Staying Centred in Strange Times - 5. Staying Centred
As I close this series, I want to encourage you again in the gospel. Above all we need to stay centre ourselves afresh on Christ and our confidence in Him and to stay in that place. To help us, we can learn from two parts of Scripture.
Isaiah faced times no less calamitous than ours as the people of Judah watched the seemingly unstoppable advance of the Assyrians, including the toppling of the northern kingdom. In the midst of this turmoil he reflected on what the LORD had said to him (Isaiah 8:12-15):
For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honour as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offence and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.
Beautifully, the apostle Peter adopted and adapted these words when he wrote to the Christian exiles in modern-day Turkey who were experiencing the seemingly insurmountable power of a pagan empire and hostile neighbours (1 Peter 3:13-17):
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
Note how Peter brings the words the LORD of hosts spoke about Himself to focus in the person of Christ. This is a high statement about the deity of Jesus and about our confidence in Him. The language of God fearing has fallen from our vocabulary, presumably because we don’t want to give the impression that we should be afraid of God. But the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. When we fear Him, we need fear nothing else! This fearlessness fuels our boldness in sharing the gospel to all who want to know.
In these days let’s recapture the joy and peace that come from being God-fearing people. The threat facing us is certainly different from that faced by Israel in Isaiah’s context (an invasion from Mesopotamia is hardly our concern) or that confronting Peter’s first readers (whatever challenges we face in these post-Christian days we are unlikely to be physically persecuted) but Christ is Lord and heaven’s armies (the hosts of angels under the LORD’s command) are undiminished in the face of coronavirus too. There is a sanctuary in every storm – the secure harbour that is Christ – and a reason to be given for our hope in every crisis. We must be gospel people in uncertain times.
As I close this series, I am praying for you the following words inspired by Isaiah 8 and 1 Peter 3. If you find them helpful, why not pray them for others and make them your own prayer through this crisis:
Father God, you have spoken to us with Your strong hand upon us, warning us not to follow the fearfulness of our society in this moment.
We need not fear coronavirus or its consequences, because You are our sanctuary in the storm.
We do not deny the suffering many are experiencing or our own anxiety in this moment, but we seek to honour You as the holy One, to remember that Christ is our Lord.
May we fear you alone in holy reverence and, in so doing, find freedom from all other fears.
May our words and our actions in this time be consistent with these great truths.
Help us to have confidence to speak hope and to give a reason for it to all who will listen. May many come to know Christ as Lord and to have eternal life through Him.
Enable us to show help to others as a non-anxious presence and through appropriate provision. Help us be wise in how we do this so that we do good and not anything harmful.
We pray for those in government to act wisely and to lead us well. Help us as responsible citizens to make their work on our behalf easy.
We pray for your grace to lead well in our own areas of responsibility and to care well for our families and those who look to us as their shepherds.
We pray for those who are personally affected by the disease. Preserve life and bring healing to them, we ask and comfort those who are mourning the loss of loved ones.
In Jesus’ name,