How testing times can bring out the best in us

These pandemic times have been testing times.

There has been tragedy. We lost a friend who lived in the next road whose children came to our church clubs. It was so moving to see the hearse drive slowly by while the whole street stood on their doorsteps with bowed heads.

There has been irritation. So many things in our house seem to have ‘busted’ during the lockdown and you can’t just go to the shop and get a replacement. I managed to fix the sink and the leg of the broken log basket. But the LED standard lamp is beyond me.

There has been boredom. What to do when you can’t do what you would normally do? My garden shed has never been so tidy!

During such times families can get scratchy with each other and tension reigns. But that is not how it needs to be for Christians.

God’s sovereignty

The key to responding well to testing times is to grasp afresh the truth of God’s sovereignty. This pandemic is not some cruel roll of the dice. God has ordained that you and I should be here now.

Scripture insists that in all things the Lord is working out His plans. We may not be able to fathom all His purposes, but we are to be assured that He is in the driving seat. The Thessalonians were ‘destined’ or ‘appointed’ to suffer persecution (1 Thess. 3:3). Paul insists that ‘in all things’ (the bad as well as the good) ‘God works for the good of those who love him’ (Rom.8:28). If we can accept that truth, it gives us a positive handle on trouble. It enables us to face it not with exasperation, but with faith.

I am reminded of a story R. T. Kendall used to tell of an American farmer who grew corn. Each year he sent his boys into the fields to manually gather the harvest – when he could easily have hired a machine to do it. People accused him. ‘Why do you do this to get in the corn? It’s so hard for them.’ His reply was short and to be point: ‘I’m not raising corn, I’m raising boys.’ In other words he wanted to make men of them and bring out the best in them.

A harvest of peace

Why are we living through this pandemic? It is because our all-wise God knows it is best for us. He knows it is best for us as churches and as individuals. He wants to mature us. He wants to teach us, discipline and grow us through it. The writer to the Hebrews puts it like this: ‘No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it’ (Heb.12:11). There are ‘good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’ (Eph. 2:10).

Why are the churches shut and having to ‘meet’ via Zoom? Perhaps God felt we were relying too much on each other and not enough upon Him. Perhaps we were making too much of fellowship and not enough of personal prayer.

Perhaps He is saying to Christian dads:‘I want you to take more responsibility for your family spiritually and not just put everything in the hands of the Sunday School teachers.’ Perhaps He is saying to young pastors: ‘I’m taking you through uncharted territory, in which no-one before has had any experience and I’m doing this so that you have to think for yourself and mature.’ Perhaps He has brought us all to that point where we have had to look death in the eye and return to the fundamentals of what the gospel of peace is really about.

Loggerhead turtles

When I was teaching on this recently, Gracie, a gifted teenager, produced a children’s puzzle sheet reminding them of many animals who have to undertake hard things to fulfill their purpose. Not least were the loggerhead sea turtles who swim the North Atlantic and cover more than 9,000 miles to lay their eggs on the American shoreline. Let’s start swimming.

John Benton

John Benton is en’s former Managing Editor and Director of Pastoral Support at The Pastor’s Academy,

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