By Thomas Lambrecht
In times of crisis, people often turn to God. There is some anecdotal evidence that is happening now with the coronavirus pandemic.
Bible downloads in Google Play and App Store exceeded 2 million in March, the highest total ever for the month. Attendance at the on-line Alpha Course doubled at Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London, one of the largest churches in England. (That course -- now taken by an estimated 23 million people around the globe -- enables non-Christians to ask questions about faith and Christianity.)
A survey found that 44 percent of respondents believe that the pandemic and the resulting economic meltdown is a wake-up call for us to turn back to God or a sign of coming judgment. The same survey found that over 20 percent of non-Christians reported that they have responded to the crisis by starting to read the Bible, listening to sermons or Bible teachings, or engaging in conversations about spiritual things.
When a crisis hits, many people turn to engage the big, existential questions of life: Why am I here? Who am I really? Is there a God? What will happen to me when I die?
Churches have the unique opportunity to point people to the answers to these kinds of questions and to walk with them during a time of discovery and spiritual growth. God can use crises like this one to influence the spiritual life of a whole generation.
Churches are to be commended for the ways they are reaching out and serving their communities through making and distributing masks, providing food, helping people pay the rent, and serving immigrant communities in the U.S. and the needs of the poor around the world. These practical ways of helping people survive in the midst of the health and economic crises are an essential work of the church. God gives us what we have, so that we can be a blessing to others.
At the same time, Christian teaching compels us to not only provide for the physical needs of people but for their spiritual needs, as well. The church can speak to the existential questions of life like no others can. Through faith in Christ, we have the answers to who we are, why we are here, and what our future entails. God has specially equipped the church to truly feed the soul.
In the midst of the death, illness, and hardship of our times, we can offer an eternal perspective that transcends our earthly travails.
I was reminded of this by Dr. Kevin Watson's recent summary of Charles Wesley's sermon, "Awake, Thou That Sleepest." He points out that one of Wesley's main points is this earth is not our permanent place. "This is not thy home," Wesley says. "Think not of building tabernacles here. Thou art but 'a stranger, a sojourner upon earth'; a creature of a day, but just launching out into an unchangeable state. Make haste; eternity is at hand" (II.5).
Having that eternal perspective changes how we view and how we cope with the ups and downs of everyday life, including this unforeseen pandemic. We realize that we are not just living for the present, but for eternity. The trials and difficulties of life are overshadowed by the promised joys of an eternity lived in fellowship with the Lord. We look forward to the time when "God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain" (Revelation 21:3-4).
We learned this week of the passing into eternal life of Ravi Zacharias, a prominent evangelist and expert in apologetics from India. His 48-year global ministry touched countless lives, and his 27 books continue to share his message about his Savior, Jesus Christ. Ravi's eternal perspective is summed up in a hymn written by the New England Puritan, Richard Baxter (1615-1691), that Ravi quoted just weeks before his unexpected death: Lord, it belongs not to my care Whether I die or live; To love and serve Thee is my share, And this Thy grace must give. If life be long, I will be glad That I may long obey; If short, yet why should I be sad To welcome endless day? Christ leads me through no darker rooms Than He went through before; He that unto God's kingdom comes Must enter by this door. Come Lord, when grace hath made me meet Thy blessed face to see; For if Thy work on earth be sweet What will thy glory be! Then I shall end my sad complaints And weary sinful days, And join with the triumphant saints That sing my Savior's praise. My knowledge of that life is small, The eye of faith is dim; But 'tis enough that Christ knows all, And I shall be with Him. As we labor hard to serve the needs of others during this pandemic and recession, we are simultaneously reminded to turn our eyes and the eyes of those we serve to heaven, to eternity, and to the Lord. The church is uniquely positioned to lift up the One who said, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and the one who lives by believing in me will never die" (John 11:25-26). Jesus asked Martha, "Do you believe this?" Do we? Do we live it? Living with an eye on eternity changes everything. We can winsomely share Christ with others who are seeking him now without knowing what or whom they seek. His presence will give meaning to their lives as it does to ours, and it gives us the strength and the courage to face the challenges of each new day. By faith we can say, "It is enough that Christ knows all, and I shall be with Him."
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News.
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