“If you don’t take a Sabbath, something’s wrong. You’re doing too much, you’re being too much in charge. You’ve got to quit, one day a week, and watch what God is doing when you’re not doing anything.”
These words by Eugene Peterson are important during any season but are especially relevant during the unrest our nation is currently experiencing. It runs counter to our instincts to choose stillness rather than succumbing to worry and hurry. There’s a sense that we have to fix whatever it is that is wrong and work diligently towards that desired goal. But, the spiritual, emotional, and psychological issues we are experiencing these days can’t be easily resolved by additional efforts on our part.
I’ve been attentive to the numbers and trends relating to the COVID-19 virus. I’m not the only one. Schools, businesses, churches and other groups are among those who are determining how best to respond to the data and attempt to keep their constituencies as safe as possible. As a pastor, I am particularly sensitive to not only the COVID virus but also the fear of the COVID virus and how both are impacting our community.
It’s stressful. There are no easy answers for people who are in positions of leadership and tasked with making decisions. What’s been discouraging and disturbing, however, is the toxic levels of discourse found on social media when it comes to mitigation efforts. We’ve got to understand that this virus is a non-partisan offender and the only way to deal with this is realize how our actions impact others.
After completing my first year in East TN, I’m realizing that I know more fellow pastors in the Volunteer State than I thought. I’ve gone to school with a number of them, and have been making efforts to reach out in attempts to encourage and be encouraged as we lead our people. This virus has infected pastors who have had to quarantine themselves and discontinue in person worship services for their congregations. It is a difficult time to be a pastor and be faced with how to respond responsibly during this pandemic.
Through the years, I’ve tried to find value in whatever it is that’s going on, even when circumstances make it difficult to do so. One of my friends in ministry reminded me, “With God, nothing is ever wasted.” No one wants to be in this situation, but if there is a positive we can glean from this it is that we all need to come together for mutual strength and encouragement. What divides us isn’t nearly as important during a pandemic; what is important is coming together for prayer and to show empathy for those who are suffering.
I’ve been preaching through the Psalms this summer, and most recently spent time around this passage: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).
It’s ironic but true that stillness requires effort on our part. Stillness means that we stop and “cease striving” in order to rest in the reality of the presence of God in our world and in our lives. We can’t have any real sense of peace without embracing the truth that hurrying and worrying won’t fix anything. Control freaks are going to have a particularly difficult time right now, because we can’t change people and there’s not much we can do with the national malaise.
But, we can do is focus on ourselves and how to make the world close to us a better place. We can choose to love God and love the people around us. We can rest in the truth that everything begins and ends with God–that’s literally how Psalm 46 is structured. Despite what is going on around us, God “will be exalted” among the nations and the earth. The Psalmist indicated this reality twice in this passage, so this emphasis must not be lost by our being distracted by what’s going on around us.
Stillness is a choice–it’s also a spiritual discipline. That means we need to work at it. There’s enough bitterness and divisiveness in our world as it is. May God help us as the church to be a non-anxious presence and be good neighbors to those around us.
The COVID-19 virus is not going to be around forever. Yes, these are difficult days and we don’t know how long this season will last. There’s a lot of suffering and uncertainty in our land. So, let’s do our part to be part of the solution through our words and actions, and through it all let’s remember that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13.8).