On September 17th 1939 Martyn Lloyd-Jones- two weeks after war was announced- preached on Acts 16:25. Paul and Silas have been flogged and imprisoned in Philippi. And yet we read- “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Lloyd-Jones wrote to his wife back in Wales- “I preached on Paul and Silas singing in the prison- the contrast between the two Christians and the other prisoners.” Along similar lines he wrote a letter to Christian students in 1940 in his role as the President of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship- “There should be about us a calmness, a poise of spirit and general control of our lives which should differentiate us Christians from all others. Whatever the conditions, and however trying, we should know that we have hidden resources of which the world knows nothing.”
I wonder how you feel about that. My guess is that it will produce irritation in some- he wasn’t trying to homsechool three children! For others it will be a case of feeling guilty- I know I should be calm and yet I fail so often and I’m just so tired. I can sympathise- I’ve certainly been through periods over the last months which would not merit the description “poise of spirit”. But how should we respond?
We don’t respond by playing down the challenges of this time. Leaving aside for the moment the threat of the virus and the pains faced by those working in health care, lockdown is a fundamentally dehumanising experience. Bluntly- we are living in the opposite way to which we are designed. We are relational beings made in the image of a God who is love. So, whilst I am not critiquing the necessity of it, we should be clear that the command to restrict social contact is essentially a demand to stop functioning as a normal human being. And that’s before you get onto the pain of church being a shell of what it should be. We should find that hard. A comparison with Paul and Silas’ situation is not inappropriate.
But Lloyd-Jones is right to say that we do have hidden resources. I have a small suspicion that the last few months have flagged up our (my?) neglect of the inner life for the Christian in favour of activism, a reliance on events and so forth. Over the last few weeks on Sundays we have been looking at the invitations that Jesus offers in the Gospels to “Come to him”. One of the striking things is that these are often linked to the satisfaction of inner longings- rest of our souls, satisfaction of thirst and so on. A busy Christian life with an empty inside- that’s not what Christ wants for us. He offers us an inner satisfaction that is not dependent on circumstance.
How do we press into that? I’ll write more on this next week as I try to review Julian Hardyman’s excellent book- “Jesus, lover of my soul.” But- for now- I simply want to say that there is no subsititute for consciously spending time with Jesus and enjoying Him. Reading the Bible not just for information but to sit at Jesus’ feet. Silently resting in His presence and receiving His breathtaking undeserved love for us. Responding in gratitide, love and praise. Remembering that He is near because His Spirit is within us. Delighting in a sense of communion with Him.
None of those things makes lockdown easy, any more than being flogged and impisoned would be. But when we have cultivated an inner enjoyment of Jesus we realise that outward circumstances are not the sum total of our experience. We have hidden resources that can even enable us to sing in lockdown.