Spurgeon famously said, ‘the sovereignty of God is the pillow on which the Christians lays his head’. That is without doubt right. If God is not totally sovereign, he is not sovereign over anything. If there is even one atom that can move apart from God’s sovereign will, we can’t be certain that isn’t the atom that derails his entire plans. Frankly, how the Arminian lads get up in the morning is beyond me, believing as they do not just that there might be a solitary atom somewhere that could derail God’s will, but that there are literally billions of souls that are utterly free without any impeding input from the Lord. Under those circumstances, it seems to me all but impossible for anything the Lord says to actually happen!
But, of course, I don’t believe in the sovereignty of God because I like it more than the alternative (though I have no problem admitting that I do), I believe it because that is what the Bible teaches. There is nothing that happens that is outside of God’s sovereign control. That is the ground on which we can be confident in the Lord himself; that his plans and promises will certainly come to pass. Nothing can derail them.
In the midst of a pandemic in which we can’t do the vast majority of what we would usually want to be doing, the sovereignty of God remains the pillow on which we lay our head. Whilst some may be tearing their hair out, the Lord remains sovereign. The pandemic didn’t take him by surprise and – more than just knowing about it – he ordained it. It’s probably worth remembering that next time we get our knickers in a twist about it. The Lord hasn’t merely foreseen this situation, he ordained it.
Of course, it always helps when we can get a glimpse of what the Lord is actually doing in these things. In a general sense, he hasn’t kept us guessing what his overarching purposes are. God tells us in his Word that his ultimate plan is to glorify himself by saving a people for himself and make them more like Christ. All things work to the end of glorifying God, serving his glorious purposes of saving a people for himself and glorifying them by making them increasingly like Jesus until they attain to his glorious likeness.
But in the middle of a pandemic in which we can’t meet together as God’s people and we can’t reach out with the gospel in all the normal ways we would, how on earth is the Lord using this for those ends? I think we’d be lying if we said we knew for sure. We can know for sure that the Lord is using this for his glorious purposes, but exactly how he is using them isn’t so clear. So, naturally, we are in the realm of educated (or, not so educated) guesswork here. But here are some of the ways the Lord might be using this time and why there is some evidence this is the case.
Reliance on him
Ultimately, the Lord wants his people to rely on him. But we so quickly revert to relying on ourselves and our methods. We may well have our church services down to a tee, we may have grown comfortable in our evangelism, we may be happy doing all the normal things that we usually do. Of course, there’s nothing wrong of that in itself. But there has always been the suggestion floating around that evangelicals get a bit comfortable with our methods and so begin to focus less on the Lord and remember that this is all his work.
But, of course, in a pandemic, all our methods suddenly get taken from us. We can’t meet as we usually would, we can’t run our English Classes, we couldn’t go into the town centre and engage people. Suddenly, all the usual ways of reaching out are not possible. So we have to find new ways of doing things which take us out of our comfort zones and back to a greater reliance on God.
Just to underline the fact that this is the Lord’s work, we have found visitors coming along to services, people engaging online with the gospel and know of folks who have come to faith in the middle of this pandemic. All without us doing a single one of our ‘usual things’. It is almost as if the Lord was underlining just how little he needs our methods and just how much we ultimately need him. He doesn’t need us at all to do his work and perhaps this pandemic is his way of helping us recognise that fact and focus our eyes back on him rather than our methods.
We often labour under the view that nobody is really interested in the gospel. We may even believe that everybody is anti-Christian and hostile to both Christ and us. I’m not sure those things are necessarily true in ordinary times. But however interested people may ordinarily be, we have notice a marked interest in spiritual things.
Maybe it is that folks are facing up to the reality of their own mortality. Maybe it is that, out of their own normal routines, they have more time on their hands to think about things. Whatever the specific reason, the Lord does seem to be using this time to cause people to think a little more about these things. That, in turn, opens the door for the gospel.
We rarely think of this as a good thing but the fact is there will be some refinement going on during this time. We are living in cloud cuckoo land if we think every one of the people associated with our church will definitely make it back when we’re allowed to meet together again. Many of us will be looking at markedly different churches when things get back to normal.
But the refinement of the church is within the Lord’s hands too. He has brought the pandemic about and he will keep those who are his throughout. We may well lose folks, though it begs the question whether they were ever really of us if they don’t return. But the Lord may well be using this time to refine his church.