Trials teach us what we are; they dig up the soil, and let us see what we are made of. ~ Charles Spurgeon
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. ~ Isaiah 48:10 ESV
We just entered the second week of social distancing due to COVID-19.
Make no mistake, this nefarious virus has done an extremely effective job of disrupting the normal rhythms of our lives.
We are experiencing severe limitations to our ability to come and go as we please.
No movies. No dining out. No sporting events. Extremely limited shopping. And NO CHURCH!
For the most part, we made it through week one with hardly a problem.
People binge watched movies, interacted on Facebook, played games and engaged in early spring cleaning to pass the time. As difficult as it was to hit the brakes, everything felt somewhat novel. Almost like a weird dream.
But now we face another week in near-isolation. And as the days pass, the pressure will likely increase. Get ready for more anxiety and frustration, which often breeds hopelessness, anger or violence.
Bottom line, we are in for a test.
For some, the response may be brokenness; the idea that this season of hardship will bring about feelings of depression and disillusionment.
For others, times of pressure and distress can bring forth a spirit of bitterness. Such bitterness manifests itself in fits of anger, blaming, mistrust and a harsh, critical spirit.
But there is one more path we might take: the pathway of becoming, by God’s power, better.
Biblically speaking, trials and tribulations hold within them the opportunity for us to be refined. Yes, they are difficult. But such challenges provide us the occasion to experience breakthroughs and transformation.
For many people, pressure causes them to fold or to fight.
But pressure can also bring about inner flourishing.
Bible author James, one of Jesus’ disciples offered this sometimes hard-to-grasp perspective of navigating tough times:
James 1:2-4 (ESV): Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
And, for the followers of Jesus, we have access to supernatural power from the Holy Spirit that allows us to turn a trial into a triumph.
Just this afternoon, I noticed this Facebook post from author and pastor Dick Staub:
TR Glover said, “the early Christians influenced their culture by out-thinking, out-living and out-dying their pagan counterparts.“ It is a reminder that our faith is seen in daily life more than on our words. John Chrysostom, a great fourth-century preacher in Constantinople, offered this advice to Christians facing troubles: “When we suffer anything, we should do so for Christ’s sake, not only with courage, but even with joy. If we have to go hungry, let us be glad as if we were at a banquet. If we are insulted, let us be elated as though we had been showered with praises. If we lose all we possess, let us consider ourselves the gainers. If we provide for the poor, let us regard ourselves as the recipients. Do not think of the painful effort involved, but of the sweetness of the reward; and above all, remember that your struggles are for the sake of our Lord -Jesus.”
As bleak as things may seem, the reality is this is our time to shine.
No, it will not be easy. In seasons like the one we are facing we will have to devote even more time and energy toward our discipleship. We’ll have to study more, pray more, fast more.
But out of such rigorous spiritual training we will hopefully see rich spiritual fruit.
Fruit like generosity, service and evangelism.
Fruit such as patience, kindness, joy, faithfulness and self-control.
Fruit marked by self-sacrifice and grace and mercy.
Be sure of this: we have a choice. We can allow the storm to knock us down, wind us up…or we can let the storm be used to refine us into a person who is more developed and more useful in God’s hands.
When the dust settles from the COVID-19 crisis (which will likely take a long time), will we be more mature, equipped and grounded than we were before an invisible but insidious virus ravaged the planet?