COVID-19 is still here and, if the news reports are any indication, it’s not going anywhere soon.
Countless prayers meetings, large and small, have been held asking God to remove this virus. God has certainly heard our prayers but the answer appears to be “no” or “not yet,” at least for now.
So, where does that leave us as believers? As the church?
Most churches regathered with around 30%- 50% of their pre-COVID attendance. For most this meant no hugs, no right-hand-of-fellowship, and certainly no close conversation. And many congregations are still struggling to restart Sunday School, for all ages, in light of the current restrictions.
I believe this leaves us where Paul was when he wrote his second letter to the believers living in Corinth.
“So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NLT)
Paul was in a frustrating and apparently painful season. The details are unclear regarding what this thorn was, but it allows us to step into the story and frame it within our present circumstances. He had work to do. Churches to start. Congregations that needed follow-up. False teaching to address and more. He didn’t have time for this “thorn,” so three times Paul “begged” God to take it away. God heard his prayers – and said no.
For months now, Louisiana Baptists have joined together to pray for the removal of a “thorn” called COVID-19. We have fasted and we have prayed, on multiple occasions – and we’re still praying. The lack of a preferred answer is leading to discontentment, frustration and fatigue.
So again, where does this leave us?
From all indications we may be in a “grace sufficient season,” if you will. In other words we can exist in a season of disgruntled discontentment or we can embrace God’s response to Paul “my grace is sufficient for you.”
Don’t miss Paul’s response – he did not nod his head in agreement with God’s response and continue to complain about his thorn. Instead he began to “boast about his weakness.” Instead of complaining about this painful, inconvenient season, he actually began to “take pleasure” in his weakness, hardships, persecutions and troubles. As David Jeremiah wrote in the midst of his own thorn-in-the-flesh days, “I learned to pray out of desperation. For most of us, this is how the adventure usually begins.”
What did Paul know that we may be missing?
He understood his weakness released God’s power, God’s strength.
Isn’t this what we need?
In our rush to return to normal we forget that “normal” saw decades of decline in worship, baptisms, Sunday School attendance and other indicators. Our programs, initiatives and emphases did little to slow down or stop the downward trend. An average of two churches a month closed their doors in Louisiana. Our seasons of “normal” saw a lot of activity but often, little fruit.
So maybe, just maybe God has moved us into a new season to remind us that we are a body, not a building. We are a people, not a program. We are a movement, not a museum. Most of all, it’s a season where we have to depend upon Him instead of ourselves. Think about it, history shows us that the church has prospered in unconventional times.
This “grace sufficient season” is one where we stop complaining and start connecting. We take “pleasure” in and give thanks for the circumstances that appear to be holding us back. Instead, these become altars on which we can lay our weaknesses and gateways for God’s power to flow through us.
A prayer: “Father, we thank you that you have heard our prayers and it appears your answer for now is no. Forgive us for complaining against our officials, our church leaders and even against each other. Through your Spirit help us give thanks for what you’ve provided to get us through this pandemic – your grace and your power. We acknowledge our weakness and ask that your power begin to flow through us so we can be the salt and light you’ve left us here to be. Give us your power and wisdom to advance your plans and purposes, even during this pandemic. Thank you for this grace sufficient season. In your Son’s name we pray …”