Your new-look ADVANCE
Reflection: World Events
When Life Gets Hard
By Jeff Mckinnon
All of us are adjusting to a new reality in 'corona-time'. In our extended families, in our churches and in wider society ... life has changed probably for at least six months. And maybe some changes will never revert back.
'Social isolation' will affect some of us much more than others. And all of us may be feeling very differently in six months' time, compared to right now. For some it may get very hard. Australia can expect to see some social indicators rise significantly including expressions of mental illness, suicides and domestic violence.
Faithfulness to God always has, and always will, be to do with following Jesus in whatever 'here' and whatever 'now' we encounter. What does following Jesus look like in this moment?
Often in the modern church preachers answer such questions with: 'remember these truths'. But as Jesus emphasised, faith is not merely about knowing some facts. It is all about walking in harmony with God. That is the entire point of the sermon on the Mount (eg Matthew 7:7-27).
So here are some practices to keep strong ... when life gets hard.
1. Focus on Jesus, not the 'storm'
Remember the story of Jesus asleep through a storm on the boat (Mark 4:35-41)? The disciples were terrified and woke him. Seeing their fear, Jesus says, "Why are you so afraid?" He calls his disciples to take their eye off the storm and onto him.
But if we truly 'fix our eyes on Jesus" (Hebrews 12:2) that too can be terrifying: "Who is this person?" (Mark 4:41) It takes faith and courage to follow Jesus out of religion, beyond words and ideas, and into a life of discipleship. That will take you to places you would never choose to go. And you will discover deep life.
Religion has always been a good 'opiate of the masses'. It can certainly anesthetise you from the fear of the storm. But religion will not take you where Jesus wants you to go. Faithfully trust God in the storm - and keep on following. The dangers for us are always comfort and distraction.
2. Deal with worry and fear, in the power of the Spirit
One danger of anxiety is the tendency to store up for ourselves (apparently) limited resources. For example, we saw recent panic buying in Australia. Jesus says don't do that (Matthew 6:19-24)! Freedom and spiritual strength are found by storing up eternal treasures: by learning obedience, by exercising faith, by being true to the way of Jesus in ever-increasing depth.
Some of us have a propensity to fear or to be anxious (just like others struggle with our temper or lust or gluttony). We don't have the strength to defeat our weaknesses. Strength is found by simply following Jesus - for the whole of life and in every aspect of your life. As we do that, God's ways mysteriously begin to become our ways (Philippians 2:13). How wonderful the fruit of the Spirit is!
3. Prioritise serving those who are vulnerable
Loving the vulnerable involves many things, of which I am still just beginning to learn. Christ's mission takes us out of our comfort zone to where God can best teach us spiritual realities. We inevitably engage in cross cultural ministry where we too become powerless and uncomfortable.
We resist our need to be in control, to provide a 'service', a program, to minister 'to' people. Rather we welcome the poor as our friends, we love, we live with, we mutually learn together. We perceive God a little more clearly. And we witness to the wider society the ways of the Kingdom of God.
4. Do not resist suffering
We love to recite stories of the early church being persecuted by the Roman Empire, or taking in exposed babies, or risking infection to care for those dying in plagues - for an introduction to the details of these stories see Karl Faase's video-based studies, Jesus the Gamechanger. But do any of us in the western church seriously expect to serve Jesus in such dangerous ways?
We prefer Bible studies and worship services to serious discipleship. We resist suffering in Jesus' name.
Jesus was repeatedly explicit about suffering. He was not referring to the everyday illnesses and woes we share with the rest of humanity. No, Jesus speaks plainly about the cross (Mark 8:34-38; John 12:23-26).
The story of the Good Samaritan is not primarily a moral tale about care for those in need. In its context it is a story that outlines various aspects of following Jesus: certainly practical, costly compassion, but also the practise of inclusive love so I see the person, not the 'Samaritan', and also radical risk taking.
To stop on a dangerous road to assist a wounded traveller exposed the fictional Samaritan to the great risk of himself being beaten and robbed. The way of the Kingdom is to put my security, comfort and desires second to the needs of vulnerable ones.
When we stop resisting suffering, we then still have much to learn of the way of Christ - that which we will never learn sitting in our lounge chair or merely reading the Bible.
COVID-19, like many plagues before it, may cause to rise up a fresh generation of disciples. May we learn to 'obey everything (Jesus has) commanded' (Matthew 28:20).
Surely he will be with us!