by Jim Killam | 4-minute read
The last couple of weeks have been hard. More COVID, more shutdowns, more arguments about masks. Endless political tension and mudslinging. Canceling a family birthday gathering. Wondering what to do about Thanksgiving.
And then our basement sewer pipe backed up. Trust me, that’s all the detail you want. But if we’re looking for a metaphor for 2020 …
When Pastor Josh talked last weekend about identifying our desires, I thought: How about this pandemic ending? How about being able to gather with friends and family and our first thought not being, Could this kill someone?
My first response to pain—in this case, loneliness and isolation—is to do anything in my power to make it stop. That failing, I pray urgently: God, make it stop. If he doesn’t do that immediately, I usually proceed this way:
- Fight it. Live in resistance. Strive to make things the way they were. Get even more frustrated or depressed when I can’t.
- Rest in that pain. Even (yikes) welcome it. The first chapter of James has a lot to say about this. Rather than curse the loneliness, take note that life is a lot quieter right now. I can hear God better when the distractions are forcibly removed—because I’m pretty bad at removing them willfully.
Step 2 doesn’t come naturally. Honestly for me, sometimes it never comes at all. But when it does, as Josh mentioned in his sermon, it reorients my desires. It takes my attention off myself and brings me closer to the heart of God.
Australian pastor and author Mark Sayers has called COVID-19 “a gigantic pause button.”
“I don’t believe God caused this pandemic,” he said. “But what I do believe is that he’s using it. … This is a time of reformation of our hearts, because God is determined to see his kingdom endure.”
Hmm. Reformation of our hearts. That sounds very churchy. But there’s something there.
In 1517, Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 grievances to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. His main arguments: The Bible is the central spiritual authority and salvation comes through faith alone. For the Protestant Reformation to take hold, people needed access to the Bible, and in a language they could understand. The solution came via a machine invented in Germany just 77 years earlier: Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press. The gospel spread like wildfire across Europe.
Lauren and I serve with Wycliffe Bible Translators, dedicated to getting “heart language” Scripture to people in every living language. Wycliffe is an outgrowth of the Reformation principle of getting God’s Word into all people’s hands, and we are incredibly close.
Today, what I’m hearing from people like Sayers is that the world needs God’s Word not just in our hands, but in our hearts. That God wants to rebuild his church with pure hearts who seek him. (The Apostle Paul described David this way in Acts 13.) The church won’t be renewed with politics, or celebrity pastors, or prosperity. Not with angry individualism or pride. Not in simply disengaging and counting the days until Jesus returns. But with pure hearts who earnestly seek God.
I love that Wycliffe adopted a new vision statement this year: For people from every language to understand the Bible and be transformed. In other words, from hands to hearts. The statement was adopted in March, just as the global pandemic was being declared. Interesting.
Every language includes English, by the way.
So … what to make of a pandemic with no end in sight? Is it OK that I want the suffering to end as soon as possible? Absolutely. We can all work for that in large and small ways. But what about the meantime? What holy opportunity can come from this crisis? What kind of renewal could happen—not just for individuals but as a global church, all experiencing the same trial together? How can the church emerge from this and look more like Jesus?
I think God will bring those answers into focus if we quiet ourselves, be OK with fewer distractions … and let him make our hearts more like his. It doesn’t mean I can’t also vote, find something fun to do amid the gloom, and (please) fix my sewer pipe. But there’s a much larger, better picture taking shape. I don’t want to miss it.