A few months ago, our church took a weekend retreat together which caused me to write a post titled “Being Still Before God” which was a reflection on how we need to slow down and take time to be before God.
But a few months later, it’s already become warped again.
Shelter in place orders have been set,
And we’ve increased on online activity and time before screened devices to fill the void of personal connection,
And I think many of us have (ironically) experienced less “stillness” than before.
Although we’re physically limiting ourselves, many of us are filling our minds, thoughts and hearts with busyness, news reports, social media, and anything else we can do to try to keep from cabin fever.
And in the midst of it, we’ve filled every bit of silence we had left.
A couple books I’ve read recently (both spiritual and non-spiritual books) all pointed to the importance of silence in our lives.
Of quieting our hearts and minds to be still and present in the moment.
For the Christian, that means resting in God.
Trusting Him for the past that haunts us,
Trusting Him for our current situations that plague us,
And trusting Him for our futures that we’re always trying so hard to plan and prepare for.
So I wanted to re-encourage you to slow down and be still.
Focus solely on God,
I personally find it helpful to meditate on scripture when trying to slow down, so below are some of the ones that came to mind when thinking about this topic. I pray you have a good few minutes of calming quiet as you rest in the midst of everyday chaotic life.
“Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”1st Peter 5:7
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”Isaiah 26:3
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”Psalm 46:10
“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”Psalm 127:2
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”Matthew 6:25-34
We live in a society that values movement. Things always need to be going up and to the right. They need to be faster, better, bigger, more important, more expensive.
But God doesn’t value the same things we do.
Often, it’s like He’s not playing the same “game” at all.
God has a wholly different view of life.
As I quote often from Isaiah 55:8-9:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
This plays out in a lot of ways, but one in particular has been on my heart for a while and I’ve wanted to share it:
Sometimes, God wants you to wait.
As I’ve written about before, my family and I have felt like we’re in a time of waiting, and it hasn’t been clear yet for what.
And during that time we’ve had some really cool opportunities come up… but they didn’t feel quite right.
They were great opportunities,
And I’m sure God would have used them,
But we felt like God was telling us to wait.
Which brings me to a common misunderstanding:
Just because there’s a great opportunity doesn’t mean God wants you to take it.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t pursue things on the basis that they’re “too good to be true” or that “God doesn’t want you to be happy” but that we tend to go too far the other direction and assume that because there’s an opportunity, that God wants you to take it.
And that’s simply not true.
The best example I see in scripture is when you compare two separate God-ordained “jailbreaks”.
Here’s the first one:
“But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.Acts 5:18-21
It’s very clear. The apostles were (wrongly) in jail and an angel broke them out and they left the jail.
But check out what happens in a similar situation 11 chapters later:
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.”Acts 16:25-34
In this situation, it seems just as clear: God is breaking Paul and Silas out of jail.
They were wrongly in jail,
The “precedent” in the Christian community is if God does a miracle to let you out of jail; you leave and go preach the Gospel.
But they don’t.
They stay in the jail.
And as we see from reading this passage: that was the right choice.
When To Stay, When To Go
You might be wondering why Paul and Silas decided to stay.
Maybe it was because Paul realized that the jailer would be faced with the death penalty for loosing the prisoners, but I think it’s for a different reason.
I think it’s because they know God didn’t tell them to.
In the first example, it says that the angel led them out of jail,
But in the second, it only says the doors were opened and the bonds were unfastened.
Maybe, for you, that would be enough to believe God wanted you to step out,
But it wasn’t for Paul and Silas,
And God knew that.
God was providing this situation for Paul and Silas,
Not to the other apostles,
And not to you and me.
I believe that if God wanted Paul and Silas to escape, that He would have made that clear in a way Paul and Silas would receive it, so long as they were willing to seek and hear from Him.
God isn’t trying to play games to get us to guess His will, even though it can sometimes feel like that, and I believe that had He wanted Paul and Silas to leave, He could have directed in a way they would have understood and followed – just like He did with the other apostles.
Following Jesus In The Difficult Decisions
There have been many books written and sermons preached on this subject, so here are just a few thoughts:
1. God desires your faith to be put in Him, not a system or program. So be ready to have to trust that God is working and to follow where you believe He is leading you.
2. Your desire to please God and love God is far more important than making perfect decisions, so don’t be afraid of making the “wrong” decision. If you’ve prayed about the situation, asked for help/input from those around you in the process and are truly desiring to please God, He loves us and knows our limitations and imperfections and sometimes simply wants to have us choose between different good options.
3. Consider waiting. If you don’t have to make a decision, sometimes it’s ok to wait. Sometimes we have an external deadline that we have to make a decision by, but other-times our deadlines are arbitrary and are unhelpful in God’s timeline.
4. Stay connected to Jesus. In the second example, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. They were spiritually sensitive to Him and worshiping Him, and so when an opportunity came their way, they knew what to do.
There’s certainly no formula on knowing when to wait and when to go, or which direction to go.
But here’s what we do know:
It’s ok to wait, and it’s ok to “pass up” an opportunity.
We need to stay connected to Jesus to know His will.
We need to stay connected to each-other as God’s intended Church for godly counsel.
And most importantly:
We know that God is God and we are not,
And that He promises to guide us,
And that we please Him by following in faith and love in response to the love He has first shown us.
Living the Christian life and sacrificial living in Christian community is just that: a sacrifice, and it takes intentionality to live the life God has called us to live. In light of online church services becoming the norm, I think many of the things God has called us to do as a church when we gather will become naturally more difficult and even easy to stop altogether.
Below are a list of things I see as potential struggles that will affect every Christian, and therefore, every church. They’re not judgement calls, but simply an acknowledgment of how online services make the communal aspects of Christianity more difficult (so that we can be aware of them) with some practical things you can do to continue living in Christian community as we’ve been called to do.
As a final note before the list, I’m not saying that God can’t work through online services, but I am saying that I believe having online church has more drawbacks than have been acknowledged from what I’ve seen online and we need to be aware of some specific problems that they will cause and be ready to proactively fight again them in our personal lives and churches as a whole.
So, as we are required to have online services for a while, there are a few key things I think we need to be aware of:
Consumerism Christianity Could Easily Become The Norm
I’ve actually seen many posts and articles claiming that online church services will help eliminate “Consumerism Christianity” (where you simply attend a service, walk away, and don’t serve, give, or participate in any sacrificial way). However, I think we need to be on guard against consumerism Christianity becoming even more normal than it already is.
For years, pastors have warned against not just sitting in the congregation and trying to have church just be a place where you “consume” sermons and worship but one where you build community, serve, give, and exercise spiritual gifts… but in the context of online church, these natural problems will only be magnified.
It will be so much easier to simply watch services over the next 3 or so months without coming in contact with another church member or feeling obligated to do anything but spend an hour or so once a week watching a service.
And if too many previously active Christians suddenly fall into the routine of “Consumer Christianity,” this could become a massive problem once in-person services become possible again.
Online Church Can More Easily Become About “Me”
This issue is a specific off-shoot of “Consumer Christianity” where it will become very common for many Christians to stop attending the online services of their home church whenever it doesn’t fit what they like or “need” in the moment and go to other online churches. This type of online “church hopping” will also contribute to consumer Christianity specifically in the context of thinking of church as what it can do for you, instead of a body of believers you are to engage with and be a part of.
This “all about me” is easy to fall into when all church attendance options are online, because at that point there’s no other people to be serving or considering and so it’s easy to forget that you’re part of something larger than yourself and your tv; thus leading to focusing inward towards ourselves instead of upward towards Jesus.
We (As Christians) Naturally Lose Some Of Our Greatest Witness When We Gather Online Rather Than In Person
When Jesus said “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” in John 13:35, He was making it clear that being in a community of believers gives a greater Gospel Witness than being separate believers. As we have online services and are social distancing from everyone, including other believers, a lot of this witness will naturally not be present unless intentionally sought after.
Spiritual Disciplines And Accountability Could Easily Fall Away
One of the greatest aspects of gathering together is the realization that we all have problems and sin and that we’re to engage with each other to promote godliness and forgiveness in and towards each other.
We’re not meant to simply listen to sermons and sing songs, we are meant to be engaged with each other and with God, to be filled with His Spirit for the work of the ministry both inwardly towards other believers and outwardly towards the world.
But when we are online only, a lot of this will naturally stop happening, as the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.
The Solution (What You And I Can Do About It)
I don’t write all of this to say that churches should still have in person services, but more to bring awareness of some of the natural problems that will come from only offering online services. Below are a few things I encourage every Christian to do during this time to help fight against the problems that online services create.
Find Ways To Serve In Your Church From A Distance
As I wrote about in my post “8 Ways You Can Live Out Your Faith In Jesus Even When You’re Stuck At Home” a great way to remember that you’re to be part of the church and not a spectator is to find ways to serve. I wrote more ideas in that post, but I encourage you to reach out to your church leadership and find where the needs are. It might be shopping for at risk families in the church, or joining the prayer team, or something else entirely.
Continue To Give And Support Your Church And Others Around You
Even in the midst of the pandemic, God desires us to put our trust in Him in all areas of our life, including our finances. By giving to your church and others in need, you will continue to put your faith in God as the first priority of your life rather than your comfort or security.
Purposefully Connect With A Few Other Christians
This is a lot easier if you already had a community or home group that you were part of before everything went online, but you can still reach out to a few people to be in online community with even if you didn’t have something beforehand.
Regardless, find a way to be intentionally connected with a group of Christians. This may be through a weekly online call, or an app like Marco Polo, the important thing is that you have a group of people you can be real with and live life with.
This group should be a place where you confess sin, ask for prayer, encourage each other with things God is teaching you, and are held accountable for the things God has put on your heart to do.
Be Intentionally In God’s Word And In Prayer
This isn’t something that’s unique to a time of social distancing and online church, but it’s something that I feel necessary to mention because it is of upmost importance to the Christian life.
We get to know God and hear from in His Word and one of the most powerful ways we engage with Him is through prayer. The importance of being in God’s Word and prayer cannot be overstated.
If you need help in these two areas, here are a couple blog posts I’ve written on the subject:
God has redeemed us from the burden of sin and death, its earned reward, and He has filled us with His Holy Spirit to live a new life that reflects Himself.
A massive part of this is living in community with Him and His Church (other Christians), so in the midst of social distancing, I encourage you to not simply watch online services, but to find ways to live out the Christian life by seeking God daily, serving others in any way you can and finding Christian community that will uplift you in prayer, encouragement and accountability and for whom you can do the same.
This past weekend we celebrated Good Friday and Easter.
We celebrated the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus,
For the payment of our sins,
And to bring us back into fellowship with the Father.
The consequences of this are not only eternal, but affect our day to day lives as we are now brought back into a life that is filled with the Spirit and to be surrendered to God as a living sacrifice.
As we exit the Easter season, it’s easy to forget what a wonderful thing happened that very special weekend.
So, I encourage you to pause and reflect on this past weekend and consider what areas in your life are still not surrendered to Jesus, Who lived, died, was buried, and rose again – for you.
Consider what areas of your life He wants to redeem or change,
Consider what areas of your life He wants you to surrender.
Your thought life,
All of you.
Easter wasn’t meant to be a weekend event.
It was a moment of history that was meant to transform your life each and every day, for the rest of your life and into eternity.
Below are the posts I put up on each of these 3 special days. I encourage you to reflect on this past weekend and don’t miss what God wants to do in your life today.
Because Jesus rose on Easter Sunday,
But He is still alive and working today.
Here are the posts from this past weekend:
Two days ago was Good Friday.
Yesterday was Transition Saturday.
Today is Resurrection Sunday (Easter).
The day of hope,
The day of restoration between us and God.
On Good Friday, the check was written to pay our debt,
And On Resurrection Sunday, the check was cleared and deposited.
THIS is the day that matters more than any other.
Paul made it clear in 1st Corinthians that Jesus’ resurrection is the single most important piece in the Christian faith:
“And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”1st Corinthians 15:14
“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”1st Corinthians 15:17
Paul continues with this logic to say that if Jesus did not raise from the dead, then we ought to be pitied above all other people for putting our hope and lives in this false belief. (1st Corinthians 15:19)
The resurrection is the crux of everything for followers of Jesus.
It’s why we have hope beyond this life (Titus 1:2)
It’s why we believe we have the right to be God’s children (John 1:12)
It’s why we believe we have power beyond ourselves to become more like God (Titus 3:6)
And so much more.
It all centers around the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
There’s so much more to say, but you’ve probably heard so much of it.
If you’re looking for a helpful tool to share this Good News (the Gospel) with someone, you should check out the 3 Circle Evangelism Training at this link. It’s one of the simplest and most understandable ways to explain the Gospel in a way that people relate to that I’ve seen.
And as you celebrate Easter today, here’s some lyrics from a song by Phil Wickham that I think captures the amazing moment of Jesus’ resurrection.
May you live in the light of Jesus’ resurrection.
And until He returns.
Then came the morning that sealed the promiseLiving Hope, Phil Wickham
Your buried body began to breathe
Out of the silence, the Roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me
Then came the morning that sealed the promise
Your buried body began to breathe
Out of the silence, the Roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me
Jesus, Yours is the victory.
Yesterday was Good Friday.
Tomorrow is Resurrection Sunday (Easter).
Today is Transition Saturday.
The day between the grief and the joy,
Between the sorrow and the rejoicing,
Between death and new life.
Many of us put great emphasis on Good Friday and on Easter (of course).
But what about Saturday?
Consider how Saturday must have felt.
They woke up that morning wondering if it was all a dream… hoping it was a dream… wishing it was a dream.
But their nightmare pressed on.
8am became 9am.
9am became 10am.
And Jesus was still dead.
Maybe you have experienced something similar.
Maybe you’ve had a death of a loved one,
Or some news that tore you apart,
Or something caused your whole world to crumble.
And then there was the next day,
And nothing changed.
And the next day,
Still nothing changed.
That’s what this Saturday felt like.
The realization setting in,
The stages of grief beginning,
As the rest of the world continued on around them.
The rest of the Jewish people were remembering how they had been delivered from Egypt through passover,
But the disciples were still processing the fact that their deliverer had just been murdered.
The Beauty of Transition Saturday
Consider this: Jesus didn’t need to stay dead on Saturday.
He could have risen on Saturday just as easily as Sunday.
But consider just some of the beauty and imagery He has given us by delaying His resurrection.
1. Transition Saturday is on the Sabbath: the day of rest
When God gave the command for Israel to rest on the Sabbath, He gave two different reasons.
One reason is that God gave them an example in that He created the universe in six days and then rested on the seventh (Exodus 20:8-11).
But the other reason reveals much more of His intention.
He tells the Children of Israel that they are resting to remind themselves that they were no longer slaves in Egypt and therefore, get days to rest (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
Consider this: as Jesus laid in the tomb on Saturday, the disciples had the opportunity to remember why the Sabbath existed: to remind them of their deliverance – and the state they were now in: freedom.
In the same way, as we reflect on the new life and freedom we have through the cross and resurrection even in our transition periods and days.
Free from slavery of sin,
Free from shame and condemnation,
Free from death,
Free from fear.
Freedom in Christ. John 8:36.
May Transition Saturday remind you of your freedom in Christ.
But wait… there’s more.
2. Transition Saturday reminds us that we are to wait for Jesus’ return
One of the most popular reflections I’ve seen regarding Transition Saturday is that we, the Church, are in a transition much like the disciples were on Saturday.
Our sins are dead,
But we’re not in heaven yet.
Our salvation has come,
But the final culmination of God’s plan isn’t complete.
So, whenever you go through a trial, or suffer in any way
You can look to Transition Saturday,
And trust in the promise that just like Sunday came,
So too will Jesus return and make all things right.
3. Transition Saturday reminds us that God is working even when we don’t see it for a long time
Although our times of waiting are generally longer than a single day, this pause in the story reminds us that God is still working, even when He seems silent.
For the past 3 years, Jesus had been on the scene doing miracles and teaching.
In just one more day, Jesus will rise from the grave proving He is God and that the payment He made for us on Friday is true and sure.
But today, on Saturday, God seems absolutely still and even absent.
But rest assured: He was still working.
Because sometimes God chooses it best to wait before the next act in the story.
Maybe you’re waiting, and God feels distant, or absent.
Be rest assured, He is working, and what He has planned will come to pass.
Even in our waiting, God is still working behind the scenes.
4. Transition Saturday is at the end of the week, making completion for a new thing to begin on Sunday, the beginning of the next week
The Sabbath, as mentioned above, closes out the week and is meant to be a day of rest and pause.
But Sunday is the day of new beginnings.
By allowing for Transition Saturday, God reminds us to rest, but He also reminds us that new things are coming.
The Gospel is the Good News that God has provided new life to our dead ones,
And what better way to remember that than on the first day of the new week.
This is also why Christianity has classically met on Sundays, even though we stem from the Jewish practices and history which celebrated Saturday as holy.
Because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday,
Our new life was given to us on Sunday,
And that was made possible by the waiting that happened on Saturday.
I hope you take some extra time today to reflect on Transition Saturday.
I hope this post encourages you in whatever transition or waiting period you might be in right now.
And most of all, I hope it brings you nearer to the One Who made all of this possible.
Who paid our price,
Who died for our sins,
Who was buried,
Who rose again,
Who has given us new life,
Who continues to live alive and well today,
And Who desires to have you surrender your life wholly to His,
As that’s the relationship we were created for.