Since the start of the current pandemic, I have been attending a weekly Vepsers meeting on Zoom. One of the members of this prayer group sent the following message to the rest of us during the week, and I felt it would be helpful to share. He has given me permission to share this reflection with our parish community.
I believe the wonderful weather in April and May helped us endure the Lockdown quite well. I don’t know how you are feeling now that Lockdown is finally easing. We are overjoyed to see our grandchildren! But the inch-by-inch minor reductions of restrictions has not been easy. I am still very deeply frustrated at the continual closure of our churches, with no prospect of meeting anytime soon; and, for me, it is very hard to accept this ban on singing and playing wind instruments. My frustration levels are not good!
Perhaps I should be more aware of what the house churches in Iran have long experienced --they are not allowed to meet in churches--so their persecuted faith has found a way to grow rapidly from fellowship on line, inspiring digital services (especially at Easter and Pentecost), and on-line discipleship courses. 70 new house churches have been planted in Iran in the last 6 months!
So maybe I need to stand back and see with a biblical perspective how this whole stressful “time of trial and testing” is viewed in our scriptures, and how God might be using it.... “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness... Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for, when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”(James ch. 1 v. 2 and 12)
“Do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which has come to you, as though some strange thing had happened to you.” (1 Peter ch. 4. v. 12). Eugene Peterson expresses this verse in “The Message” as “Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner”.
“Times of Testing” feel “strange”, but the bible tells us they are normal and necessary. They are how we grow in grace. They are how God equips and prepares us to do great things in His kingdom. God never afflicts us, but, most assuredly, He tests us. And His tests measure us, reveal us, strengthen our faith, and cause us to grow spiritually.
Even though, on the outside, it looks as if things are falling apart around us, on the inside, where God is making a new life, perhaps I need to learn that not a day goes by without His unfolding grace. If I could see the blessing that’s awaiting me on the other side of this trial, I might stop lamenting my losses and start to rejoice!
In this Pandemic, we have certainly learned that life is fragile and that we are not in control of it, however much our society is obsessed with risk assessments and minimising dangers.
But have we come to know the Lord in a richer deeper way? Perhaps I should not be looking at what is missing in my life, nor asking “Why did you let this happen, Lord?”, but “What do you want me to learn from this experience?” God is at work in our lives, whether we know it or not. He takes no pleasure in making life hard for us; He does not delight in our sufferings; but He does delight in our spiritual growth. Every challenge we face in life may not seem benign; but in God’s overarching plan, it may be equipping us for the future.
“God who began the good work in you will keep on helping you to grow in His grace until His task within you is finished.” (Philippians Ch. 1. v.6)
May our loving Lord lift you out of any tendency towards depression and give you many blessings from His wise heart.