A Testing from the Lord
And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know…Deuteronomy 8:2-3a
When God tests His people in the Old Testament – He puts them through a very difficult situation that they have never experienced before. For example, like the one we read above, He put them through the wilderness, causing them to starve before feeding them with bread from heaven. We read of other testing accounts – such as the new generation of Israelites that arrived in Canaan: He let them experience war which they had never done before…
God tests His people to reveal what’s on the inside. I don’t think this is so much for His sake –He knows everything – I think it’s for our sake. So, in this viral pandemic, I think God is putting His church, and possibly the whole world, to a test… to see where our hearts lie, what we value, and even what we idolise. In simple terms, these tests are things that expose us… for who we truly are.
For us at Zion Bishan, I wonder if God is testing us in at least 3 arenas.
Now take this with a pinch of salt – I don’t want to make definitive statements while the trial is ongoing, but I think it’s good to have a continuous reflection process…
Firstly, our individual lives. When there is so much disruption and shaking… what is most important – what are the things we will grasp dearly to? For example, if we value our health – then no matter how little space we have at home – we will figure away to train our bodies. If we value our faith –we will do the same. We will remake routines of personal and corporate Bible reading, study, prayer, worship and fellowship – we will ensure these things happen.
This test will also expose our idols. I wonder if you read how alcohol usage has doubled, pornography has tripled and I think gaming and entertainment TV has gone up by 5 times in certain studies. Where do we turn when things are stressful? This time of testing will make our idols (the places we go for comfort & support) crystal clear to us. There are no more excuses or covering up.
Secondly, I believe this pandemic will test our relationships. Again, our relationship with God… but since we’re trapped at home– also our relationships with spouse. Already I have heard several stories of couples who had some ‘cracks’ in their relationship now turn into giant chasms. Things amplified greatly within just a couple of weeks. Previously we had our work or ‘activities’ to distract us– now we must deal with everything head on (which is why some people are so eager to volunteer or do anything to get out of the house – anything to avoid dealing with the issues at home!).
Relationships at work or in church are also affected. I think you can see that any relationship that was not intentionally worked on – escalated into arguments, disagreements and disconnection quickly. We must be very careful not to let things fracture…. God exposes these fault-lines so that we can work on them, not avoid them. The relationships that we did invest in, however, have become much sweeter. Several cell groups and 321 groups have increased their frequency – despite the inconvenience and mental drain of virtual meet ups. We long for one another, we need one another.
Thirdly, I believe this this time of dispersed church – will be a review of our spiritual leadership. When the formal church has been decimated – we will see how well we discipled our people. Are the flock under our care able to feed themselves? Are they able to survive on their own – even thrive? Can they minister to their families, to their cell groups? After the initial shock, are the majority able to grow in faith, love and hope? If they can – we have passed the leadership test.
However, without the structured Sunday services, if they simply give up, grumble and blame everyone else for their circumstances – worse still, if we as the leaders find ourselves running around like headless chickens doing endless wartime triage – then we must ask the serious question: what have we been doing/investing in over the last 5-10 years? Now is a good time to see which ministries/programs/priorities have borne lasting fruit. The invisible things will suddenly become visible.
In the end, we know that these tests from the Lord, while they are His discipline, are also His mercy. The two are never mutually exclusive. All the cracks and flaws He reveals (and there will be many) are opportunities for us to confess, repent, review and ask for help. This is not judgment day, this is His relentless grace shattering the superficialities, cover-ups and fronts that we have so willingly put up and ignored.
As hard as these shake-ups are, I think in the end we will see that these are occasions to give thanks and praise to the one who so deeply loves us. Indeed, hindsight is 20/20 (or should we say 2020).
Pastor Dev Menon