Remember Charles Dickens’ opening sentence in A Tale of Two Cities?
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….”?
This statement was a narrative which compared and contrasted the situations in London and Paris during the French Revolution. I actually remember reading this literary classic which was on the required reading list in my high school English class. Don’t be impressed….I was far more interested as to whether or not my pin-striped Villager blouse, polished Weejun loafers, and cableknit Ladybug sweater looked attractive. (For those of you fledglings who don’t yet need haircolor to cover the gray, these fashionable clothes were the rage back in the day when The Beatles first emerged.) Anyway, the famous Dickens quote is one I’ve often repeated to myself during this awkward, social-distancing situation thanks to the COVID-19 virus. This familiar quote just may be, in hindsight, a best and worst scenario. It is bad right now in so many ways as viewed from this side. However, when looking back on it in the future, hopefully this prolonged season will be seen to have been best, as a painful crucible which refined our faith. We don’t know specifically what God has in mind for us to learn through this confusing time. However, we do know generally of His will to make sure His glory will eventually spring forth from all creation in all things (Psalm 19).
During these difficult and long days, I often dream of joyfully leaping barefoot and unfettered across an open field, while singing Born Free to the thrilling melody of a full orchestra. Yet oddly in the same moment, my instinct is to hurriedly crawl under a large rock for insurance in order to keep those germy little microbes from invading my precious nasal spaces…. and, to get on with life as I knew it. Clearly, I’m ready to move on and view this pandemic in my rearview mirror….plus, I’ve developed an unhealthy mostly-hate relationship with my laptop computer. I’m old, and having to manage the bulk of life digitally is challenging. I haven’t yet figured out how to file a charge of domestic abuse against a machine, but I can feel it coming.
These days, I’m guessing that your prayers, as well as mine, have been regularly focused on asking God to remove this virus. He hasn’t done so yet. Does this mean He isn’t listening? Does this mean He doesn’t care? Why would He turn a deaf ear to our pleas for relief? It’s hard to see the benefit of this difficult time no matter how you look at it…. except for one vastly important truth: God is infinitely more invested in developing our holiness than in making sure we feel happy. Don’t misunderstand this. God loves us and is forever joined to us, and us to Him. However, joy and gladness are gifts from Him which relate to our position, rather than through experiencing a feeling. (Actually, the Bible most often uses words like “fortunate” or “blessed” as terms we would liken to our definition of “happiness”.) However, to develop Christ-likeness is God’s greatest desire for us. He grows us in holiness through becoming like Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) One of the major ways that Christ-likeness will be developed in us is through trial. (See my post of June 26, 2019, “Suffering is on Trial”.) Our “happiness” comes out of being positionally assured in Christ regardless as to the circumstances (Proverbs 3:13), even through the hardship of this virus.
Okay, you say, that’s all well and good, but, as I pondered previously, I still want to know if God is listening to my prayer for relief from this virus? Isn’t that a good thing? What could it mean when the virus is still very much alive and causing hardship ? After all, in Matthew 7:9-11, Christ said, “Which one of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” This Scripture is often wrongly interpreted to convey, “because God is the giver of good gifts, He will surely give us what we ask for, especially if it seems to be a good thing in our eyes”. Interpreted rightly, Jesus is teaching that whenever we ask for what God has deemed to be necessary, He will never deny us. We have been promised that He will answer the requests of His people, though not maybe in just the way we ask. We are assured that whatever God has deemed necessary for us, He will always supply. We may have asked for a baby, or a spouse, or a job, or a physical healing, or more income, or for a viral plague to cease. We have no guarantee these things will come. But, what we know will come, is whenever we ask for attributes or attitudes that will grow us in holiness, God guarantees that to happen. God gives good gifts to those who ask according to His will. His will for us is to take on the attributes of Christ. Consequently, if we genuinely ask for more faith, it will come. If we ask for more patience, it will come. If we ask for more humility, it will come. If we ask to give out more grace, mercy and forgiveness, it will come. God will never deny us a desire to be more like Jesus. And it just may be that when this virus is all over, we may look back and agree that even though it was undoubtedly difficult, we were challenged to stay on our knees and persevere toward developing the basic attributes of Christian character. It would be entirely contrary to the nature of God to withhold a prayer request from us which is genuinely focused on our spiritual growth. That would be mean and entirely out of character for Him. It would be akin to a mother saying it’s necessary for her child to eat food for nourishment, as she places the plate on the table at the child’s seat, then tells the child they need to eat, and when the hungry child reaches out to consume it, she jerks it away out of their reach. Think of it…. God would not be a good God if His goal for us is godliness, yet would hold back on granting our heart’s desire to be an example in Christ!
Lately, I’ve seen an impatience in me which is ugly. I never imagined I could have such a short fuse when it comes to tolerating others who are vague communicators, or when talking to a person in Customer Support on the phone whose accent I cannot understand. I especially have struggled during this close-but-not-busy-enough period with my husband as we try to have a simple exchange of conversation. Joe is a man of few words. I, on the other hand, love verbiage. I never skip over the descriptive parts of a book…..that would be sacrilege to me. I enjoy knowing what the weather is like, what the character is wearing, whether or not they’re short or tall, or what they have to eat, etc. It gives me a clear picture which promotes engagement to the characters and story. Joe, however, is a bottom-liner. He’s happy to just glean the main point. In Joe’s view, how could knowing more details change what happens? The book is written already! So, you can just imagine my frustration and impatience with him when he doesn’t communicate to me all the necessary details of a phone conversation. (Heads-up: Joe had better start running.)
Me: “What did they want?” Joe: “Oh, nothing.” Me: “Well, what were they talking about when I heard you laughing so hard?” Joe: ” I don’t exactly remember what we were talking about.” Me: “Well, can you at least tell me what they’ve been doing for fun?” Joe: “I didn’t ask.” Me: “Did so-and-so-ever get in touch with them?” Joe: “Yes.” Me: “What happened?” Joe: “I’m not sure.”
It just gets worse. At this point, my eyes are bleeding and my voice has taken on the tone of a broken clarinet. I hate my reaction. It’s ugly and doesn’t bear any resemblance to Jesus. Surely, I need a big dose of God’s grace to help me change.
As a result of the unholy picture of my impatience, I have spent a good portion of this virus lock-down repenting before God, and asking for more patience, more humility, more understanding, etc. I’ve found myself praying more to have compassion and understanding of others. Do you think God will deny me these things if I’ve asked with a sincere desire to change? Never! I’m certain I’ll be given what I need spiritually to become more tolerant of others who don’t communicate as I wish. However, as a fallen sinner who needs much grace to change, I have to revisit this on a daily basis. However, the fact that I’m more aware of my sin, and see the need to repent more quickly is an indication that God has heard my prayers. He is giving me bread. I take encouragement from this, even though my impatience rears its ugly head all too often. Worst leads to best.
Our heavenly Father has offered up to us the example of Christ, and when we reach out to become like Him, He surely won’t deny us. He won’t withhold from us the ability to develop more patience, more grace, more tolerance during these trying times. Ask and you shall receive. Look for it in small ways. I hear the frustration from you….your lonliness, disappointment, and fear. I get it. It’s hard and I hate it. It’s too easy to become hopeless and depressed. We need the Holy Spirit to breathe truth into us. Ask Him to show you how to TurnAround and view this in ‘hindsight with foresight’. This season can be a crucible to grow you and me. This is a “worst” time of frustration, confusion, increased lonliness, and boredom. It’s also a “best” time of reflection, repentance, and change. It’s easy to focus on the negatives. I find myself going there almost every day. However, when I’m willing to take my earthly glasses off, and look through God’s eyes, I can dimly see His hands at work on my heart.
When we’re on the other side of this trying season, my hope is that you and I will see how, when we asked for bread, our loving Father gave it to us abundantly. He wants us to be like Jesus. As bad as this time may feel, He is working to take the worst of us to perfect the best in us, for our ultimate good and His glory.
Dear Father, help us. We wait in faith. We plead for patience. As we see the sin in us during this profoundly painful time, help us to see your ultimate good to grow us in Christ. We believe in your promises to use all seasons as ones which will declare your faithfulness. Help us to endure this trial, and see it as a time for self-reflection and confession, for your name’s sake and for our growth in Christ. Amen.