WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT
Encouragement from Steve Douglas,
Can we admit that the Coronavirus pandemic has been hard on us? The virus and its implications have hit every individual and family differently, some have been weathering the storm “okay”, but many are suffering for various reasons. Over the last few months I have seen many going through struggles with the virus itself; the deaths of friends and family members; deprivation of relationships and connections; stress with or loss of jobs; drained investments and strained or broken family dynamics. I haven’t met one person who has not been impacted in some way and I have seen some of the stressors displayed in my own life and extended family. When we face such stress, we often face several fleshly temptations:
1. To veg-out and loosen up on our spiritual devotional practices. It is easy to think that because our regular rhythms have changed, our seeking relationship with Jesus is less important. Intended or not, if we follow this road, we will find ourselves distant from God and feeling very lost.
2. To engage in self-medicating. When we are stressed, frustrated and feel like we are failing or misunderstood, it is also easy to turn to unhealthy habits or actions to soothe ourselves – alcohol, drugs, food, unrestricted spending, gambling, pornography, sexual sins and the like. Scripture tells us that these are the product of the flesh and will enslave us (Galatians 5). That slavery will destroy us and our relationships and purpose as believers.
3. To pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. We look to ourselves, not Jesus, to fix what’s gone wrong. When we look to ourselves, we tend to dismiss what is hard to fix, refuse to confess, repent or invite other believers in to help us work on turning to Jesus and receive healing and wholeness. This leads to us putting up a false-face of faith which Jesus warns us to avoid (Matthew 23:25-27).
4. To devote ourselves to the world and its teachings. We engage in what the media and the politicians are telling us and use our voices to repeat what they say, instead of what God has said. We put our trust in candidates and movements instead of in Jesus. We begin to create divides and polarize where we are warned not to divide.
So how are we doing? Have you noticed any of these tendencies in your own heart? I’ll admit, some of these things have been swirling around in me and I am regularly reminding myself to, like Paul, think of what is “true, noble, right, pure, lovely and honorable”. If we are Christians, having left the old life behind and engaged in covenant relationship with God through faith in Jesus, we have been given the Holy Spirit who helps us please God. Now is the time for us to put that into practice as individuals and as a church.
In order to combat these four fleshly temptations here are four helpful ways to cling to what is good and spiritually grow in our continuing time of the Coronavirus pandemic:
1. Look yourself in the mirror and confess. Examine your heart honestly. What are you really wrestling with? Write it down. Where are temptations really coming from - are you angry, lonely, hurt, frustrated, triggered? Honest assessment will help you understand your own motives and the “why” behind your actions (and maybe other’s actions too). Address these things with God and with people. Start with confession (honesty) and repentance (turning away from sin - 1 John 1:6-10; James 5:16).
2. Recognize Jesus’ lordship and goodness in sending adversity. The Coronavirus is not without purpose. Jesus wants us to grow and that growth does not happen apart from adversity. Leslie Schmucker makes a solid biblical argument, here, that God sends us adversity in order to make us set apart for Him; to combat our pride; and to help us equip others. That’s biblical; and if it’s true, then Jesus wants you and me to take the posture of a humble student in our difficulties and allow them to do spiritual work. Endure hardship as (loving) discipline (Hebrews 12:7-11).
3. Depend on Jesus. We do not have control over the difficulties that have entered our lives, but we know the One who does. Keeping a heart of humble acceptance drives us to dependence on Jesus, while the heart of mistrust draws us away from Him to self-soothing and looking for temporal salvation elsewhere (Hebrews 3:1-14). If we throw ourselves at Jesus in dependence, we will get to see what He can accomplish! We can do this by scheduling time to meditate on Scripture and pray.
4. Put away everything that competes for your heart. The world is vying for our allegiance, but if we are Christians, our allegiance is to Jesus. That means anything and everything that gets between Him and us must go (2 Corinthians 10:5). Don’t let politics, social media memes, substances or sins drag your heart away; fight those influences like a mother bear deprived of her cubs. If you do, you will find that the fruit of the Spirit will have room to grow and life will look very different (Galatians 5:22-23).
I am trying to apply these patterns of thinking and living to my own life, and when I do, I find myself more patient, gentle, hopeful and open to doing things God’s way; which I know my family appreciates and responds to in kind. While I cannot make the pandemic go away, I can grow as a follower of Jesus through it.