Lighthouse’s last normal youth group was just over a month ago. By that time, COVID-19 had been in the headlines for a couple months, but increasingly so as the number of U.S. cases rose. There were slight concerns of things getting worse, but a global pandemic seemed more like a distant dystopia than a pending reality. I asked the junior highers, “How afraid are you of the virus? Thumbs up for, ‘Yes, I’m afraid.’ Thumbs down for, ‘I’m not afraid at all,’ Thumbs sideways for, ‘Somewhere in the middle.’” More than 80% of the kids threw their thumbs straight down and laughed with youthful triumph, “Not afraid!” Only a handful had their thumbs sideways, and only one or two had their thumbs up. I was relieved, and encouraged them to wash their hands as a way to love others, even if they themselves were not afraid. Little did I know, that night would be the last time I saw any of them for only God knows how long.
Now that we are in a global pandemic, everything has changed—and for once, that’s not an exaggeration. But, if I’m honest, even in the midst of a state-wide lockdown, to me the virus still seems like an unreality. Compared to others, how much of my life has actually been affected? I’m not a high school senior who will not have a graduation ceremony. I haven’t had to postpone my wedding, my engagement, or my child’s 1st birthday party. I haven’t lost my job or had my income cut. I don’t have to nurse COVID-19 patients back to health. I’m not afraid that I won’t be able to retire because we just entered the quickest bear market in history. I don’t even have any friends with the virus yet. My greatest suffering is that I can’t see my church—and that I’m stuck at home with one of my favorite families on the planet. Poor me. All things considered, I’m doing fine. From one perspective, the virus is an inconvenience more than anything else, just another unwelcome pause to my life rather than a cataclysmic event.
As I’ve reached out to others, I’ve found that I’m not the only one doing fine. We have pasta in the pantry, ground beef in the freezer, and milk in the fridge. We have a roof over our heads, clothes in our closets, and money in the bank. We’re even having fun: playing video games with our roommates/siblings, watching movies with our families, Zoom-ing with our friends. We’ve started tackling our backlogged projects: organizing the garage, cleaning up the playroom, dusting off our old hobbies. The introverts among us are even enjoying the lockdown, very much content to play boardgames, read a book, and cozy up to Netflix—all to save the world of course. Certainly, we confess that things are not ideal, and we definitely want the quarantine to end. We definitely don’t want anyone we love to get sick or die from the virus. But at the same time, we’re not exactly crying out, “Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!” (Psalm 38:22)
As I’ve had time to reflect upon “doing fine” during the virus quarantine, I’ve found my thoughts revolving around four things: thanksgiving, prayerlessness, suffering together, and redeeming the time.
- We must give thanks to God for His grace.
I think we might be tempted to feel guilty because we’re not suffering as much as others. Yet, God’s grace to us should lead to thankfulness, not so-called “privilege guilt.” I’m thankful that God has given me food and clothing, for with these I can be content (1 Tim 6:8). I’m thankful that He has kept my family members from getting sick. I’m thankful that He has allowed many ministries to continue, albeit in a modified form. I’m thankful that He has been my Shield and Refuge against every fear and danger. These gifts are mine not by my own effort, but by the grace of my generous, heavenly Father.
Yet, we should also remember that God blesses us so that we would bless others (Ps 67:1—2). God gives us grace to be conduits of grace, not culs-de-sac. We are given gifts of the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor 12:7), not for our selfish indulgence. Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive (Ac 20:35). Life is not won by the one with the most stuff and the happiest memories; a life worth living is one lived entirely for Jesus (Php 1:21), poured out as a drink offering for others (Php 2:17). In Christ, we have died, and Christ died for us, so we might live no longer for ourselves, but for Him (2 Cor 5:14—15).
- We must repent of our prayerlessness.
Maybe I’m the only one who sins in this way, but when my life is dandy, when the days blur together as one, when my distracted mind is simply looking forward to the next meal/meeting/thing, my heart does not pray. The eyes of my soul drift downward to my life, find no lack, and then fail to look up and out upon a dying and devastated world. Let me not mince words; such prayerlessness simply says this: “God, I don’t need you.”
But beloved, in such a time as this, with death in the news, death in the hospitals, death on everyone’s mind, death in every conversation, how could we not pray more than ever before? We must turn from such selfishness, look up and out, and pray, “Father, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” (Mt 6:10). Yes, we are stuck at home, but the King of heaven and earth is not bound! So let us pray fervent, grand, desperate prayers. Pray for God to be merciful to sinners and end this pandemic. Pray for God to be gracious and bring millions to faith in Jesus Christ. Pray for Him to accomplish His good purposes during such a chaotic time. Pray for God to strengthen His Church, that we would fulfill our role as kingdom citizens to love, serve, minister, witness to a dying and needy world. Pray for God to strengthen our faith and prepare us for suffering, that we might never be overwhelmed by our ungodly fears. There are countless things and people to pray for; above every activity, let ceaseless prayer be our delight (1 Thess 5:17)!
- We must suffer together with our brethren.
Even though many of us are “doing fine,” others of us are suffering. We are doctors and nurses who are risking our own families to minister to the sick and dying. We are employees who are forced to go to work despite the quarantine warnings. We are workers who are fighting off unemployment and poverty. We are mothers who are struggling to corral our children. We are singles who are lonely and discouraged that no one has reached out to us. We are shut-ins who are without any hope of visitors or conversation. We are immunocompromised persons who are terrified of contracting the virus. As the pandemic continues, I suspect that things will get worse before they get better; if things do worsen, suffering will only increase.
In the classic “we are one body in Christ” passage, Paul writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26). In our context, that means if a Christian in our midst is suffering, we ourselves are suffering. If the eye has been punched, the ear cannot say, “Well, that doesn’t affect me!” If the feet are trampled upon, the head cannot say, “Well, you’re just too far away.” If the mind is fearful, the hands cannot say, “Well, not my problem!” As we often say, we need one another—and in Christ we are intimately, irreversibly, eternally connected to one another, too.
Maybe, for now, you and your family are not in such a plight. But your brother is, your brother for whom Christ died. Your sister is, your sister for whom Christ died. Will you love them as indispensable, honorable members of Christ’s body, as Christ has loved you? What might you do to sacrifice for them, suffer with them, walk beside them as they go through the valleys of the shadow of death? If you were in their shoes, how would you want to be loved, encouraged, helped, prayed for, ministered to? We are the body of Jesus, and our members are hurting. Let us do His work and build the body up in love (Eph 4:16).
- We must redeem the time for the Lord.
Lord-willing, the pandemic will end, and things will return to a post-COVID normal. But, I wonder, when we look back on the months we were cooped up at home, what will we say about it? “Oh, that was when I got really good at Super Smash Bros.” Or, “That was when I learned to bake really well.” (That’s not evil. Show me your skillz. Please, bake me some fancy bread.)
But, let us set our minds on things above, not the things that are on earth (Col 3:22). May we also say, “That is when my uncle died, but God helped me to put my trust in Him.” And, “That is when I led my cousin to faith through the book of Mark.” And, “That is when I prayed for my friend every time she worked her shift at the hospital.” And, “That’s when we started family devotionals and worshipped the Lord together.” And, “That’s when knowing Jesus Christ became even sweeter, as I grew in a personal disciplines.” What will be the defining act of your quarantine?
At the end of our days, we will stand before the Lord Jesus to give an account for our life—not for salvation, but for eternal reward (1 Cor 3:12—15, 2 Cor 5:10). Part of that account will include how we use these strange days, when many of us have more time than ever before. Since God has kept the burden of suffering from our personal life, how might we use our time for His glory, others’ good, and our joy? We have been bought with a price, so let us redeem the time and work heartily for Him (1 Cor 6:20, Eph 5:16, Col 3:23—24)!
A Note to the Suffering
I have written this blog post primarily for those, like myself, who are not suffering during this time. But, I do not want to entirely neglect those who are suffering greatly. Some brief thoughts:
- First, forgive us for not loving you well. Christ is our merciful Savior, too; we need Him just as much as you do.
- Second, take heart that Christ has never left your side, even though it may feel like everyone else has.
- Third, while we could send you online resources (like Lighthouse resources here and here), we would like to offer ourselves. Please, give us the privilege of bearing your burdens (Gal 6:2), so that we might suffer better together by the grace of our Redeemer and Friend. If you’re not sure who to reach out to you, email the church staff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if you don’t feel comfortable with that, you can email me at email@example.com.
Dear suffering saints, you have been given a gift. You can show us that all our earthly sufferings are mere nightlights compared to the radiant glory of Jesus Christ our Lord. We need to see that light. Let us suffer together well.
- What are things that you thank God for? How can you use those blessings to bless others?
- When will you pray this week? Failing to plan to pray is a plan to fail to pray.
- Who is a close friend that might be suffering? How could you reach out to them and pray for them?
- If you have extra time because of the quarantine, what are some potential projects to redeem the time? Some examples: read the whole Bible (about 75 hours), learn a new skill to serve others, exercise every day, write letters to friends, read some good books, reach out to coworkers and friends, etc. Be creative!