From The Cripplegate. By Jim Stitzinger.
The COVID-19 pandemic will leave a scar on every person in our society. We cannot expect anyone to be unscathed by something of this magnitude. Some will experience the harsh medical trauma of the virus, others the loneliness of isolation. And with nearly 30 million Americans unemployed now, many scars will come through the loss of work.
There is an acute pain for those who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Despite heroic leadership and careful planning, it is an the economic reality of this pandemic. Last week this became true for me, when the impact of the Coronavirus took its toll on our workplace.
Because this is my story, it has given me a fresh perspective on what millions of others are going through right now.
It is one thing to be humbled, it is another to be humiliated. Being laid off can be a compound fracture that accomplishes both. It is humbling to leave a workplace you love for the final time, and it can also be humiliating to start over, tell the story a hundred times while pursuing the next vocation.
Shame may say hide it, for fear of what others may think. Worry can’t help but appear, over concern of how to provide for my family. Even the most decisive person can still battle uncertainty over how to move forward navigating the unknown. While the full spectrum of human emotions and sinful temptations attempt to contaminate every thought, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit using the antidote of Scripture to guide us through these days.
Whether you are in this situation, sensing it on the horizon, or caring for others in the midst of this it, let me give you some advice. Bring your concerns and worries out in the open. One text that repeatedly stands out is 1 Peter 5:5-11:
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.
There are six practical steps this passage gives to help those going through this trial:
Embrace our humiliations
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God…” This pandemic takes no prisoners and is erasing what we called “normal” at an exponential rate. Peter tells us to embrace the humbling circumstances as God uses them to expose pride, spotlight idols, and draw us back to dependency our Savior’s provision. This is a humbling time, embrace it. Don’t search for distractions, don’t flinch on integrity. Refuse to give ground to any root of bitterness. Do not wallow in self-pity or be paralyzed by the “what if’s” and “if only’s.” While we loved our work, our coworkers, and those we served, never confuse what we did vocationally with our true identity. Earthly titles are significant, but they mean nothing when God call us “beloved” (Colossians 3:12).
Our identity is in Christ, in the settled reality that He has forgiven us our sin, His Spirit irrevocably dwells within us and our eternity is secure. In humble dependence, submit to what God is unfolding. Endure each step with His peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7), never failing to simply pray as Jesus instructed, give us this day our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). Yield as God reduces our world to the pursuit of what we truly need and watch as He provides (Matthew 6:25-34).
Remember that God owns the clock
“…that He may exalt you at the proper time…” When will this be over? At the proper time. When is that? Ultimately, when we reach Heaven and we have the awesome privilege of worshiping God forever. For now, only God knows. He knew when this trail would start, only He knows when it will end. This is a marathon and we cannot see the finish line from the starting point. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The mind of man plans his way, But Yahweh directs his steps.” Make a plan and work tenaciously, while God controls the clock. Yes, it is frightening to think how to pay the mortgage or rent, how to provide food and the rest of the bills. God loves what is His and you belong to Him. He does not let His children go without what they need. While we trust His timing, rest in His incredible promise to provide (Psalm 127:2).
Cast our cares on Him
Peter compassionately reminds to at all times to be “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” Literally it means throw the things that cause you worry on Him. We can’t cling to our anxiety and at the same time surrender it to Him. We have to throw it on Him in prayer but catch this, the Creator of the Universe, the King of eternity, the Inventor of humanity, He cares for you. God cares. Not just at a distance, but in detail and He says to cry out to Him so that what terrifies us falls into the sea of His endless compassion, mercy and love.
Dwell on David’s words in Psalm 55:22, “Cast your burden upon Yahweh and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” Follow that with Christ’s reminder in Matthew 6:32-33:
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Here are just a few of God’s promises that are timely reminders for this season:
- God will provide for our needs – Philippians 4:19
- The Holy Spirit is interceding for us – Romans 8:26
- This situation will ultimately be good – Romans 8:28, Psalm 84:11
- The peace of God will guard our minds – Philippians 4:6-7
- Christ alone provides rest for our souls – Matthew 11:28-30
- Scripture restores our weary souls – Psalm 19
- Christ will give us His peace – John 14:27
- God is faithful to all of His promises – Lamentations 3:21-27
- God will provide wisdom – James 1:5
- Our home in Heaven is secure – John 14:2-3
- God will never leave us or forsake us – Hebrews 13:5-6
“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” This season is like a mental minefield. Internally we ferociously fight the onslaught of temptations that show up in self-pity, bad attitudes, and excuses. Outwardly there is always gossip, slander and idle laziness that must be mortified. Our accuser, the slanderer is spring loaded to attack, do not give any opening to his attempt to drain the life out of us through his assaults.
Peter writes, resist him, firm in your faith. Scripture repels Satan. Read it, sing it, say it, memorize it, write it. This is war, do not set down the Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). Keep an open Bible nearby at all times, submerge your mind in it, let it restore your soul (Psalm 19) and bring it into every conversation with those around you.
Stay alert for how you are influencing your family through this season. Drain the fear by reminding everyone continually that our Creator, Owner and Sustainer goes before us each day. On managing family emotions, we found something that works for us. Every day I give a “5:00 Family Update.” I spend the entire day working on whatever lead I can discover or create and then take 15 minutes to walk through a verse and some highlights of the hunt. That time slot lets me prepare edifying and encouraging statements, answer questions and alleviates the pressure of having to give an update every time I hang up the phone or receive an email.
Understand that we are not alone
“…knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” Knowing that millions of others are in this same situation isn’t necessarily comforting. It’s actually terrifying. However, there are so many other brothers and sisters in Christ who either are in this situation now or have been at some point in the past. The family of Christ is with us. If something like this is in your past, reach out to anyone you know going through it and extent “the love of God who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (1 Corinthians 1:4).
If this is your time to experience this loss, draw close with every opportunity to worship, fellowship and draw from the strength of those who can help you through this time of weakness. At the same time, do not step back from opportunities to disciple others too. We must live our theology and that theology includes walking through trials together.
See what God is doing
“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” Look beyond the trauma of today and lock your eyes on what God is accomplishing. It’s not complicated: God is doing an incredible work through this experience not just in our hearts, but in His church and ultimately throughout this world.
Peter says there are four actions God is taking. By perfecting Peter is saying, God is putting everything in order. Our priorities become very clear when a facade of security is ripped away. This experience is refining character and burning away pride as it is discovered. Second, God is confirming us. That is to say He is stabilizing us in His love, reminding us of His irrevocable love (Romans 8:26-39). Third, He is strengthening us moment by moment as His indwelling Spirit comfort us with His hope-filled promises that are new every morning (Lamentations 3:21-27). Forth, God is establishing us by anchoring in His sovereign plan.
Believer, we are never alone (Hebrews 13:5-6). You may feel alone and the dark of night is no time to second guess God’s love, watchcase or provision for you. The waves of anxiety will wash over, but as they pass, be comforted that the King who controls the universe cares for each of us. His Spirit indwells us with supernatural power to fight against the worry and fear. We join with believers from every generation many of whom had far worse experiences to endure. To all of us the Apostle James writes “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).
It is on this firm foundation that we can all say, To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Jim Stitzinger just completed his time with Southern Seminary as Director of The Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization and the Associate Vice President of Advancement. Previously he planted a church in southwest Florida and served as pastor of local outreach at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He continues as a volunteer chaplain for LMPD.