This past week brought the effects of COVID-19 closer to our home. I am sure it came nearer to yours as well. Good friends saw a family member succumb to it. Our seminary lost to the virus a graduate who was a beloved pastor. Others are struggling with loneliness, loss of work, and concerns for the future.
Yet in the midst of this plague, the Lord still protects and provides. After declaring the Lord to be a refuge and a fortress, the psalmist says in Psalm 91:3-4,
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
As Jared reminded us, there are reasons for thanksgiving even in the midst of this epidemic. Hidden blessings are found under the Lord's outstretched wings. In sharing a few I have experienced, I hope they might encourage you in these dark days.
I have discovered fresher spiritual and heavenly longings in my heart. When my pastors pray in the online service, I find a new eagerness in my heart to listen, pray along, and see the Lord work. The quieter schedule encourages longer periods of solitude and hence deeper reflection. Each time I interact with someone, I am more appreciative for him or her, more thankful for their love and friendship. I long to return to the sanctuary in ways I did not, and could not, before.
Many have asked whether online worship is truly worship or not. I believe David’s experiences of separation and Israel’s experience of exile have much to teach us here. We can worship “in exile” or away from God’s people (Ps. 42:(1-5), but there is longing for the fullness of restoration. It’s worship that longs for completeness. This period should also stir the longings in our heart for heaven and the consummation.
One of my friends stopped by and, even as we kept our social distance, gave me the book The Traveller, or Meditations on Various Subjects by James Meikle. The author was a surgeon of the British fleet during the eighteenth century, and he uses the analogy of sailing throughout the book to speak of spiritual life.
In a meditation entitled "On Taking Farewell," he describes how difficult it was to leave loved ones, never knowing if he would see them again. Life on wooden sailing vessels in that day was full of peril. Meikle never knew when he might fall into the ocean and be consumed by the "finny tribe", i.e. fish as he called them. He then compares departing from loved ones on a ship to our need to be heaven ready in saying goodbye to to our family and friends when we are called to leave this world. During this pandemic, thoughts like the following ones should be far more upon our minds.
When I took farewell of my friends to see other nations and rise into a more universal knowledge of the world and men, (trifles that please an aspiring mind,) yet how were all my fine prospects more than balanced to think, that I might never see my native land again, the land of liberty and light, the Hephzibah of God! What if I should drop into the unfathomed deeps of the ocean, and be a prey to the finny tribe. But, abstracting from these gloomy fore thoughts, how was joy turned into a flow of friendly sorrow! Can I yet forget the affectionate grasp of hand, the melting tear, the parting kiss, and kindly look, as if it might have been the last, and all from friends so near and dear!
Yet this must be; I must either forbear going abroad, or take farewell of all my friends; and who knows if ever I shall see them again, till in another world, where the nearest ties are loosed, and the dearest relation dissolved, unless a spiritual relation unite our souls to him, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, a family that shall never scatter or be dispersed through the ages of eternity! The highest wisdom of the traveler, then, is to get himself made a member of the heavenly family. Thus, when the frail family, of which he is a mortal member, must be divided, parted, and spread abroad, some in death, some in distant lands, he shall never be cast out of the celestial family, nor denied the high privileges thereof, but may cry to God, Abba, Father, and shall find him not far off...
Spring, with all of its promises of new life and seasons, has burst upon us at this time. Seeing the purple of the myrtle, the white of the daffodil, the yellow of the forsythia, and just all the green fills you with hope even in the midst of the epidemic. I keep reading different experts holding out the hope that, just as with other viruses, the warmer weather may begin to diminish the spread and impact of Corona. Looking to the lilies of the field, each clothed in more splendor than Solomon, and hearing the words of my Lord telling His followers not to be anxious gives a dual hope during these sad days.
Literally as I write these words, my son and his wife are in the hospital with the anticipated delivery of a new grandson. Even as we mourn, the Lord still gives causes for rejoicing.
My friend, Pastor Brian Wright, quietly uploaded to YouTube a four-part harmony rendition of the words of Psalm 143:1-5. His clear-toned voice beautifully highlights the plaintive cries and hopes of the psalmist, especially as he holds the note on the word "all." During these trying days, listening to these words have humbled and helped me. I offer the video below as an encouragement to you.
(Also, I noticed this video is found on a channel entitled "Anatomy of the Soul." That gives me, and I am sure many others, the hope this will be the first of many such selections that Brian does!)