Finding Joy in Chaotic Times
The classic little Charlie Brown cartoon offered this favorite of mine. Charlie and Lucy are having a deep discussion about life. Lucy says, “Charlie Brown, life is like a deck chair. Some people set their chairs so they can see where they are going. Others set their chair to see where they have been. And others so they can see where they are in the present.” Charlie was wordless for a frame, and then said, “I can’t even get mine unfolded!”
One of the last places we would expect to encounter joy is in the middle of a dilemma… a confusing, perplexing experience… tossed back and forth between options or opinions. Quite a few of us are facing dilemmas today in the midst of our current situation, and you are “trying to get your deck chair unfolded…” in the midst of chaos.
Paul wrote about this very thing in 2 Corinthians:
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)
We are perplexed, but not in despair. Nowhere has this been truer than in our now months-long battle with Covid-19:
- Which media reports do I believe about the coronavirus… the conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated Twitter opinions or another source? Should I pay attention to them at all?
- How do I talk to my kids about all this? Do I tell them everything, or shelter them from much of what is happening?
- Should we just revert back to normal now that restrictions are being lifted, or continue “sheltering” until an all-clear is sounded or a vaccine is discovered?
- Do I spend my time and energy taking care of my own family, or do I see this also as a time of generosity and ministry to my neighbors who hurt just like me and try to reach out to them?
We could list more. Again, we are living through times like we’ve never experienced in our lifetime. The uncertainty of it all produces a lot of dilemmas for us. Times of crisis usually do. They are “perplexing.” They are chaotic.
Ideally, though, they force us to our knees in prayer. Maybe we need to spend more time just focused there, rather than worry about the storm blowing around us. Every emotion you are experiencing right now…fear, anxiety, anger, depression, loneliness, frustration…should be processed before God in prayer. Don’t dwell on it until you have prayed about it!
We stand in serious times, to paraphrase a famous quote of John Adams. Most of us have never seen times more serious than these. It seems almost hourly a new reality is revealed making our bad situation worse.
Let’s admit it. We do find ourselves confused, perplexed, sometimes frightened, anxious, stressed, and unsure what to do next. Sometimes that is precisely where life circumstances bring us. God knows right where you are today. He is still on His throne and He is the One we should be looking to in this.
It may also help to realize that this is not the first time, nor the worst time the Body of Christ has faced on earth. The church has continued and even thrived through far worse. The Black Plague, The Spanish Flu of 1918, the Nazi takeover of Germany in World War 2; not to mention wars, genocide, and persecution on a scale we have never experienced were all thought to be “the worst of times” for the church on earth.
CS Lewis was a voice of stability to the British people during the Second World War. His messages were broadcast over the BBC network and were eagerly heard by this beleaguered people. After World War Two ended, Lewis continued to lecture and write. In one essay, he responded to a question asked by an individual who was concerned of the possibility of a nuclear attack on London.
I will repeat his reply as he wrote it. But as you hear it, just insert “coronavirus” wherever you read the words “atomic bomb.”
In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age? I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.‘ In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation.
Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways…. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
While Lewis’ remarks may not speak exactly to our situation, there is enough of a connection to draw some lines to it. First of all:
1). God does not forsake His people. The Lord is in the Heavens, and He does whatever He pleases. He’s not afraid of catching the coronavirus, nor is He washing His hands and trying not to touch His face. He’s not socially distancing from us! Do not begin to believe God is absent from us, even though we are for a time absent from each other. We should not let the prospect of what MIGHT happen dominate our minds and preoccupy and sideline our lives.
2). As chaotic as all of this seems, God is working in the midst of our distress to bring His purpose to completion. You and I get to be a part of that purpose, and whatever the coronavirus does to us as a child of God, we still win!
3). Let’s stop acting like we’ve already lost the war and everything important to us. We haven’t. God is still on His throne. I am asking God daily to do a work that will be so amazing and undeniably His hand that no man or no country can take credit for it. I am daily praying Ephesians 3:20 over us that we will see God do “exceedingly abundantly more than we could ask or imagine.”
“Look among the nations and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” (Habakkuk 1:5)
God is at work, in ways that we would not believe if He told us!
I want us to be delivered from this moment. But if not this it will be something else. The world we live in… the world our Creator God entrusted to us…is broken beyond our remedy because of sin. We are seeing now the outcome of what that truly looks like, without the candy coating of our daily lives and activities softening the reality.
In our study today, we hear again through the inspired Words of the Bible about a man who could be joyful in spite of false accusations, a prison sentence, and even possible execution for the crime of claiming that only Jesus was Lord….and not Caesar.
And we are looking clearly for the secret of his joy that was contagious. Joy is more contagious than the coronavirus! If we can choose joy in a time like this, well, some people will think we’ve just gone insane. But others will want to know, “How do you do that?”
Well, we can do it like Paul did it. People are looking for it now more than ever.
PAUL FOUND JOY BY HAVING A CONFIDENT HOPE
Paul was not suicidal, nor did he have some kind of morbid death wish. Paul had hope. He knew that when he went home, his suffering would be over forever. The persecutors that sought to shut him up would forever be silenced.
He did not fear death. He did not vacillate in what he believed about it. We could argue that he welcomed it! He had a confidence that the life to come is “better by far” than his life here. He had confidence that death was a beginning, and not an end; a continuation of His walk with Christ only now with face- to- face fellowship. It is possible to walk in a fellowship with Christ that is so real, and so life-giving that you barely notice it when you die. I think Paul was there.
But fear is indication of a problem. We are ONLY to fear God. Oswald Chambers said, “If you fear God, you need fear nothing else. If you fear anything else, you are not properly fearing God.” Jesus said, “Fear Him Who has the power to throw both body and soul into hell.”
If we are fearful about everything happening around us, then we are not focused on the One we should TRULY fear. Paul was not afraid. He had a certain hope. He knew, as he knew that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” that death opened the door to a lot of things for the faithful one who dies in Christ.
Death held an end of suffering for Paul; an end to pain and despair of imprisonments and illness and having nothing and no money and no family and no home. Of course, he looked forward to it!
What is your hope in today? Are you hoping in government, in the United States, in science, in health care, in the economy? I pray for all of these and those involved in trying to solve this crisis. But all of these will fail us, if not this time, then at some point in the future. Only God is the Rock you can anchor your hope to, and He never wavers, and He never fails.
PAUL FOUND JOY BY LIVING A WORTHY LIFE
CS Lewis’ 1948 strangely relevant article continues:
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are… going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds. (And they should not crush our spirits.)
Jesus used an interesting word in talking about the day of His coming. He gave instruction to the disciples, and to us, “occupy until I come,”
So how then do we live in this present distress? What does it look like to “walk around” having a worthy life…to occupy until He comes?
First, Paul says we are to be “firm in one spirit.” The strength of the church comes as we walk together in the “unity of the Spirit.” We are to be one. Jesus, in fact, prayed for this very thing in John 17. “That they may be one…” We take our English word “athletics” from a Greek term that means “to contend as one man.”
Second, as we stand “firm in one spirit,” we are to defend the faith. The purpose of our defense of the faith is that we might engage the lost with the truth of the Gospel.
Peter tells us we need to be “ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us for the reason for the hope we have in us.” That does not mean engage them in arguments, or philosophical debate unless those lead to a clear, loving presentation of the Gospel of salvation.
Third, we are not to be put into “fluttering alarm by any of our adversaries.” (Barclay.) We are not to live cowering in fear. We are not to live in fear of our adversary, the devil or be afraid of his threats.
All of this comes under a call to live consistent lives as citizens of heaven. Our ultimate “residence” changed when we came into the Kingdom of God. Our earthly citizenship, though we have obligations and responsibilities to it, are secondary to our heavenly one.
We are to be consistent in our lifestyle. We are to be consistent in our love, as we are proclaiming a Gospel of love. We are to be consistent in our liberty as we proclaim a Gospel of freedom.
As Christians, Paul calls us to be faithful, to be forceful in our defense of the faith, and to be fearless as we face the enemies of the Gospel.
PAUL FOUND JOY BY SEEING A VICTORIOUS OUTCOME
This part of Paul’s letter leaves them with an expectation. He fully expected they would be victorious, no matter what happened to him or even what happens to them. “It has been granted you that you believe and suffer….” As your faith is a gift of God’s grace; (BUCKLE IN here) so is your enduring suffering well an evidence of faith and “a gift of grace” from God!
Being a Christian does not mean we won’t have problems. It does not create a guarantee for you that you won’t get this cursed virus. But even if you do, when you suffer as a believer you are showing the certainty of your faith and bearing witness to God’s goodness in the midst of it.
This is especially true when we are caused to suffer because of our faith. Our suffering due to our faithfulness is as much a gift from God as is our salvation. They are part of the same experience.
It’s our time to live a faithful and worthy life in a dark and chaotic time. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who are cheering us on!
It’s our time to choose to rejoice in the Lord, and having done all else, to rejoice!
—Make sure your hope is in the right place—and fear is put in its place
—Make sure you are living a life worthy of the Gospel—if not, course- correct!
—Make sure you are keeping your eye on the finish line, confident that the One Who began this good work in you will be faithful to complete it!