For most of us in the US and other developed countries, COVID-19 is presenting unprecedented circumstances. For the past two days, I have been on different platforms speaking about the rampant anxiety that is sweeping across the land. In many ways, anxiety feels justified. As of this writing, the COVID-19 infection rate in the US continues to escalate and the tone of government officials grows direr. Most people have watched their retirement plans, on which many depend for their future security, plummet by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many people have lost their jobs and business or have witnessed drastic declines in income due to the contraction of business everywhere. Parents who still have jobs have to figure out how to do them virtually from home. Families search for stability as responsibility for their children's academics has come back home. My own daughter who was in her last semester of college feels her final semester and graduation ceremony have been robbed from her.
The typical outlets for relieving anxiety such as shopping malls, movie theaters, sports venues, gyms, and restaurants are all closed. For weeks and probably months ahead, families will be unable to escape the grip of COVID-19. The longer this disruption continues the longer our collective anxiety is going to rise. Sadly, in many homes, this pent-up anxiety is going to destroy marriages, emotionally separate children from parents, cause a decline in mental health, and increase the abuse of alcohol and other mind-numbing agents.
Yet, this is the tremendous opportunity for the people of the Way—those of us who walk to a different truth. This is the exact time for Christian families to demonstrate the power of our faith. For years, we have talked how our trust is only in the Lord. For years, we have said that God is our refuge and our strength, a strong tower in time of trouble (Psalms 46). For years, we have said ‘greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world’ (1 John 4:4).
Did you mean that?
These are not just words. These are statements of faith that showcase what is in your heart and the true source of your strength. Your faith and mine need adversity to grow because adversity pushes us beyond self-reliance to complete dependence on God. There is no doubt that we have faith in Christ. However, so many of us practice a shallow faith that is not anchored in the depths of our being. When the winds bellow and waves crash unrelentingly, our faith drifts away and leaves us feeling as exposed as the unbelievers around us.
Since I was a boy, I have been encouraged by the hymn “In Times Like These” that affirms that in times where COVID-19 disrupts the world as we know it Jesus is the solid Rock upon which our anchor can be cast. If financial hardships come, Jesus is your solid Rock that will hold your anchor. Even in the chance that you contract this virus, Jesus in your solid Rock that will hold your anchor. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
As we dwell on this truth that we are anchored in Jesus, we can embrace the challenging words of the Apostle James (James 1:1-4) to see the joy in these current trials. Yes, especially in the midst of COVID-19, we must have joy because it enhances our endurance which in turn makes us complete and mature Christians.
The Apostle Paul survived imprisonment and death threats because joy caused his faith to endure. The early Church thrived during persecution because the joy of the Lord enabled their faith to endure. You and I must allow joy to envelop our homes so that our faith endures. I love the words that Pastor Rich Warren uses to define joy as “the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright and the determined choice to praise God in every situation”. Pastor Warren’s astute words offer a compelling three-step path to embrace joy in our faith:
Control - The virus pandemic strips away our illusions of control. In just a matter of a couple of weeks, so many of the things that you thought you controlled have been ripped from your hands. The reality is that we have very little control. Everything that matters can change in an instant. Our faith insists that we acknowledge that God in his omnipotence is the one who is in control and that only he unconditionally cares and provides for us. Yes, we are responsible for being good stewards of what he places in our hands. But, we can only remain joyful as we learn to hold things lightly (relinquishing control to the Lord) and embrace relationships tightly.
Confidence - The next point of joy is placing your confidence in Christ. Psychological research demonstrates how confidence creates a sense of attachment and security in relationships. This is particularly evident in our relationship with Christ. As your confidence in Christ grows you feel empowered to make bigger leaps of faith. Your faith elevates because you believe that when you operate in the parameters of his will that he (not you) controls the outcomes. As the Apostle Paul writes to the church at Philippi, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). You can remain joyful in adversity because you are confident that the present circumstances are in no way going to limit the completion of God’s work through you. On the contrary, these uncertain times are sharpening God’s plans for you.
Choice — the final element of joy is knowing that you make the choice to give God glory in the circumstances. Joy only walks beside you as you invite it to do so. It is your choice whether you will feed the fear that is around you or the faith that is within you. Whichever you feed is the one that will grow. You must choose joy and you do so by keeping your eyes on God through praise, adoration, and worship. Jesus famously told Peter that he could literally walk on water as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus rather than the circumstances around him (John 14:28-30). Jesus proceeds to ask Peter, “why did you doubt?”
As he did for Peter, Jesus is inviting you out on the water to prove your faith in the midst of this new normal. You must not doubt. As anxiety swirls all around us, you must count it all joy because God is in control. Knowing that God is in control feeds your inner confidence that God continues to use you for his glory. Therefore, you make a daily choice to give Christ glory.
It will take months, if not longer, for things to stabilize in our world. But, your faith will endure and be perfected because you understand the difference between what is happening and what is going on. The news stations and social media pundits can tell us what is happening all around you. But, your trust in the Holy Spirit reveals how these difficult circumstances are simply pruning your faith—separating the wheat from the chaff.
Over the coming weeks and months of uncertainty, I encourage you to trust the Lord with all your heart and refuse to lean on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to grow your marriage and advance the Kingdom for the Lord. In the name of Jesus, Dalia and I will experience tremendous growth in our marriage through this trial. We have ramped up our daily time of prayer together. Each day, we are spending more time together on long walks. And, we are listening better to one another. What the Adversary means for evil, God means for good. As Mordecai assured Queen Esther, your faith is for such a time as this.