Over the next few weeks, most of us will be entering some type of social distancing or self-isolation. This is obviously due to the COVID-19 crisis, but at various points in everyone’s life, God brings about forced sabbaticals from the ho-hum everyday we’ve grown to know and love. These times can bring about the best and worst in all of us. As Christians, we’re not immune to some of the unhealthy responses that often accompany forced solitude. We can quickly move from solitude to isolation and withdraw into a little cocoon where we feel safe. But when that safe place diverts our attention away from where God would have us to invest our time, then it’s time to recalibrate. I’ve felt that unhealthy pull in my heart, and I’ve started to see how it has a reverberating effect through other aspects of my life. At times like this, we need to carefully attend to four different areas of our lives if we are going to faithfully witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ: our own soul, our family, our church, and our neighbors. Think of these areas like concentric circles. You start with your own soul and work your way outward. There is a natural overflow from one level to the next. I want to give a few reminders and strategies within each of these areas so that when our normal routines are disrupted, we might use this time to advance the work of God in the souls of his people.
Caring for Your Own Soul
Let’s assume like many people, you’re now working from home or stuck inside. When you’re out of your normal routine, one of the first things that can slip is your own time in the Word and prayer. If you haven’t established a daily time and routine of taking in the Word of God and then pouring out your heart to him through prayer, then now is the time. You need to plan the what, where, and when of your daily time with God. Read a Psalm or Proverb each day. Choose a book you’re not familiar with and read three chapters of it in the morning. Also, plan when and where you’re going to read. Personally, I think reading first thing in the morning is the best way to realign your heart and prepare for the day ahead. We’ve got leaky spiritual brains. Even though we know the right stuff, we have a way of “unknowing” throughout the rest of the day. For every article or headline you read about this virus, you need at least three truths about God to set it all in proper context.
Don’t neglect prayer. Your burdens and cares are likely growing. That means your impulse to cast these burdens on the Lord, must also grow. Anxiety is pushed out of our hearts when we call out to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6). Prayer acts as a magnet that forces anxiety out and draws in the peace of God. If you struggle with praying, go to the Psalms, the book of inspired prayers. Pray the words of the Psalmist as your words. If you’re going to make it through these hard days, you must attend to your own soul. We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).
Caring for Your Family
These days at home ought to be precious times of fellowship with our family. But if we’re not careful, these “precious moments” can become a warzone of anger, sarcasm, discouragement, and loneliness. Be intentional about caring for the souls of those under your roof. Dads, this is especially true for you. God has given you the responsibility to shepherd the your family. But where God gives responsibility, he gives grace to accomplish it. Use these days to establish a pattern of family worship that can last far after this crisis is over. Family worship doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, if it is, you’re doing it wrong. Think about incorporating three different things into your time of family worship: prayer, singing, the Word.
Pray together. Ask your kids and your wife how you can pray for them. Tell them how to pray for you. Get a church directory or download the church directory app. Pray for one church family every day as a family. Pray for your neighbors with your kids. Especially with little ones, the shorter the prayer, the better. Don’t draw it out. Show them how simple it is to pour out your heart to God.
Sing together. We’re so blessed with access to solid, Christian music. Make a Spotify playlist of singable and enjoyable songs for your kids to learn. Then choose a song or two to sing together once a day. Whether it’s “Jesus Loves Me” or “Holy, Holy, Holy”, your kids (and you) will appreciate a time to worship the Lord together like this.
Read the Word together. For younger kids, it might serve your family well to choose a Bible story book or other children’s book. There are plenty of good ones available. I highly recommend the It’s All About Jesus Bible Storybook or The Gospel Story Bible. If your kids are older read a Psalm or Proverb each day or just read a chapter a day in the Bible (you’ll get through the whole Bible in just over 3 years). Whatever you do, help your home be saturated in the Scriptures. You can do all three of these things in 5-10 minutes. While it is an investment of time, you will never regret a second of caring for the souls of your family in these simple ways.
Caring for Your Church
Jesus said that all men will know that we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). Days where you are physically separated from your church ought to be hard days. If you don’t feel the loss of physical presence of your church, then there is something wrong. But if you do feel that loss, you might still feel a little lost on what to do about it. I think there are a few simple, but meaningful steps you can take to care for your church, when physical proximity isn’t an option.
Pray for your church. I’ve already mentioned doing this as a family by praying through the church directory. Mark Dever has said that the second most important book you own apart from the Bible is your church directory. You should be praying for your fellow members and their children by name. Their well-being is your well-being. Also, ask them how to pray for them. This brings a double blessing of you actually praying and their knowledge of your concern for them.
Stay connected to your church. Whether through phone call, text, or video chat find a way to stay in contact with others. Maybe try something as simple as having a short family video chat with another church member/family every night. Have your kids sing a song to them or say a short prayer for them over the phone. Use every opportunity you can to stay engaged. We all need each other all the time, but when we’re forced to be apart, we need extra vigilance to stay updated with the spiritual lives of those within our church.
Caring for Your Neighbor/Community
This current pandemic isn’t the first time that God’s people have faced the question of caring for their neighbors during a pandemic. The church of the fourth century faced a similar situation. During an epidemic that was sweeping through the Roman Empire, Christians were not cowering in fear like the rest of society, they were sharing and showing the love of Christ with each other and the world around them. Eusebius, a fourth century church historian, said, “[The Christians’] deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the god of the Christians.” Church, may this be said of us. This won’t happen by accident. We need to be thoughtful and intentional if we’re going to use this difficulty to bring the gospel to our neighbors.
Consider the most vulnerable in your neighborhood. We all have elderly people with little access to family or loved ones in our community. Reach out to them and ask how you can help. You’re probably closer to underprivileged people than you might think. Offer to bring or even buy them groceries. Offer to cook a meal and bring it over. You can join or start your neighborhood Facebook or Nextdoor page and offer to make a grocery run or locate urgent supplies for those in need. Since in many places it’s still safe to be outside, consider taking a weekly or daily prayer walk around your block and pray for each home.
You certainly need to be wise in these endeavors, as part of loving your neighbor is making sure not to spread any sickness, but we shouldn’t let fear of a virus keep us from taking meaningful steps in sharing the love and gospel of Jesus with those who need it. Whatever you decide to do, don’t waste this opportunity by selfishly considering your needs alone. This is an opportunity to put the needs of others before our own, so that we can model the sacrificial love of Christ.
Bottom line, if you don’t plan to use this time for the glory of God and the good of other people, you’ll likely default to binging Netflix or frantically checking the latest coronavirus news. It’s good to stay informed. It’s fine to relax. Doritos and gummy bears are good. But if you have a steady diet of Doritos and gummy bears for two weeks, you’re going to feel physically sick. If you spend this time of self-isolation by consuming junk and vegging on the couch, your own soul and the souls of others will suffer. I don’t know all the reasons why God has brought this virus into our lives. But I do know that one of them is so that you can intentionally reach in and reach out in caring for the souls of all those around you. Don’t waste this time. Pray. Make a plan. Care for your soul. Do the work of the ministry. Then top it all off by enjoying your Doritos and gummy bears to the glory of God.