I have a confession to make.
Contrary to what this scripture verse tells me to do, I have absolutely NOT been considering my trials, specifically the trials that Covid-19 has infringed upon me, with “pure joy.”
Not even a little bit.
Not even at all.
The truth is, when I first started hearing about the Corona virus spreading through China, and which would eventually make its way through the world, while it saddened me to know that people were suffering, dying even, I didn’t really grasp the vastness of the problem. At that point, nothing in my immediate world was being affected. Things were still progressing here in Alberta the way they always have.
But, as the weeks progressed, and Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic, things began to change. Our Province, along with the rest of the world, began to implement social distancing precautions. People were being told to self isolate; to stay home. And as the weeks progressed, the world, my world, began to shut down.
Stores were being closed.
And so were restaurants.
And recreational facilities.
And places of worship.
My place of worship.
And in the process, I found myself shutting down as well.
I sat on my couch the other day, with my Bible and my journal, intending to find solace in the Word but, my heart just wasn’t in it. You see, while I know that God is good; that, even in spite of all this craziness, He is still, and always will, be good, at this moment, nothing feels good. Everything just feels wrong.
So instead of continuing to read through the passage I was in, I gave myself permission to acknowledge, to write out, how I was feeling.
Part of me felt a bit silly writing it out, like by acknowledging those negative feelings I was somehow making them more real, more tangible. But I remembered that David, in the Psalms, wrote out his thoughts as well. And in many of the chapters, he candidly, sometimes agonizingly, poured his heart out to the Lord in a lament. So, I decided to consider my own words, my feelings, a lament as well. I wrote thoughtfully; intentionally; honestly. And it gave me a place to sort through my thoughts; to really consider them; to give context and structure, to what was previously just a mass of jumbled, confused anxieties, fears and feelings.
As I poured out my heart to the Lord, thoughts and feelings I didn’t even know I had, came pouring out. Among other things, I wrote,
“I’ve been waiting for Covid-19 to pass so that things can get back to normal, and I can feel normal again.”
But even before I could finish penning that little sentence, a thought began to unravel in my brain.
“This world should never have felt normal to me in the first place.”
It was a strange thought, a bold thought, an un-nerving thought, but even more than that, it was a realization; an epiphany.
James, in his letter to the twelve scattered tribes, references in chapter 4, the fights and quarrels that have been happening amongst them.
“What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit He has placed within us should be faithful to Him.”
This is how the last portion reads in The Message translation;
You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and His way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that “He’s a fiercely jealous lover.” And what He gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find.”
Cheating on God…….
That’s what I’ve been doing. By allowing myself to be immersed in the normalcy of this world, by placing my own desires before what God desires for me, I’ve literally been cheating on God. My friendship with this world has kept me from far greater things that can only be discovered when I am grounded; rooted in Christ.
If I really lived according to the Word;
If I really knew Jesus the way I should;
If I were really immersed in His Word;
If I really allowed Him to reign within me;
If I were really holy and righteous and acted like a reflection of Him;
If I really understood the truth of His words;
this world should not, would not feel normal to me.
Instead of “flirting with the world”, I would seek greater things than what this world has to offer.
My desires of this world would not be for selfish ambition, as James 3:16 references, but would instead be, to live well, to live wisely, and to live humbly.
Instead of my selfish fretting,
over how this pandemic is making me feel; instead of wishing it would be over so that things could get back to normal for me again, I would embrace this time as an opportunity to refocus my desire for friendship with the world, to desiring Christ above all else.
I’m beginning to see Covid-19 in another light. While I was previously bitter and angry, while I had initially considered this pandemic an "infringement on my rights" (Truly, how ridiculous; how selfish of me....) I'm now choosing to view it as a spiritual reality check. Actually, I'm choosing to consider it a gift, as James 1:2-4 commands.
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.
James 1:2-4, The Message
You see, by cultivating friendship with the world, I have been inadvertently separating myself from God. Actually, according to James 4:4, I have literally been making myself an enemy of God.
I am greatly convicted of this.
Conviction is good! Psalm 51:17 tells us that the Father loves a broken and contrite spirit.
Conviction of sin, leads to repentance of sin, which leads to FORGIVENESS of sin.
James 4:6b-10 tells us,
God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.
Covid-19 is revealing to me the depth of my selfishness. It hasn't been easy. Coming face to face with sin, never is. But when we do, when we confront it, confess it, and repent of it, we are forgiven of it.
Here's the thing, We've all been under a tremendous amount of pressure as we've been trying to make sense of Covid-19. And because of it, our faith-life is being forced into the open. We are seeing its true colors. What is it revealing to us? Are we really living the kind of life that is acceptable to God? Let us not try to get out of this prematurely. Let it instead, do its work so that we become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. Let us consider this testing of our faith, a gift, and perhaps, in the process, we will also discover that joy is truly found when are being refined into His likeness.