Linda Zebell, wife of Forerunners’ staff Timothy Zebell authored this article in collaboration with her husband.
Not meeting in my local church building for Sunday worship because of the coronavirus reminded me of my church experience in China before becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. Our gatherings were forced to scatter; our meeting places were bulldozed; believers were threatened and arrested. Christians in China are still persecuted for their faith, resulting in a lot of unknowns for tomorrow among God’s people. Nonetheless, Chinese believers have not stopped worshiping God.
Christians in China meet in secret at people’s apartments and houses to worship God and study the Bible because they have a great hunger for the Lord and His Word. They don’t mind sitting for hours on short wooden stools with their knees touching the back of the person in front of them—even when it is 90 degrees without an air conditioner. Some people even walk for hours for the opportunity to meet with other believers.
Many Christians in China have very little material wealth, but they seek the Lord whole-heartedly. They have a lot of room for Jesus in their hearts, and there is such great joy among God’s people. As a result, God’s Word keeps spreading. Again, and again I witnessed God’s faithfulness and His provisions for His people.
Today I find myself living in the United States of America, and I was very encouraged during my local church’s worship service this week. Like so many other churches, our services are being live-streamed. I am grateful that God is with us wherever we are in our homes because the church is more than a building, programs, and traditions. It is the people of God.
The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart during Sunday’s worship service, and I would like to encourage my brothers and sisters in the Lord to trust God—and to trust in Him alone during this trial. I am praying that throughout this time of difficulty, God will draw us closer to Himself and closer to each other in Christ. My prayer is that we will use our “extra time” to cultivate our relationships with Jesus and be ready to respond to His call to minister toward others. Difficulty is no excuse to stop ministry.
On Sunday my pastor reminded us that Jesus modeled for us how to live through trials. Our path through difficulty has already been prepared if we will be faithful to traverse it, just as Jesus walked His own path of difficulty. On His journey to the cross, Jesus showed that our joy is not dependent upon our circumstances. Rather, our hope and joy flows from our relationship with God and the certainty of His promises.
Pastor Samuel Lam, a hero of the faith who was imprisoned in a hard labor Chinese concentration camp because of his faith for more than 20 years, once told me that America needs persecution. He believed difficulty would motivate lukewarm Christians to become serious about their faith because trials build our character, purify our faith, and encourage us to re-prioritize our time and efforts. Often trials can be blessings in disguise. Indeed, for those who are faithful, God has promised to transform every difficulty into something that will eventually benefit us (Rom. 8:28). This is why we are told to rejoice, even in the midst of difficulty, “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).
I see God’s love and mercy in this time of difficulty. God’s heart is for people, and His desire is to see us healthy and prosperous. However, one can be physically healthy and spiritually sick. Sometimes the most loving thing God can do is to remove our physical health and disrupt our daily lives to provoke us to look beyond our daily routines and consider eternal matters. Sometimes God uses disease to alert people to the peril of remaining spiritually sick (2 Chron. 7:13–14). As terrifying as contracting a potentially fatal disease may be, it pales in comparison to the consequences of experiencing a spiritual death because our hearts were never softened to the Lord’s calling.
America is experiencing a health crisis, and a very real concern is whether enough doctors and nurses will remain healthy enough to provide care and offer a remedy. However, America’s illness is spiritual as much as it is physical. The question is, are there enough of God’s people who can remain confident and hopeful throughout this time of difficulty to provide care and offer a remedy to those in need of spiritual healing?
More important than preaching social distancing, proper hygiene, or even how to experience peace in times of crisis is for God’s people to preach repentance. This is the remedy to our spiritual ailment—and it just might be that once the spiritual illness is addressed, the physical illness will also be remedied. God instructs His people in 2 Chronicles 7:13–15, “When I … send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.”
God’s heart is to see people saved by humbling themselves and turning to Him in repentance. This is God’s remedy for an infected nation. Moreover, He has mercifully and patiently extended to us a little more time in the hope of seeing more people saved. Second Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Will we take advantage of this time, or will we squander it? I suppose only time will tell, but I am asking God to mobilize His people, to help each of us to be faithful, and to take every opportunity to love and minister to others in this time of national crisis. I am praying for perspective for God’s people to view this as a spiritual crisis as much as it is a health crisis. And I am praying for God’s continued mercy to the lost, pleading with God to convict their hearts to repentance so that they might experience what it is to have a relationship with Him.
Always remember that our God is in control. The situation we face has not caught Him off guard. We can trust God with all of our heart during this time of trial! Can He trust us?
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Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.