We are now entering day 44 of the social distancing order. We have a small message board in our kitchen where my children have been counting how many days we’ve been in quarantine. So far, according to the Gibson children, it has been too long. How many days can this go on? We really don’t have an answer to that. For now we need to trust the governing authorities that the Lord has placed over us to make those hard decisions. It could be a few weeks more. It could be months.
All of us would agree that the practice of social distancing is good for us. Most people I encounter (from a distance!) are doing a pretty good job submitting to our nations leaders and are demonstrating love for their neighbor to stop the spread of the COVID-19 but those of us that are Christians are feeling a sense of sorrow in the midst of all this. I actually think that it’s proper that we are sorrowful because God has not designed His Church to gather alone in our living room to watch a livestream sermon. In the year 2020 we are privileged to have a plethora of impressive online resources at our fingertips: video conferencing such as Facebook live, Zoom, and Google Hangout, to name just a few. These resources are a blessing so that we can stay connected, pastors can check in with their flock, and we can hear the preached Word in the comfort of our home. Virtual meetings have become extremely important during this time of social distancing but no matter how much we depend on them, they will never be able to replace the gathering of the local body. Even though these resources are good and provide churches around the globe with a sense of staying connected, there is still something missing.
God created us to be in community. When we can’t be together for our regular gatherings our hearts should ache. Personally, for me, this time of self distancing is like walking around with a missing arm or leg. The body of Christ serves with many parts and when those parts are missing from your daily life you start to feel like an amputee.
According to Don Whitney in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, “There’s an element of worship and Christianity that cannot be experienced in private worship or by watching worship. There are some graces and blessings that God gives only in the ‘meeting together’ with other believers.”
I agree with Professor Whitney and have been experiencing an emptiness as of late. I am confident that I am a still a Christian as I worship in my home and I wholeheartedly agree that it’s not the church building that defines us as believers, but being kept from meeting together can bring on significant discouragement.
This was certainly the case for the Psalmist, in Psalm 42. For whatever reason, he was prevented from gathering with the people of God. We aren’t positive why that was but his external circumstances were causing him to have internal thoughts of discouragement as he was being kept away from corporate worship. I can relate to this guy. For the past 3 weeks I have become very disheartened. I want God to put my life back the way it was –back with the people of God.
There are many ways that the Psalmist responds to his external circumstances in this passage but one that is fitting for our situation today can be found in verse 4.
“These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.”
Let me encourage you in this time of self distancing to pour out your soul and be sorrowful that we can’t meet and then, with joy, recall to mind and rejoice in what the Lord has done in our past gatherings at Grace Baptist Church. While the Psalmist was struggling with eternal suffering, suffering that was beyond his control, he remembers. We ought to do the same.
Are you rejoicing in the midst of a sorrowful situation? If not, call to mind past gatherings. If you are having trouble, let me share a few of my memories as of late to get you started:
Particular worship services where the people responded with joy to the singing, the preached word, and the conversations afterwards.
God saving people that I have prayed about for years.
Past baptism services with testimonies of how God brings people into His family.
People responding in obedience by joining the local Church.
The fellowship around the table during the meal.
Communion services and testimonies of how God is working in the lives of His people.
How God took a small group that was down to 5 people and grew it to 30.
The many gatherings with sister churches such as Good Friday services and Praise Nights.
Getting to witness God saving young adults and their hunger for the Word.
For me, it has been good to pour out my soul to remember these things. The coronavirus is keeping us apart for the moment, but we have memories that we can delight in until we gather again. Not only do we have memories, but we have lots to look forward to when we come together for the fist time, which I hope is very soon.
I am anticipating the day when I get to come in the doors of Grace Baptist Church to see what new bulletin board Bertie has created, take a sniff of Dave’s office as I walk by, listen to Blair’s enthusiasm during a sermon, covet Kathy’s coffee she brings to Sunday School, enjoy a slice of Kay’s peanut butter pie at small group, the (very) loud laughs that come from the teenage girls on Wednesday night, hearing the sound of children fussing in worship service, and the warmth of Norma’s hugs. But most importantly, I cannot wait to join with these fellow saints so that together, we can display the Gospel as we love, forgive, and encourage one another. Our first Sunday back is going to be memorable and I can’t wait. In the meantime, ask the Lord to help you hunger and thirst for Him, remembering what He has done in past times at Grace Baptist Church.
“At home, in my own house, there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart and it breaks its way through.” Marin Luther