Skeletons in My Ministry Closet
Pastor Ian suggests four ways to turn our hearts afresh to God in these difficult times.
The Covid pandemic has exposed some skeletons rattling about in my ministry closet. These are hard days to be a pastor, because many of us have learned to define ourselves by the gathered church we guide. In fact, many churches have also learned to judge their ministries (and the ministers that lead them) by the size and shape they are when they gather together in one place.
It has reminded us that we have been strengthened by a cheap replacement of God and His Word. We have allowed our perceptions to be informed by all the same motivations that strengthen secular leaders. We realise that we have been asking a shallow, sanctified version of secular questions. Questions like, “Are our shareholders happy?” “How can we increase our market share?” “What are we doing to sharpen our message?” And, “How can we elevate our brand in 2020?” But now Covid-19 has cracked open our closet door and our skeletons are exposed. We feel diminished. Anxious. And we suddenly sense the weight of living out our Faith on this side of the Fall.
Let me therefore encourage us to use these difficult moments to turn our hearts afresh to Christ. Let me suggest a few gospel-centred responses to these dark days of skeleton-exposing, global pandemic.
1. Seek the Strength of God’s Word
We are best strengthened by God’s Word, not when we look for passages and then twist them to tell us what we want to hear, but when we simply let God speak in ways that recalibrate our hearts to beat with His. For instance, several of my friends have used Psalm 107:19-20 to assure their flock that God is going to protect and even rescue us from this current Covid crisis. But let us allow His Word to speak: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.”
Notice, God didn’t send an army or an antidote to rescue His people from their distress. He sent them His Word! And second, the Word didn’t necessarily deliver them from any specific danger. It delivered them from their distress in that danger; it healed them of their anxiety; it moved them from soul-sucking worry, to soul strengthening hope!
As we move toward ‘Holy Week’, the pastoral staff would like to encourage us to nourish one another with the strengthening hope of God’s Word. John Piper’s ministry has made available a free download of the Devotional Book, Your Sorrow Will Turn to Joy which you can download in your preferred format (Apple Books, Kindle, PDF, etc.). This devotional book contains both morning and evening devotionals that we would like to encourage us to read together, beginning on the morning of Palm Sunday (April 5) through to the evening of Resurrection Sunday (April 12). And I pray that in doing so we will be strengthened by His Word and delivered from our distress!
2. Seek the Strength of Personal Reflection
Recently the spike of Covid cases has been blamed on the sudden return of many Singaporeans who have been living and learning overseas. Many of these students are home with both questions and anxiety: “Am I going to make my loved ones sick?” “What if this cough is more than just allergies?” And, “How am I going to survive 14 days locked in a room?” And even, “What if I’m dying?”
Last week, my heart was so strengthened by the reflections of one of our members who has come home and went through the anxiety of being tested for Covid-19. Her reflections are shared below (with her permission):
This whole experience has been so surreal. I never thought that I would be so, so fearful of death when I have already accepted Christ as my Lord and Saviour. But it is another thing when you feel like the future and life you planned for fades away in a single moment; when death seems so imminent with this Covid-19 virus and you are forced to grapple with the truth of life and death. But God has been so, so good, He really strengthens us in our weakness. I am grateful that He has shone light into the dark corners of my heart and has forced me to confront how, (1) this life and the earthly pursuits will begin to fade, and (2) how would I want to live my life as a Christian with the numbered days I have?
1. “For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.” (Jas 1:11)
When there is peace, we are so busy chasing earthly pursuits: wealth, grades, career and beauty. So much so that the God we believe in seemingly fades into the distant background. We want to create a little empire for ourselves, and we hide some aspects of our life and deceive ourselves into thinking that we can maintain some semblance of control over these parts of our life.
But the reality is that in doing so, we not only forget that all these pursuits will fade away but also that we have diminished our true value as human beings. We forget that the creator God has created us, more intimately and personally than the rest of creation (Gen 2:7).
We were made in His image designed to reflect God in a way that no other creature does. But this was ruined by sin. Sin has spoilt humanity so God must restore creation. Graciously and mercifully, He has sent His only son, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has died for our sins and resurrected from the dead, making it possible for us to be restored to true humanity. Those who have placed their trust in Christ, we are transformed into His likeness.
My favorite verse from Colossians is, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:2-3)
2. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:1-2)
Before all this happened, I was still trying to hide aspects of my life away from God, things that I knew deep in my heart was wrong but I still wanted to gain control over. But, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a genuine Christian, and I think it is really striking to me that that looks like being transformed more into the image of Christ, and less of yourself.
As the world constantly tries to pressure us into making a name for ourselves, how comforting it is that as Christians, we know that we are called out of this world, chosen by Jesus himself. Therefore, I ask myself this, “Why am I hindering this beautiful and amazing transformation process that God has intended for me? “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:15-17)
And to this I say, “Amen! Thank you Lord for the strength you give as we press our circumstances through the lens of your Word!”
3. Seek the Strength of Service
Many of us know Krystal Wee. She is a young GBCer who grew up in the church but who is now living and working in Minnesota. She is also under a ‘shelter at home’ notice. I suspect that for many of us—living with that kind of social isolation, half a world a way from the comfort of family and friends—would find it a very difficult experience. Krystal though, who is a Music Therapist, has decided to spend the time putting together a YouTube mix of musical therapy for those who struggle in times of uncertainty. Krystal had no idea what a ministry this would be to a pastor serving on the other side of her world, but I have had this mix playing all week long as I worked in the office and it has been sweet medicine for my soul. I recommend this strengthening ministry to you as well!
Many of us cannot play the piano in service to the Lord and His people. But all of us can make a phone call. Many of us can write a note of encouragement. Let’s consider how we might each be strengthened in our service to the Lord and His people!
4. Seek the Strength of Prayer. In 1 Samuel 30, in a moment of deep crisis, when David’s own men wanted to kill him, verse 6b says, “all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.” 1 Samuel doesn’t specifically tell us what it means to “strengthen oneself in the Lord,” but I believe from the record he left in the book of Psalms, it means that David cried out to the Lord in prayer. Prayer is soul-strengthening, and if you would like the pastors and elders to know the joy of praying with you, Carrie has prepared an easy link for you to go online and share your requests with us.
I am so looking forward to gathering this Sunday—from homes all across this nation—to worship the Lord and to be strengthened by His Word. Hope to “see” you there!