Everything has stopped
by Marcus Honeysett
Edited by Richard Thor Collins
Coronavirus has closed the world down. Or so it seems.
For itinerant Christian workers like me, just about everything in our diaries has been cancelled. Church leaders are busy figuring out new ways to pastor their flocks, but for those of us who travel, we’re suddenly faced with a vast open space in our calendars. A friend of mine told me, ‘Last week, I had six international trips planned and lots of other work coming in. Now it’s all gone.’ I myself was due to speak at various conferences – now all cancelled.
On top of this, my wife is a key worker teacher of vulnerable children. Her task is to figure out how to support these kids with the social distancing restrictions in place. Oh, and we have a rambunctious five-year-old to care for in the home. Small garden, not much space for energy outlet. You can see the problem, surely.
Like no other week I can remember, God has used this week to teach me two things.
1) I am not in control
2) It is foolish to find my sense of identity and achievement (let alone security) from my Christian ministry activity
I’m reminded of Elijah in 1 Kings 17, an astonishing passage. He says to Ahab, ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.’ Immediately afterwards, there is no revival tour of the Northern Kingdom. Instead, God sends Elijah into isolation. Familiar word nowadays. Three years in the Kerith Ravine, and then in Zaraphath, the land of death.
I believe Elijah needed further lessons in trust and reliance on Almighty God. It is training in trusting. And it was no doubt a frustrating and anxious time, especially when the brook dried up.
What’s the lesson here?
Enforced stopping is not spiritually pointless. It is not useless, wasted space. It’s a time to cry out to God. It’s a space to drink deeply from his Word. Maybe to fast. It is also a time to reach out to our neighbours in ways we often don’t. It might even be an opportunity to catch up with admin – what a thought! Our change in lifestyle doesn’t have to mean a fruitless period. It’s just a different way to produce fruit.
For myself, I am hoping to spend more time in prayer. I want to learn in greater depth the meaning of dependence. After all, our God is still ever-faithful and totally in control. And should this virus reconfigure my life permanently, then that is a gift from his good hand.
Finally, how important it is to remember that the Bible often emphasises the fragile nature of our lives – how impermanent they are, how subject to forces beyond our control.
Let me leave you with some thoughts from James’ letter.
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15