? Are you afraid? You can rest because God is your refuge. You can rest because God is your strength. You can rest because God is for you, and there is no reason to fear.
When I was growing up there was a rule at my house and my Mema's house, if something was really important they would tell you twice. And if they called your name twice, well you know! In this chapter of Psalms, there are two identical verses, 7 and 11. These verses repeat, The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. If the rules of my childhood still ring true, you can be sure that these words are important. During this time of observing the rest remember that God, the Lord Almighty, is with you. He is your fortress. Therefore we make the choice not fear.
If you would have asked me back in January what my plans were for Easter I could have told you specifically every aspect of the service that was planned, down to the keys of the songs and even the transitions. But if you were to ask me that same question today I would not have a good answer for you. Isn't it amazing how our plans can change, and in an instant. I mean, if you would have asked me even a week ago I would have given the same answer from January.
This pandemic, COVID-19, has shaken the entire world. I am a part of several social media groups for Worship Leaders and there is much anxiety and distress as things change almost daily. The majority of us are having to change everything that we have planned and prayed over for months, and we are having to plan and pray even harder for God to show us what it is that He is trying to teach us in these moments.
When I think about how this virus has effectively silenced life as we know it, I cannot help but contemplate a rest. For those of you who may not know, a rest is a musical notation that indicates the absence of sound, a period of silence. Any choir that I have every worked with has heard me say, many times, that we must observe the rests as we are working through our music. Rests represent a place for a musician to breathe. Rests, or moments of silence in music, are also effective in helping to craft a worshipful moment. Rests are important, in music and in life.
This rest that we are collectively experiencing across the globe is just as important as a rest in an anthem we may sing, or a worship song we may lead. I want us to take full advantage of this rest that we have found ourselves in. But I also understand how challenging this can be. I have stood in front of orchestras and watched musicians frantically counting their measures of rest to ensure that they come in at just the right moment.
I believe that God has something amazing to teach us as His people during this time of rest, and I want to ensure that we come out of this at just the right moment spiritually. It is my desire over these next days and weeks to encourage and spiritually challenge you as we observe the rest together.