As a pastor, I would like to describe some of what I’m experiencing since I have not been able to freely visit the brothers and sisters of our church. It has been a sad experience, though I have taken at least a brief time each week to speak with each member of the church and encourage them to persevere in the faith and not faint, to fight brutally each day against the sin that entangles us, and to have a mind that is prepared for affliction.
Preaching online is not the same as preaching in person to the flock that God has entrusted to me. I simply can’t see how they are reacting to the exposition of the Scriptures, whether they are singing or not, whether they are attentive to the Word or not, if anxiety has gripped their hearts to the point that they are unable to hear the message. This is something that really worries me, and in light of it, I bow my knees and I cling to the promise that He is building His church with the end result of presenting her without spot or wrinkle.
Sometimes I grow discouraged and I begin to wonder whether, when all of this is over, all of the members of the church will return to fellowship. That’s when I am comforted by the Word of God and trust, as I meditate on it, that not only will His people return, but He will continue to add many more to His church.
This week I was preaching about the Apostle Paul when he was in Corinth, and I was reminded that there came a point at which Paul himself became fearful. He says, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3). But the Lord then spoke to Paul, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you…” (Acts 18:9-10a). I have spent a lot of time meditating on those words. I have embraced with all my might the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ is actively participating in the growth of the church. It’s for that reason that I named the sermon on that passage: “God Does Not Abandon His Work.”
This week a number of brothers and sisters in the faith have gone to be with the Lord. A married couple died, falling victim to COVID-19. The son of a pastor also died because he could not receive medical attention due to the collapse of the health system. That young man’s father does not even yet know about his son’s passing, because he himself is in very critical condition.
In the midst of such pain among the family of faith, God has not abandoned His work. I recently read the commentator Matthew Henry say this: “When we return to our own houses from burying the bodies of our relations, we say, ‘We have left them behind;’ but, if their souls have gone to our heavenly Father’s house, we may say with more reason, ‘They have left us behind.’” (Matthew Henry Commentary, Genesis 50, verses 1-6) As the Psalmist writes in Psalm 116, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.”
I miss my local church. I miss meeting with the saints to worship the Lord together. I have learned to trust in the Lord in these circumstances, but I must admit that I still fall into weakness of faith at times. Blessed be the Lord that helps me and brings to my remembrance His promises. So, I am brought to the conclusion that I must speak and not be silent. The results belong to the Lord.
I have devoted more time to prayer this month—personal, in my family, and with others via Zoom. Each time we hear about someone we know who is sick with the virus, we pray for them as a family. I am praying with other pastors whose churches have a Compassion program. I have spent time praying with other pastors that are supported by HeartCry. And I am praying with brothers and sisters from the local church.
Beloved brothers and sisters, it is my prayer that the Lord sustain His work among us and among others, and that His Name would be made great among all men. If, in His mercy, we are lead to the valley of the shadow of death, we can say, “Blessed are You, O Lord!”