It’s been a year like no other! The Great British public has been learning a new language and has entered into an entirely different pattern for life!
As pastors and Christian leaders, we have had to radically re-think church and how to pastor our congregations effectively.
Of course, we have moved far away from our own understanding and embraced the Lord at deeper level in the process. There have been no ‘quick fixes’ or simple biblical explanations to offer either!
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”Proverbs 3:5-6
As we transition into 2021, we must consider this year in a scriptural context, seeking to grasp God’s purpose and plan as we relate and minister to the wonderful saints we have responsibility for.
I believe we have entered into the season when the Lord Jesus will return to the Earth. This is not based on a prophetic ‘hunch’ or thousands of hours of study – that conclusion is based on ‘signs’ and the remainder of outstanding biblical prophecies which can be fulfilled relatively quickly now. We cannot estimate how long this season will last, but I am convinced we have entered in.
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”Isaiah 60:1-3
Isaiah highlights conditions on the earth around the time of the Lord’s return: significantly, darkness covering the world and thick darkness over the people, speaking to us of the ascent of secular humanism, religious terrorism and now Covid-19! We can take great hope that the passage also highlights God’s glory breaking out across the nations!
This is a ‘season of death’, not only of people but of things we consider precious in our nation.
This time of suffering in both the church and wider society is acting as a preamble to a ‘wake up’ call. We are in a time where God seems to be bombarding the earth with crisis, and this will continue post-pandemic as it did pre-pandemic! The UK (and all nations) are on a pathway leading to divine confrontation which is, thankfully, merciful and redemptive in nature.
We can rest in the truth that God is sovereign over the pandemic. Sadly, many prophetic utterances regarding the duration of Covid-19 from significant leaders have proven to be quite inaccurate! In addition to this, a fresh apocalyptic fever permeates the church, asking questions regarding the return of Jesus.
“… But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs …
“… For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.“Matthew 24:8;44
There is no doubt to me that this crisis, alongside a wide range of issues such as Brexit, political upheavals and so on, are the “birth pangs” Jesus spoke about, and we do need to be ready. In practical terms, that means preparation for what the Lord is about to do, both in the UK and across the international community.
We are moving towards another ‘awakening’ – and there is plentiful evidence of that in the Global South (South America, Africa, South East Asia) – but emerging leaders of that awakening have yet to be identified in the UK. We can be encouraged that many have influenced the journey thus far and remain highly influential. Prayer is the seed bed of the next awakening and local prayer initiatives are in evidence across the nation. The Lord is presently reforming the institutional model of church to move outwards and expand the ministry of Jesus within. This will include all Ephesians 4:11 ascension gifts (including apostle, prophet and evangelist) to work in conjunction with the existing pastor–teacher model. This context is critical for the training and maturing of the saints, that Christ be formed accurately in believers.
As we enter 2021, the vaccines will continue to be rolled out across the nation, and hopefully masks and social distancing will diminish. A sense of hope will be palpable across our congregations as life and church starts to get back to some semblance of normality. However, we cannot underestimate the impact of 2020 as considerable ‘fall out’ enters British life: another season of suffering will follow!
But 2020 has eroded for many their sense of belonging, and lamenting the emotional fall-out will be necessary for them. Of course, they are not alone, and sharing in the groaning of the Spirit is part of a biblical process. As Paul put it, “… the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)
Fundamentally, we are seeking the presence of the Lord Jesus and believing for the breath of the Holy Spirit to be active, that we may enter into the hope of the gospel afresh – not returning to the old, but moving forward in this new hybrid model of church; online and in person, serving our congregations and our communities.
That familiar declaration is layered and spiritually impacting every time it is stated! It is too soon to form any conclusions about the pandemic, a future awakening in the nation and the impact of 2020 in the church. We have the eternal reassurance from the Lord, that he is transcendent and immanent. We do not deny the impact and upheaval of the last year but we have the guarantee that, as the people of God, we will be directed along grace pathways into our future. What a privilege to export that into our fellowships and leadership responsibilities!
Church history will record our lives and ministries as servants of Jesus who served faithfully during the global pandemic. Individually, we should seek anonymity and pray we cast a ‘short shadow’ within our own contexts, but corporately we should carry an expectation that the glory of the Lord will surround all our endeavours. May that glory cast a ‘long shadow’ of the goodness of God in the annals of the works of the Holy Spirit in our crisis-battered nation.