Friday, March 19, 2021

How I Got through the COVID-19 Lockdown in Ministry: Healing & Self Care as Hope in Darkness

Go a year back in time with me to last March. Here I am, new pastor, about 9 months into my first assignment. Green, put-puting along in my happy cart, things are going good, dinner church is doing well, we’re relaunching morning services, momentum is building and boom: COVID-19.

I recall there was a certain feeling that permeated the entire city. And I’m sure you know what I mean. First, wondering, "Am I going to die? What level of danger am I in personally?" Feeling an “out of control” feeling. Scary. Later wondering, is my church going to survive? Will the grinch steal Christmas? Will kettles even exist? And on and on.

This brought me to a crisis moment: "Justin, is your faith really real?" Does it go to a real depth of trust? It’s easy to say sure, I have faith. But I’m really relying on my money, my stuff, my own abilities. Well, there was no way I could use my own abilities to beat this. I was powerless. How do you stop a virus? You can't!

I saw people in that powerless state lose their minds with fear over the invisible enemy, the deadly virus. The choice was before me, will I react in that way, or will I do it differently? Does my faith work in the messy world out there? Can I trust God with this? I mean really trust Him and let it go to Him? That was a wrestling choice, within me over months.

Being a single minister, it was hard, because I could only go from work to home. I’m telling you sometimes I could hear a “clang” as I closed that door to the house or closed the door to the corps, like I was going from prison to prison. The streets were empty. It was astonishing.

At first I knew how to solve this problem, Madden NFL 20, and binge watching Netflix. Yes, I’ll just ignore it until it goes away.

That didn’t work. I just grew more and more empty and dismal. I felt the sinking inside and it had no end, no bottom depth. Instead, I started to pray more and more. Talk to God. Who else could I talk to? It was me, my cats and an empty house.

Not only that I couldn’t meet with my church family, for bible study, or Sunday services. That hurt so much. It took something absolutely critical away from me. I desperately need that weekly fellowship. We all do. 

But I found certain ways to adjust my soul care. I found myself spending more time just chatting with my staff members. I visited with a house church, during that time, and found community that way. Of course we all made use of zoom calls, and teams meetings. And social media, to stay encouraged. We started doing live streams of our life group, discipleship group, and prayer meetings on our Facebook page. That helped.

But during that time I felt the fear, and the disappointment with how the world was going. COVID-19 was bringing about death. The lockdown, was bringing about it's own unique destructions as well. I felt angry with our leaders, and angry with the system, and angry at COVID-19. I felt hurt and disappointed. 

Yet I wanted to do something to declare hope. To say, Jesus is still on the throne! This virus can’t stop the Lord! So I put up my cross-shaped Christmas tree, on my front porch and kept it lit 24/7. Everyday, pulling in and out of the driveway, I always saw it there.

The enemy tried to knock it out a few times. During a severe storm half of the lights burned out. So I added a set to fill the blank spots. Then a tree fell on my house, and cut the power line running to my house, and somehow that shorted out the whole tree again! What in the world!? But I replaced it again, restrung it. Then several bulbs went out, yet again! So I added another set.

And that became symbolic for my own struggle to cling to hope, to cling to Jesus during the isolation of the outbreak. I could say I prayed more, studied more, engaged with people on social media more, which is all true, but in the end it was about clinging to hope. I said to myself, "Though I don’t see an end, I know Christ is greater than this temporary pandemic." 

It forced me to become more mature as a minister. And I have and I did. There is hope. It continues onward. Christ is still on the throne. And we're all stronger for it.

I truly believe this last year and a half of struggle and difficulty is due to the fact that the church in America has been double-minded and living in sin and lukewarmness. This whole situation was a wake-up call for all of us. God doesn't cause it, our enemy does, but God uses it to mold us. He is using these hard times to mold and shape us into a pure and holy bride, ready for the great end times harvest and the return of Jesus Christ to the Earth. Let's be ready, and walk through the refiner's fire, because billions of souls still need the light of Christ in these last days! Amen!