During This Present Distress: Embrace Christ's Care, Call, and Comfort
Are you waiting for normal to return?
In C. S. Lewis’s classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, we learn that in the land of Narnia it’s “always winter but never Christmas.”
Can you, like me, connect with that line in a whole new way, here in the middle of this pandemic and the resulting quarantine? Do you feel as though you are in round-the-clock adversity and anguish, with no end in sight of a happy celebration? Is your new normal starting to feel like Narnia—always winter but never Christmas?
In 1 Corinthians 7:26, the apostle Paul speaks of a “present distress” the Corinthian believers were going through. Scholars are not clear on what this “present distress” was specifically, but I know we can all relate in some way to the phrase today. Do you, like most around the world, feel like you are in a “present distress”—scared, uncertain, and without hope of joyful festivities with family and friends?
Like the NBA and NHL seasons that were suddenly placed on pause overnight back in mid-March, has this “present distress” placed your life on pause in a way? Are you waiting for normal to return so that you can go back to whatever it was you were doing before the coronavirus interrupted your life calling? If so, perhaps you should take a lesson from Paul.
Did you know that the apostle wrote many of his New Testament letters from a prison cell? Though God had called him to proclaim His message to the known world, the Romans arrested, arraigned, and jailed him—often. One might think that Paul would’ve become annoyed and felt inconvenienced by these imprisonments, viewing them as impediments and obstacles along the way of trying to spread the gospel throughout the land. But take a look at how he referred to himself in these letters written from a Roman prison:
“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles . . . (Ephesians 3:1)
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, . . . (Ephesians 4:1)
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, . . . (2 Timothy 1:8)
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, . . . (Philemon v. 1)”
Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called
How interesting that during his incarcerations Paul did not view himself as a prisoner of Rome, but rather as a prisoner of the Lord. As he informed Timothy, though "I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal . . . the word of God is not imprisoned" (2 Timothy 2:9). He reminded the Philippians that the "circumstances" related to his imprisonment "have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel" (Philippians 1:12). This is why, in principle, Paul wrote to the church at Rome: "we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). God is sovereign, which meant that Paul’s confinement could be interpreted as part of God's mysterious and good will.
Most likely you are not reading this from a prison cell, but chances are you kind of feel as though you are in a sort of prison. How many weeks have you been under your state’s stay-at-home order? When was the last time you took your kids to school, or went to the gym, or attended a sporting event, or even just had coffee with your friends?
Do you, like me, feel a bit “imprisoned” at your home? Perhaps we should take a note from Paul and refuse to call ourselves “prisoners of the quarantine” or “prisoners of the state,” but instead realize that, like Paul, we are still “prisoners of the Lord.” In fact, in Ephesians 4:1, Paul went on to say, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.”
All of God’s children have received a call into His kingdom adventure, whether we work in full-time Christian ministry or we are full-time Christians in a secular field. But a “present distress,” such as the pandemic, has distracted, discouraged, and derailed us. But are we living as though we are temporarily excused from our call? Or, like Paul, are we continuing to “walk in a manner worthy of our calling,” because we remain “prisoners of the Lord,” not “prisoners of the quarantine”?
God’s aims for us during this present crisis have not been put on pause like the NBA or NHL seasons. Even in quarantine God’s care, call, and comfort operate as He intends. Our conditions may be confining, but they do not countermand God’s presence and purpose. God does not hand out pink slips.
During this time, I have been pleasantly informed by countless followers of Christ who have been given a sense of God's call on their lives. Deep within them is a sense of destiny, which is why they have an inner longing for God to work in their lives, even still today. They believe they are part of His plan. The married will even quote Jesus and say, "We believe what the Lord said in Matthew 19:6, 'God has joined [us] together.' We have always felt God brought us together for a purpose."
Though pressured in unique and excessive ways by this pandemic, we can still act on that inner conviction that God has called us. As His beloved children, who are confined by a worldwide quarantine, we can still trust in Christ to demonstrate His care, comfort, and call in this "present distress." We can trust that He is taking what is bad and turning it into something good. Our imprisonment, so to speak, cannot deter God's purpose for each of us.
In Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Gandalf says to Bilbo Baggins, “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it's very difficult to find anyone." Bilbo replies, "I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!"
With today's pandemic, reports confirm that many have chosen to indulge in more worldly things. They are drinking more, eating more, and Netflixing more. For them, the answer to their confinement resides in consumption and entertainment. Added to this, reports have surfaced from the epicenter of the pandemic in China that claim divorces skyrocketed to such an extent there that the authorities could not handle all the applications that permitted them to legally end the marriage.
Having made these remarks, I believe you intend something better. You have said yes to this unexpected journey and have chosen to trust the Lord. Though it feels like winter without Christmas, you welcome the adventure, even if it means being late for dinner. I applaud you.
Many at Corinth faced and endured their "present distress" (1 Corinthians 7:26). Naturally, upon studying this passage, I asked, "Well, what was this present distress they endured, why did it happen to them, and how did they manage it?
Questions to Consider
- What is involved in your present distress?
- Why is this present distress coming to you, in your opinion?
- How can you best navigate this present distress?