As the coronavirus initially began spreading within more and more American cities, many of us were seeing the restrictions and closures taking place elsewhere and hoping that they did not come near us. But now our fears have been realized. Bars and restaurants are shut down with the possible exception of delivery or carry out. Businesses deemed non-essential are not in operation. Offices are closing their doors and requiring employees to work from home. We are all quarantined at home, asked only to go out when absolutely necessary. Days, relationships, hobbies, entertainment, sports, everything looks different than it did a couple of months ago. Closures and restrictions seem to have stolen our freedom, and we are both mourning the losses while trying to make the most of a difficult situation. But we are all ultimately longing and waiting for them to be lifted and life to return to normal. And while I too long for those things, I do not necessarily see all of the closures as devoid of opportunity. This is not merely an attempt to have a positive attitude when given negative circumstances. Rather, it is seeing how restrictions that are unfavorable in some ways create favorable circumstances in other ways. This pandemic can be a time of growth if we allow it.
I see at least 5 opportunities this coronavirus pandemic offers us.
1. The opportunity to reflect on our beliefs
Difficult circumstances can cause us to lean in to our beliefs, re-evaluate and revise our beliefs, adopt new beliefs, or cast off our beliefs. Trials, like fire, test our beliefs and can purify and strengthen them or destroy them (1 Peter 1:7). As we look at the suffering that is happening in the world due to the coronavirus and how it is impacting our lives and the lives of those we love, questions of God’s love, presence, goodness, power, sovereignty, and even existence are bound to come into our minds. If not that, then they will be asked by those around us. And it is here that we must reflect on our belief and hope in the gospel and the truth of Scripture. Is God still good in the midst of suffering? Is He still present when I can’t see His hand working? Is He still in control when chaos seems to reign? Does He still love me when I don’t love my circumstances? The answer to all of these, of course, is yes! Trials can expose false beliefs that need to come into alignment with Scripture or reveal true beliefs that we must stand on as a firm foundation amidst the unsteady ground of life in a fallen world.
When my grandfather passed away a few years ago and I spoke at his funeral I was faced with the reality of death and the afterlife. Even though I had been to seminary and was (and am) thoroughly convinced of the Christian faith, I was asking myself, “Is all of this actually true? Is grandpa really with Christ right now? Am I wasting my life by devoting it to the gospel?” When trials presented the possibility of changing or tossing out certain beliefs when they ran headlong into the difficulties of life, I recalled the truth and hope of the gospel as revealed in the Bible and all of the good reasons to believe in and trust God. This provided the firm foundation of truth upon which I could mourn the death of my grandfather. My beliefs passed through the fire more strained of impurities and more solidified.
Trials, while undesirable, are opportunities to reflect on and refine our understanding of Scripture, and to rest in the God of hope (Rom. 15:13). And suffering is always redemptive for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:28). Let this pandemic cause you to turn to God’s word to better understand His truth and to align your beliefs with it.
2. The opportunity to grow spiritually
We should always strive to “be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9–10). This is a daily pursuit that persists throughout every season of life. But we are currently in a season where there is greater need and greater opportunity to grow spiritually. There is greater need as we face questions, doubts, trials, struggles, sickness, life changes, etc. and we need to pursue Christ, become more like Him, and rest in Him. And there is greater opportunity as we are all quarantined at home and have more time to engage spiritual disciplines. We should make the best use of this time (Eph. 5:15-16) to seek wisdom and live wisely for Christ (Ps. 90:12). Basically, “don’t waste your quarantine.”
Take this time to study, meditate on, and memorize Scripture, pray, fast, and rest in Christ (listen to Redeemer's sermons on spiritual disciplines at https://www.redeemerstillwater.com/spiritual-discipline). Enjoy the fellowship of Christ’s Body by actively engaging in live streamed Sunday services, zoom gospel communities, and intentional time with other believers over the phone or FaceTime. Let this be your primary line of thinking when pondering how to spend your new amount of free time as opposed to thinking first of all the Netflix shows you can catch up on or new hobbies you can adopt.
3. The opportunity to forge deeper habits
We all have habits that make up our days and, consequently, our lives. When we wake up, drink coffee, eat meals, go to work, engage entertainment, spend time with others or alone, play games, enjoy hobbies, etc. all make up our habits. Some of them are habits we are very intentional with (like getting lunch with a close friend once a week) and others are habits that we don’t think much about or are even unaware of (like checking social media or the news first thing in the morning before we even get out of bed). Habits take time to form and can be hard to break, and we all have both good and bad habits.
But what we don’t often think about is how our habits shape and form us. They are perpetuating and reinforcing certain things into our rhythms and lives. Our habits both reveal what our hearts truly long for as well as form our hearts and lives. Jumping straight on social media first thing in the morning can reveal many things about our hearts (we desire entertainment, acceptance, approval, distraction, knowledge, etc. more than Jesus) and impact our hearts as we become like what we desire and consume. Habits are incredibly formative, but we have control over them.
So, take this disruption in your normal schedule, habits, and rhythms to forge new and/or deeper ones. Establish a new rhythm of spending time with God in His word in the morning before you engage any technology. Start those family devotionals you’ve been considering doing for such a long time. Begin reading more often or engaging in enjoyable, life-giving hobbies rather than finishing work and watching TV or movies the rest of the evening. Prioritize spending quality time with others throughout the week (even if it's over zoom) and pointing one another toward Christ. Begin that workout program you’ve been meaning to get around to. Engage this unique time intentionally to further know, honor, and worship Christ with your habits, rhythms, and life! (Here’s a resource to consider: https://www.thecommonrule.org/spiritual-rhythms-for-quarantine)
4. The opportunity to love others
The opportunity and command to love our neighbor as we love ourself (Mark 12:30-31) is always before us. We are to imitate Jesus in His perfect example of neighbor love, denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Him (Matt. 16:24). But this is a unique time to love others because of the unique needs this pandemic is revealing and creating. People have been laid off and are in financial straits. Parents are trying to work from home while also taking care of their kids. Many are also trying to lead their child’s education from home since schools have closed. Some people cannot leave their home due to sickness or pre-existing conditions that make them more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus. Many are anxious, afraid, lonely, or depressed and would greatly benefit from an encouraging phone call. And these are just some of the more obvious needs right now.
How can you love and serve others during this pandemic? Can you check in on your neighbors and make yourself available to pick up groceries for those in need? Can you donate food to or volunteer at your local food bank? Can you give more money to the benevolence fund at your church to serve your community? Can you sew masks for healthcare workers? Can you give other parents tips for how to lead their child’s education from home? We are only limited in all of this by our own willingness and creativity. Let’s magnify the name of Jesus together as we love and serve others during this time. Not only does this honor our Lord, but it may be the means God uses to save individuals and grow His Kingdom.
5. The opportunity to worship God at all times
The beauty of our God is that His goodness endures forever and He is worthy of praise in all circumstances. “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1). “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised!” (Psalm 113:3). Since His perfect, matchless character endures forever, so should our worship, for He deserves nothing less. This is no less true during times of trials and suffering.
However, worshiping God often feels more difficult during trials. Going through times where we have unfulfilled desires or undesirable circumstances seems to sap us of happiness and joy, which affects our worship. Our inclination is to praise God when all is well and question Him when it is not. But this reveals a defect in our sinful hearts, not in God. It reveals that we often desire God’s gifts more than we desire Him as the gift giver. But God stays the same and endures forever, the things of this world do not. And if all of our desires are ultimately fulfilled in Christ alone, then trials are a grace from God to help us see that He alone satisfies us. They change our hearts to better reflect this reality and to prepare our hearts to worship Him for all eternity.
The loss of God’s gifts should help us see that God is still worthy of worship whether we are experiencing the gifts or not. But also that God is so good to give us the gifts in the first place. We should use His gifts as a means to better know and worship Him, and persist in our praise even when the gifts are gone. There is a unique peace and joy that comes from worshiping God through the pain and the tears because we know that He is good, faithful, and loving at all times. So, may we say with Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
We are all struggling right now in various ways, and some of us more than others. Identifying the opportunities inherent in this pandemic is not to make light of the grief, mourning, and lamentation that are appropriate right now. But it is to remind us that our hope is not in this life or the things of this world. Our hope is in Christ alone and we look forward to the New Heavens and New Earth, for that is our true home. Because of God’s great love for us He is committed to our sanctification, helping us learn to trust Him more, to make us more like His Son, and to prepare us for eternity with Him. On that day we will dwell with God face to face and He will dwell with us. There will be no more mourning, crying, tears, pain, or death for Christ will have fully triumphed over them all (Rev. 21:1-8) and fully ushered in the Kingdom of God. But until then we intentionally look to Christ at all times to better know, trust, obey, and worship Him. Let's do that now during the coronavirus.
-By Kevin Tapscott