Stop Holding Your Breath!

28 April 2020

Is this COVID-19 merely the equivalent of a blizzard? Or will it be a long winter? Or, worse, an ice age? Andy Crouch summarizes three perspectives and possible realities in his recent article on the need for our adaptation to what appears to be our new normal.

When COVID-19 hit, most everyone was thinking in terms of a blizzard. The social distancing guidelines were issued. In response, we queued up our next show on Netflix, stocked up on essentials, and prepared for a couple weeks tucked away in isolation. Here we are, in our 7th week of isolation, and it’s becoming clear that this is no blizzard. It’s beyond most of us to forecast an ice age (ie. a period of 18 months or more of social distancing), but it’s become clear that we are certainly going to be stuck here for a while longer.

We can’t simply hold our breath and wait. If we do, we’ll die. We must adapt. We must be faithful.

A lot can happen in a season. We can form new habits, we can forget old ones. Relationships can be bonded, and they can be broken. Which means, that we must pay careful attention to how we’re living in this season. The apostle Paul wrote, “Pay careful attention then, to how you live – not as unwise people but as wise – making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Eph. 5:15-17).

The days are evil! Hidden disaster lurks and prowls. A lot is at stake on a number of levels (financial stability; mental health; family harmony; spiritual strength). How should we respond? We should pay careful attention to our lives, making the most of this time, as we seek to do the Lord’s will.

What’s the Lord’s will? Put broadly, your sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3). God desires His people to grow in Christlikeness, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, and giving Him glory in the context of His church. That is the Lord’s will for us – right now!

This current season will either make or break churches. This current season will either make or break individual Christians. But thanks be to God, we don’t have to do this alone! We can help one another persevere through the long hard winter as we seek, by Divine aid, to live carefully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and remembering that our baptized identity obliges us to a lead a new and holy life.

Paul lays out four ways we can accomplish the Lord’s will, and by so doing, make the most of the time in these evil days:

  1. Be filled with the Spirit
    “And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit” (Eph.5:18). Our remaining points are the outflow of being filled with the Spirit. Which means that this is the foundational command. Though we should certainly be on guard against the numbing effects of alcohol, we should also be on guard against numbing ourselves altogether. Notice how drunkenness leads to reckless living. When we intoxicate our senses, whether through substances, screen time, or whatever – the result is that we feed our flesh (the part of us that loves sin and self). Reckless living is what follows. That’s not a life of growth in Christlikeness.

Instead, Paul says, “be filled by the Spirit.” John Stott writes,
“…we are to go on being filled. For the fullness of the Spirit is not a once-for-all experience which we can never lose, but a privilege to be renewed continuously by continuous believing and obedient appropriation. We have been ‘sealed’ with the Spirit once and for all; we need to be filled with the Spirit and go on being filled every day and every moment of the day.”

When we consider that this is a command, and more, an ongoing command, we are reminded that this is to be our way of life. The current pandemic doesn’t put our obedience of openness to the Spirit on hold. In fact, it reveals it as our greatest need!

How do we obey this command? If you’re a Christian, you simply appeal to the Holy Spirit who is already with in you. Ask Him to fill you. Yet, don’t assume this is a merely a mystical mantra. The Spirit works through the Word (Col.3:16). The Spirit focuses our attention upon Christ (John 16:14). The Spirit is the one by whom we cry out to God as Father (Rom.8:14-17).

A Spirit-filled person will be a Scripture-filled person – not so they can simply behave, but so they can behold their Father and their Christ. As they do, they will be changed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).

2. Encourage one another with beautiful truth
“speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). Notice how the Spirit’s filling directs us both vertically (“to the Lord”) and horizontally (“to one another”). In these trying times, and in all times, we need the community of the church to speak words of beautiful truth to one another. Whether those words are sung in an auditorium or on a sidewalk; whether we speak the truth or text the truth, Christians desperately need the encouragement of other Christians.

When we turn on the news, we are not encouraged. If anything we become discouraged. Christians have a special role to play, especially with one another. We sing and speak words of beautiful, biblical truth – God’s multi-faced and perfect character, His blood-bought promises, His joy-producing commands, His fear-invoking warnings, His awe-inspiring acts, His creation, His redemption, His coming salvation. We NEED to speak these truths to one another. As we do, they will take their root and bear fruit in our lives (Mark 4:14). As we do, we will be nourished and built up in love (Eph. 4:16). As we do, we will “encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of [us] is hardened by sin’s deception” (Heb.3:13).

3. Give Thanks to the Father in the name of Jesus
“giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph.5:20). Thanksgiving should be the hallmark quality of every Christian. We are those who have received grace upon grace from the Father through Christ. Not only that, but we can point to a myriad of earthly blessings that come from His benevolent hand. An ungrateful heart will poison our entire being during this time. If we don’t give thanks, and acknowledge the Father’s goodness to us in areas big and small, we may come out of this time worse off than when we began. But the good news is that God uses difficulties to refine our faith and rejoice in hope (1 Peter 1:7). Thanksgiving is how that happens. Choose the disposition of gratitude. Choose the discipline of thanksgiving. Give thanks!

4. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ
“submitting to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph.5:21).
No Christian is an only child. When the Father adopts us, He does so through the sacrificial work of our elder brother Jesus, who is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters (Heb.2:8). If Jesus isn’t ashamed to call you brother or sister, neither should you be ashamed to do the same for your fellow Christian. Paul says that we should submit to one another. What does that mean? In short, you are not #1.  Jared Wilson defines it as, “When we each set our own interests aside as secondary to the building up of Christ’s body, and we prioritize each other as worthy of honor and deserving of love” (Rom. 13:8). Paul has our relationship with fellow church members in mind here. And we do so out of reverence for Christ. To ignore Christ’s people is to ignore Christ Himself. To look with contempt on a brother or sister is to look with contempt upon their Savior too. We must not deprive one another of the Spirit’s ministry through us; we must not remove ourselves from our ability to receive it.

This is always relevant. Our faith and discipleship has a context – the local church. This is especially relevant right now. As we are prohibited from gathering, we must learn new ways to care for one another. This means surrendering your preferences and even dislikes out of submission to your fellow church member. If the phone or the zoom call is the avenue by which you do that, love calls you to do it. If it requires that you get out of your comfort zone a bit, love calls you to do it. Look to Christ as your great example (Phil.2:4-8) and lean on the Spirit as your great enabler (Gal.5:16). There is no command God gives that He does not also give the power to fulfill.

This may not be over for a little while. Therefore, let’s not waste this season, but care well for one another as we do the Lord’s will. May our church be strengthened, and may our love increase all the more.

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