Who could have predicted we would live in a time such as this? The coronavirus pandemic is shaking the world. Governments are struggling to respond to the needs of their citizens. Families are careworn as they seek to cope. 

How is the Lord asking the Renovaré family to respond to this crisis? How is he asking each of us us to adapt to our new environment?

People around the world are anxious and fearful. 

“I’ve lost my job. Will I get it back? Will it still exist for me when the disease has passed? In the meantime, how can I make ends meet?” 

“My business has been shut down. When can I open it again? How will I care for my employees and pay the bills while I wait for things to resolve?”

 “What about my kids? Schools are closing everywhere. How will we manage as a family?”

 “I’m a single mother. The pressure is increasing every day. What if I run out of money?”

“I’m an elderly shut-in. Does anyone know I’m here? What if I get sick? Who will take care of me? I’m afraid.”

For a moment, let’s pause and prayerfully acknowledge the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual suffering God’s precious image-bearers are experiencing. As we respond to this crisis and people’s legitimate concerns and feelings, let’s avoid glib or insensitive responses to people’s concerns and questions. Our questions, our “what ifs”, are worthy of thoughtful and kind answers, always couched with profound love and gentleness. 

Monuments to God’s Provision

How have God’s people responded to trials and testing in the past? 

I think of Israel gathered at the banks of the Jordan river after 40 years of wandering in the desert, now prepared to enter the land promised to Abraham. 

Do you remember the story? Joshua gives the Israelites very specific instructions for how they are to cross the river. “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.” (Joshua 3:3)

Israel heeds Joshua’s words and prepares to cross the Jordan, with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant ahead of the nation. As the priests step into the river, the water upstream stops flowing and the dry riverbed appears. “The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.” (Joshua 3:17)

As Israel crossed the Jordan, twelve men from among the people, “one from each tribe,” picked up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, right where the priests were standing, and carried them to the other side.

What did they do with the stones taken from the dry riverbed? They stacked them up as a monument at Gilgal, the first place the nation camped after the river crossing. Why? These stones were a sign of God’s deliverance and provision, a solid and lasting memory device for every Israelite.

Imagine a little boy talking to his grandfather years later during a visit to the monument at Gilgal. “What do these stones mean, Grandpa?” the tiny Israelite asks. “They mean the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. My child, these stones remind us of who God is and who we are. Never forget.” (cf. Joshua 4:6-7)

Isn’t it true that we all have a history of provision, a history of God’s care for us in the midst of the trying and testing we experience as God’s pilgrim people? God acts and then asks us to remember with gratitude.  Monuments remind us to do so. They trigger our memory of God’s provision and grow our ability to trust, sometimes during great uncertainty. What are the monuments God might ask you to revisit today? 

Christian history is replete with stories of people and places that serve as monuments to God’s faithfulness, grace, power and provision. I think of Jesus. I think of the cross. I think of his empty tomb. I think of the words I recite every Sunday: “Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” Usually, I recite those words shoulder to shoulder with brothers and sisters in Christ. But now, for a time, while we cannot physically stand together, I am invited to recite those words in my home, affirming my connection with believers across the miles… and across the centuries.

Lengthening our Historical Memory

My mind is drawn to the bishop-martyr Cyprian, a leader of the North African church for an extremely trying stretch of time in the 3rd century CE. Historians often refer to this period as the “plague years of Cyprian,” when a virulent epidemic spread over North Africa, killing thousands. 

Shepherding the church as sickness invaded congregation after congregation was not the only daunting task facing Cyprian. The Roman Emperor Decius had declared war on the church and set in motion policies designed to insure its eradication. So Cyprian was forced to deal with the double threats of deadly disease and lethal persecution. He was himself beheaded in 258CE.

How long those years must have seemed for Cyprian! How difficult. How unpredictable. Yet his leadership during this rough stretch continues to inspire us today.

Ponder the words Cyprian wrote to encourage Christians frightened and discouraged by these tough events. He composed them shortly after meditating on Paul’s encouraging words in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:31-39). “When we read these and other things of this nature collected in the Gospel, let us feel, as it were, certain torches set under us with the voice of the Lord to stir up our faith.”

A lengthening of historical memory won’t necessarily lessen the fear and anxiety we occasionally experience in our radically changed environment, but it’s helpful to remember we are not the first Christians to face challenges like these. 

Stirring Up Our Faith

So, let’s take a moment to “stir up our faith.” As we unexpectedly transition into the increasingly volatile, complex, and uncertain environment of the coronavirus, how can we navigate it well through the guidance and empowerment of the Holy Spirit? 

Here are some thoughts I hope you find helpful. I’m using them as part of the scaffolding for Renovaré team planning for the next few months. 

Life can surprise us. It doesn’t surprise God. God possesses the breathtaking capacity to transform difficult situations into opportunities for personal growth and unexpected ministry. 

What life-giving transformations will occur in the crucible of this pandemic? What unexpected openings for goodness, compassion, and mercy? Let’s keep our minds and hearts receptive and discerning for new possibilities. 

God is not limited by external circumstances. I am presently sitting in my office at home, quarantined as a member of the high-risk population. (I’m seventy and have light asthma.) As Nathan Foster has gently joked, “Your wings are clipped.” I’d much rather be on the road, visiting faithful supporters of Renovaré. Yet what is God offering me in this new environment

What might he be offering you in your changed and challenging circumstances? What is he offering Renovaré? How, for instance, might the boundaries of the kingdom of God expand rather than contract in the fertile environment of solitude? 

 “What if” is a good question for Renovaré to be asking as we plan for the coming months, a time when we will likely be separated physically from one another. “What if this happens? How can we respond well?” 

Keep your eyes on the Renovaré website. The coronavirus crisis is extruding new ideas from our minds and hearts. What new configurations of Renovaré’s ministry will appear as we focus on online outreach? I’m happy to report that just yesterday we received a pledge of $25,000 from a kind donor to increase the menu of our web offerings. 

God always gets the last word. Not fear. Not disillusionment. Not disappointment. Not sickness. Not death. God’s words sound like this: life, resurrection, hope, love, faithfulness, courage, perseverance.  Jesus is calling Renovaré—and each of us—to respond faithfully in our new environment with wisdom, compassion, and vision. 

Though what we can do in public settings will be limited, new possibilities are going to emerge. Let’s pray, “visionate” together, and rejoice in what God will reveal. I believe the day will come when we look back and see shining monuments to God’s faithfulness, even—especially—in this difficult season.

Chris Hall
President, Renovaré