I remember the pastor of a church I used to attend commenting that rarely when people are in the midst of the crisis is that the time to try and teach them how to face the situation. Rather, if we are going to get through the challenge of a health, work or relationship crisis then we will have needed to dig deep and build up wells of spiritual resources in advance.
I believe that is true both individually and corporately. A good secular example of this is that back in the 1980s, there were in fact two confrontations between the Government and Arthur Scargill’s miners. What many people don’t realise is that before the 1984 strike, the government backed down in a previous confrontation because they weren’t ready. In the run up to the 1984 strike, they ensured that coal was stockpiled and that they were ready for the crisis when it came. Similarly it is thought that east Asian countries were best prepared for COVID-19 because they had been through the experience of past epidemics including SARS and so were ready and prepared to introduce testing regimes.
The question I want to ask is “How ready were we as churches and individuals for the events of this year? Of course we had been told to prepare for 2020 in all sorts of different ways but usually that was about seeing fantastic opportunities ahead. I suspect the first time any of us had an inkling that the year ahead wasn’t going to be great was watching the BBC on New Year’s Eve and discovering that they had decided to resurrect Craig David’s career and give him the headline slot. However, whilst we were not prepared for the actual events, I hope that we were preparing ourselves and each other for potential trials to come.
What did we need in order to keep going through this? Here are some things.
- A strong grasp of Biblical truths and doctrine about the Gospel, what it means to be part of the church and eschatology to stop us getting swayed by weird and wonderful speculation about what is happening or paralysed in fear through a loss of confidence in Christ.
- A genuine love for one another and relationships that have been cultivated over a long time to enable mutual encouragement and one another care through this season
- Similarly a cultivated prayer life to enable us to cope with times of solitude and indeed use those times of solitude to grow our relationship with God.
- A confidence in the good news of salvation to enable us to use the opportunity to share the good news at a time when we could not rely on special events at the church building.
I suspect that it has been where churches have done the ground work on those things prior to coronavirus that we will have seen growth and fruitfulness over the last year.
This view has also to some extent affected my approach to preaching and teaching. Now, for some people, this period has felt like a sabbath. Furlough or shielding has meant they’ve had more time on their hands and they’ve used it well for Bible study. That’s why we’ve provided plenty to read on Faithroots and also the weekly in depth teaching sessions on a Wednesday.
Yet for many, this has not been a peaceful time with space to think and to pray but rather a challenging time where they have to still keep work going whilst at the same time they’ve been home schooling children and where the normal means of communication has broken down. If so, it is highly unlikely that you had the mental or emotional energy to cope with the challenge of learning. It’s in those circumstances where I hope that with the help of the church and good teaching and pastoral care that you have dug those deep wells of spiritual resources over time.
That’s why I’ve been comfortable to change tack in terms of preaching. This has been a time for shorter sermons with a more devotional feel. Why? Well not just because zoom affects attention spans but also because for many of us it hasn’t been a time for learning new lessons but rather supporting each other as we apply old ones.
So, the challenge for us is to look back at how we’ve got on through this crisis. Were we ready, were we equipped? What can we learn from our experience now to help us prepare for the next one that will surely come? Once we are out of COVID, let’s make sure we use the time well so that we are prepared for that next time of suffering or persecution.