Peace in a Restless Time

Samuel Rindlisbacher

We’re living in a challenging, frightening, oppressive, and even depressing time. How long will the coronavirus epidemic and all its consequences continue? Christians aren’t being spared. An invitation to turn our attention to Jesus, the beginner and perfecter of the faith.

A surrounded city. The Bible tells us of the prophet Elisha, who was surrounded by an army in Dothan, a small town in the heart of Israel (2 Kings 6:14-17). The prophet and his servant had set up their domicile about 15 km (9 miles) north of Samaria, in the foothills of the Samaritan mountains and on the southern edge of the Jezreel Plain. One morning when the servant woke up, he discovered “horses and chariots and a great army… [had] surrounded the city” (v. 14). He was unable to sleep due to the approaching disaster: “When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out…” (v. 15a). The bad news robbed him of sleep. He was afraid of the future. He was fearful of the future. And when he arose, he found that his worst fears had arrived. The city was surrounded, and an entire army had turned its weapons against it. There was no possibility of escape to be seen, nor were emergency supplies available. So, the servant’s reaction was all too understandable: “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” (v. 15b). The situation appeared futile, desperate, hopeless.

This young man was probably one of Elisha’s students (cf. 2 Kgs 6:1-2). We don’t know which “semester” he was in, or how long he had been in the faith. His trust in God didn’t seem to be that strong yet. But in his distress, he did just the right thing: He went to Elisha. And the prophet didn’t rebuke him. He didn’t punish him for his unbelief, but pointed to the living, almighty God by saying to him, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v. 16). What a gift it is when people point us to God and call to our attention that He is still in control.

A dear fellow believer told me in a phone conversation that the most surprising thing about the current situation is that nobody is praying. No one calls for prayer anymore, whether in politics or even in churches. Elisha prayed; he relied on God’s capabilities and sought refuge in the Almighty. He knew where his help came from. And so he folded his hands, turned his gaze toward heaven, and asked on behalf of his servant, “‘O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see’. So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kgs 6:17). We can rely on God’s capabilities too. We’re not at the mercy of fate. No, we’re in God’s hands. He is here and is surrounding us on all sides, as the fiery horses and chariots did for Elisha and his servant.

Going too far. In the Old Testament, we’re told the eerie story of a plague that raged in Israel: “So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell” (1 Chr 21:14). What a terrible event! A plague in the country, which thousands fell victim to. Today we know that plague is caused by bacteria. Rodents are often infected and transmit it to humans. And now we have a virus that is currently keeping the whole world in suspense. But the biblical context shows us another cause, indeed the real one: pride and arrogance—sin!

The cause was King David crossing the line. He had exceeded God’s command and had the able-bodied men counted: “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, ‘Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number’” (1 Chr 21:1-2).

This kind of scrutiny was contrary to God’s intention, and served solely to gratify David. It was a flaunting of military power, no different from patting yourself on the back. It was pride and arrogance. With his actions, David was saying, “I’m no longer dependent on God’s help. I’m strong enough myself. I don’t need God anymore.”

Haven’t we done this too? We’ve dismissed God, shown Him the door. We’ve crossed lines. We’ve overridden God’s institution of marriage, the relationship between a man and a woman. We invented a third gender. We determine when a life is worth living. And we believe that we can determine when a life is over, that we should be allowed to end it ourselves. In a judgment on February 26, 2020, the German Federal Constitutional Court established that assisted suicide is permissible in certain circumstances (as is already the case in the Benelux countries, Switzerland, Canada, and some states in the United States).

David had crossed a line. But aren’t we doing this on a much larger scale? David’s transgression had tragic consequences: “So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell” (1 Chr 21:14).

David did the only right thing in distress from this horrific event. He bent his knee. He humbled himself before God and began to pray: “And David said to God, ‘I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly’” (1 Chr 21:8). David acknowledged his guilt, sin, and offense. And when he bowed, he became even more clearly aware of the truly great danger he was in: “And David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces” (v. 16).

I wish that we would all be shaken. Shaken, because we’re dealing with a holy God, a God for whom sin remains sin. The Bible says of this God, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong…” (Hab 1:13). David was suddenly conscious of this again, so he sings in one of his songs: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Ps 32:1-2).

It appears that God wants to speak with us; He wants us to become silent, to think and to reassess our life’s priorities. David became silent. He allowed God to speak to him, and did the following: “And David built there an altar to the LORD and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings…” (1 Chr 21:26).

On a phone call, I was asked, “Why isn’t anybody calling for repentance? Why are so many churches silent?” Public life is mostly at a standstill now. We have time. Time for thinking about God. What if there is an eternity after all? What if what the Bible says is true? “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’ For a thousand years in your sight are…like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers…The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is toil and trouble; they are soon gone and we fly away…So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (from Ps 90).

Terrible reports make us shudder. So many were dying in Italy that they could not all be buried. The virus was rampant. In the Bergamo region, a newspaper had eleven pages of obituaries. Terrible horror reminds us of our finite nature. We’re fighting this virus with every available means. This is a good and right thing. But, why aren’t we calling on God as David did? “And David built there an altar to the LORD and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the LORD, and the LORD answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. Then the LORD commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath” (1 Chr 21:26-27).

May we use this time. Not just to adopt precautionary measures to protect ourselves and others, but also to be silent before God. Maybe we need to open the Bible anew (or even for the first time) and ask what God has to say to us. Let’s take the time to fold our hands, to bow in prayer. Perhaps also to repair things, to reconcile with others, to apologize, to forgive, and to come to terms with God and man. And, above all, we should implore God to put an end to this plague.

The calm in the storm. It’s the story of a small ship on the stormy Sea of Galilee: “And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” (Matt 8:24-27).

Israel’s Sea of Galilee is 212 meters (695 feet) below sea level. It is the deepest freshwater lake in the world. The Hermon Mountains, whose peaks reach up to 2,814 meters (9,230 feet), rise to the north. The steeply sloping Golan borders it directly to the east. Because of this special position, autumn winds can quickly stir up the lake and make it difficult for boats to reach the shore. When I was with a tour group, I saw the weather completely change within a half hour: from the most beautiful sunshine to the biggest storm. It was impossible to see through the swirling sand and dust.

Today, our world is like a rough sea. The weather has completely changed within a very short time. This virus has spread rapidly across the world. Fear is captivating us, paralyzing and dominating us. Concern about jobs and livelihoods is increasing. Questions are arising. Will I be able to pay my bills? Fear is visible in people’s eyes. And in the middle of everything is the Church of Jesus. Let’s not deceive ourselves: we Christians are also on this troubled sea. We Christians can be afraid too. We can get scared. We Christians are also affected by the virus; some have already fallen ill and died from it! And yet, in all of this, we Christians are able to know about the one resting place.

The Bible tells us, “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Heb 4:9). The Bible is speaking here of a calm that is independent of place, time, and circumstance. It is the rest that we can find in Jesus Christ. It comes from His invitation: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). This rest can also become a reality in your life.

The disciples back on the Sea of Galilee were also surprised by the storm. The waves covered the boat. They could have capsized and perished. But then, as now: we can rely on Jesus’ presence. Yes, the disciples were afraid. They feared for their lives. They were completely at a loss, and yet, in their distress they knew: Jesus is here! We can also know today: Jesus is here! He calls us: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). And so, we can consciously rely on Him; every hour, we can consciously trust in Him; to sum it up, we can consciously live with Him. We can always rely on the fact that Jesus is there. He doesn’t leave. He promised to be with you. He who carries the entire universe is also carrying you personally. If He cares about the sparrow on the rooftop, why not you too?

Jesus is telling you personally, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt 6:25-26). And Paul writes elsewhere, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7). You can rest in the assurances of Jesus, be still in His promises and know: God stands by His Word.

Looking to Jesus in faith. Marvel at God’s love; He did everything for you. Marvel at His care; He will give you what you need. Marvel at His mercy. Marvel at His consolation, His daily care. Celebrate the beauty of nature in the blossoming of flowers. Thank God for the variety of colors, for the wonderful smells; yes, for the different perfumes that our God spreads in abundance. Praise Him for the smell of freshly cut grass, plowed earth, and the fresh rain that falls on the earth.

And, if you can, begin to sing. Everything is calm at the moment. Life is mostly standing still; traffic has slowed, and many planes are grounded. Suddenly, you can hear them again—the birds praising God. The sparrows making noise, the blackbird singing its song, and the cooing pigeons. They all join together in praise of God. Creation praises the Creator: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy” (Ps 19:1-5).

Shouldn’t we join in praising God, even if our living conditions aren’t good? As the psalmist says in many places, “Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty” (Ps 104:1). When you shouldn’t be able to sing, sing out! It does us good to hear songs that strengthen our faith. In one song it says, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation! O my soul, praise him, for he is your health and salvation!” Sometimes, but especially in situations like these, we listen to hymns and spiritual songs at home, loudly, full of hope and comfort, full of confidence and faith.

May I encourage you to return to the Bible and use the time to read God’s Word. We want to fall silent before Him, our Creator, and ask Him what His will is. Now that public life has mostly come to a standstill—schools, movie theaters, and many shops are closed; events have been prohibited; people who are sick or elderly must remain home—now we should have the time. It seems to me that God is giving us time to reflect and calm down. Let’s seek closeness with Him and read the Bible, His Word. David says in Psalm 119, a unique exultation in God’s Word, “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways” (v. 15). In dejection, “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” (v. 25). In grief, “My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!” (v. 28). And in danger, “I cling to your testimonies, O LORD; let me not be put to shame!” (v. 31). Let’s take up the Bible again and look for the consolation, confidence, encouragement, hope, strengthening—and yes, peace and joy—that we need.

We can come to God in prayer. We can pour out our hearts before Him and tell Him what’s troubling us. He invites us to tell Him our fears, unburden ourselves of our needs, and share our concerns with Him. Especially in the current situation, God calls us to “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us” (Ps 62:8). We can pray that the spread of the virus will be contained, that the disease will come to an end. That people will once again yearn for God, and concede that He is right.

Jesus is coming again! The dark clouds have been steadily increasing since the turn of the millennium. Consider the 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001, the devastating tsunami in 2004, the international banking crisis in 2008, the devastating forest fires in early 2020, and now this terrible global viral infection. If you only consider all of these things, you could crumple up from fear! Corrie ten Boom aptly said, “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. But if you look at God, you’ll be at rest.”

Let’s set our gaze on Him, on Jesus Christ, once again. He’ll be back soon. Let’s hold tight to the singular hope that He will come, that He has everything under control, and that the reins won’t slip from His hands. Let’s hold onto what we read: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess 4:16-18). That can and should be our consolation: the call, “Jesus is coming again!”

And, because we Christians have this hope, we can also encourage others to put their hope in Jesus Christ. We were amazed to see the frightening speed with which human security bursts, solid things crumble, markets collapse, hopes fade, and medical efforts fizzle out. It’s precisely in this place that we as Christians encourage others to put their hope in Jesus Christ. We expect our help to come from Him. We want to offer divine comfort to people, the promise of the One who created heaven and earth. That He is with us, never leaves us, and desires to be of help to those who seek Him.

Midnight Call - 07/2020

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