Dear brothers and sisters of CBCWLA, shalom!
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. During this pandemic, may God be with you and your family, and keep you physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy.
The pandemic in the United States is reaching a peak, and the number of infected people and deaths in the U.S. are the highest in the world. Unemployment has surged, schools have closed, restaurants and shops have shut down, and people are facing unprecedented threats to their lives, ways of living, and livelihoods. To the young and healthy, and those who have kept their jobs, perhaps the most disruption they have faced is having to adjust to a different way of living. But to those who are sick, this is a battle of life and death. Those who are infected are quarantined, and even relatives are not allowed to visit the sick. Many have died alone, deepening the grief of family members.
People of different ages will view this pandemic through different lenses. Although all age groups can be infected, the death rate of the elderly is much higher. The elderly with whom I have contacted are being very cautious, and their children are concerned for their wellbeing. In my household, both Mrs. Wang and I are over 65, and my older son is a doctor specializing in infectious diseases. He has to put on a complete suite of personal protective equipment to take care of COVID-19 patients. We worry about him, our daughter-in-law, and our grandsons, constantly praying for them. We can only speak with them over FaceTime. This pandemic is very close to our family, and not only do we have to adjust our way of living, but we are also experiencing first-hand the very real and present danger of this virus.
It is with this backdrop in mind that I wish to use God’s word to pen a few devotional articles with the theme “Disciples in a Pandemic”. My hope is to encourage brothers and sisters to draw near to God during this time and to walk the path of a disciple. Amen!
Christians are no strangers to suffering. To be honest, all human beings are no strangers to suffering. Suffering is a universal experience. The Western world posits that there are two kinds of evil in the world, “natural evil” and “moral evil”. In this view, the cause of a disaster can be attributed to two reasons—the disaster was caused by nature, or the disaster was a result of man’s moral depravity. Regardless of how you define it, no one on this earth has been untouched by suffering, and Christians especially are not immune to it.
Christian disciples can be said to have their origin rooted in suffering. From the very beginning, Jesus was persecuted (he was flogged and crucified). The twelve apostles were almost all martyred (with the exception of John, who died of old age, and Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus, who ultimately hung himself). The first church in history (the Jerusalem church) was scattered due to persecution. The apostle Paul was beheaded. The Ten Persecutions that befell the church during their first three hundred years ruled by the Roman empire resulted in great numbers of martyrs who gave their lives for Christ. Such faith was born out of suffering and refined in the fire of persecution. If someone were to ask “Why did God allow this COVID-19 pandemic? Does he really love me?”, these multitudes of faithful who have gone before us would respond in surprise, “Do we really believe in the same God?”
In recent times, the Christian faith has been devalued to become a “gospel” of “prosperity and health”, and many people have bought into this lie. They start to question God’s goodness when they encounter suffering and trials. To them, the existence of suffering is unreasonable and incompatible with their belief system. But in fact, it is their questioning of God that is unreasonable, because not only does the Bible not deny the existence of suffering, it is filled with encouragements for those who are suffering:
Paul said: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5, ESV)
Peter said: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7, ESV)
James said: “ Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4, ESV)
The Bible teaches us to “rejoice” and “count it all joy” in suffering. Even though it is difficult to endure in suffering, God has a purpose in it. For the believers who have become indifferent and stagnant in their faith, God will use extraordinary circumstances to awaken and transform you. God wants you to trust Him, and to grow in endurance (like a farmer waiting for harvest). God wants to build your character (that will reflect the character of Jesus). God wants to produce hope in your life (the hope of eternal life, “that results in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”—this hope frames your worldview so you know how to live life on earth). And by the power of the Holy Spirit, God pours His love into your hearts, so that you are able to receive and to share God’s love in times of suffering.
The Bible regards suffering as a trial, a trial that results in a faith refined by fire. A person whose life is smooth sailing has ordinary faith, like a piece of rock with many impurities. These impurities cannot be removed by praising God, reading the Bible, praying, or going to church. They can only be removed through trials. In a trial, your faith is put into a fire, refining the impurities, and making it pure.
To different people, COVID-19 presents trials of varying intensities. If you feel that this trial is not intense enough, don’t worry, your life ahead will certainly have other trials. It is crucial that you understand God’s word in order to face these trials. Your understanding of God’s truth will shape your mindset, and your attitude towards trials will determine the kind of disciple you become. In all honesty, as important as it is to attend church services, doing so does not make you different from many others who do the same. So what makes you stand out? Look to those disciples who walked upon the stage of church history. They stood out because of their extraordinary display of endurance in suffering. Theirs is a remarkable testimony of faith tested by trials, an incredible example of character forged in tribulation.
Dear brothers and sisters, many people have said that COVID-19 is a once in a lifetime experience. When have we seen the whole world come to a complete stop, with everyone staying at home? Whether or not this is a time of suffering for you, I hope that you will not miss this rare and precious opportunity (“Kairos”) to reexamine and rebuild your relationship with God.
- Sufferings and trials are permitted by God
- God wants you to face sufferings and trials with a positive attitude
- So that the tested genuineness of your faith will be more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire.
Pastor Warren Wang