When can we reopen our churches? After three months of shutdown, that’s the question on every believer’s lips.
As a pastor, I get it. The lack of live worship and the absence of fellowship with other believers weigh on me personally and on my church. Facebook Live and Zoom have been a blessing but they can only take you so far.
Reopening churches should apply spiritual lessons before restoring material comforts
But I’m beginning to wonder if our discussions of all the medical, logistical and organizational considerations of reopening should include a deeper question, one focused more on the spiritual principles at stake than the material comforts we’re so anxious to restore.
Is the right time to reopen our churches when we’ve learned the lessons God’s been trying to teach us since they’ve been closed?
I began asking that question while reading through the book of Exodus, the record of God’s miraculous deliverance of the ancient Jews from slavery in Egypt to the promised land of Israel.
It wasn’t an easy journey. While not that far by modern standards—only a few hundred miles—by the standards of the day it was extraordinarily hard, so hard that the people despaired on more than one occasion of getting to their destination. The Egyptian army stood in their way. The Red Sea. Various tribes, people, enemies and deprivations along the way—any one of which could have derailed the whole project.
But worst of all was the wilderness—the terrifying expanse of unknown desert that stretched all the way across the Sinai and right up to the borders of the promised land. It was the place where the security, predictability and comforts that the Jews had grown accustomed to during their years of Egyptian slavery were taken away and they were left without the structures of a normal life. The place of fear, uncertainty and need.
The wilderness is where we learn to depend on God
But the wilderness was also the place where they learned to depend on God alone.
No one goes into the wilderness by their own choice, but God works there in ways he doesn’t work anywhere else. It’s in the wilderness that the things we thought we had to have are stripped away and all we have left is God. And what we learn in the wilderness is that God is enough.
Just ask anyone who’s gone through their own wilderness experience.
The man furloughed from his job who saw Jesus miraculously provide what his family needed to live.
The woman betrayed by the person she thought she couldn’t live without only to have Jesus mend her broken heart.
The young adult who in the chaos of addiction lost everything but found Jesus–and discovered what mattered most.
Much of Israel’s journey through the wilderness was designed not for political or economic ends but spiritual ones. God was looking to build a people whose existence was testimony to his grace.
He still is.
I fear that we’re so desperate to get back to normal that we may miss the lessons God taught us during the shutdown
I believe our churches can best view the last three months as our own wilderness experience because so many of the things were taken away that we thought we had to have in order to succeed. I previously blogged on some of the changes that are coming because of the shutdown. The thing I fear is that we’re so desperate to get back to normal that we may miss the spiritual lessons God wants us to learn.
So instead of analyzing our budgets to see much longer our finances will be stable if we don’t get our people back together, wondering how much longer our empty buildings can go unused or worrying what people will think if our programs aren’t soon humming along with their accustomed energy, maybe we need to ask another question more in keeping with biblical patterns of faithfulness than modern metrics of success.
We need to ask what God is trying to teach us.
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