There are lessons to learn from the last year. Perhaps the most obvious is that as humans we are not in control. A tiny virus can stop the world in its tracks. That should give us a sense of humility before our Creator for He alone knows the future. Having said that, we are slow to learn this lesson as a human race. I think I let out an audible groan on Wednesday when I heard Matt Hancock utter the phrase “We are masters of our fate.” No, Matt, we are really not- unless you think we chose and planned the last year!
But what is now vital for our spiritual health is to unlearn lessons. Over the past 15 months we have been bombarded by messages from the Government and others. In public health terms that has been understandable and I am not particularly being critical. Yet many of those messages run counter to the pattern of Jesus- and unless we spot that, we will be in danger of absorbing them into our lives for years to come, to the detriment of our discipleship. Here are three things that are vital for us in the months ahead:
- We need to learn not to “stay safe”
It has become the phrase at the end of phone conversations and emails. We have been encouraged to “stay safe”. Of course that has been understandable- but as an ongoing principle for life it is seriously problematic. It encourages a sense of self-protection, which ends up being the opposite of Jesus. He left the safety of heaven for the inevitable anguish of the cross. Or when Paul lists the realities of his ministry in 2 Corinthians 11 there is a repetition of danger from multiple sources. As you look through the history of the church most significant movements for the Gospel have come at great personal cost and risk. Personally I am very grateful that nobody told Jesus, Paul or Martin Luther, for that matter, to “stay safe”.
My point is not that we immediately tear off our masks or burn our health and safety regulations, tempting as either of those might be. Rather I simply want to note that the attitude of caution that we have imbibed over the last year could stick with us on issues other than Covid. We’ll begin to come up with reasons why we shouldn’t do certain things that we would have done previously. We’ll be cautious rather than bold about getting the Gospel out. We won’t do anything out of our control that forces us to pray and rely on the Lord. We’ll just stay safe- and look like everybody around us. Of course the tragedy is that we will leave the world around us in a state of complete peril. So, for the sake of the world, we need to keep reminding each other to be authentic disciples and not to stay safe.
2. We need social contact
“Stay safe” isn’t actually the phrase that I have loathed most this year. That prize is reserved for “unnecessary social contact” as if relating to others didn’t go to the heart of what it is to be human. The problem, though, is that we have got used to our own company or perhaps that of our nuclear families. To my shame, I see it in myself- it feels like the last year has reduced my interest in and concern for others because I have got out of the habit of speaking to and listening to them.
I- we- urgently need to get out of this habit. We are commanded to be hospitable to other- to open our homes rather than close them. In the New Testament, family is scarcely ever limited to the nuclear family. The whole church is family. The Bible is full of commands for us to do things for one another- carry burdens, pray and love. Contact with others is absolutely necessary.
A few months into the first lockdown I saw a social media survey amongst Christians asking what they had actually enjoyed from the period. The main answer was time on our own as a family. I have to be honest- that was an answer that left me slightly fearful. Please don’t misunderstand me- of course families need time on their own together. But the danger for all of us- single or married- is that the last year has trained us to turn inwards, whereas the nature of love is to turn outwards. We need to make sure that we haven’t absorbed an unhelpful lesson.
3. We need to be involved
The last year has encouraged us to be spectators. For those of us who aren’t health professionals there wasn’t much we could do to help during the peaks of the virus- we could simply applaud those who were involved. In a similar way there hasn’t been much many of us can do within the church unless we are masters of technology! We have been trained to be passive. We no longer sing- we listen to others sing to us. Church has been something we absorb as an audience (often at home) rather than a body in which we participate.
Let’s be honest- that’s awful and about as far away from the New Testament as you can imagine. We are to be a body with each member willing to play a part. So- if the last year has trained you to be a consumer or a spectator then it is vital to unlearn that lesson for the sake of the church and your own discipleship. As we look to the months please be thinking afresh- How can I be involved? How can I contribute?
One of the comments that if often made is that we don’t yet know the cost of the last year. That’s true in terms of the economy, education and non-Covid related health matters. It is probably true spiritually as well. But one of the ways we can reduce that cost is by trying to ensure that we have not absorbed unhealthy perspectives without really noticing. Perhaps over the next weeks it would be good to pray through that, maybe even picking up some of the suggestions above.