There are many things we simply have no control over in life. Global politics, natural disasters, the driving choices of the guy in lane next to us, the price of crude per barrel, or Cheerios per box—all of these are simply beyond our daily dominion. Needless to say: so is the COVID-19 pandemic which has effectively shut down much of our nation. Nevertheless, in the midst of a world which boasts numerous elements over which our personal influence is essentially nil, the Bible advances some areas over which Christians are to exercise some resolute, godly dominion. One of them is in the area of the use of our time.
The apostle Paul charges, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil (Eph. 5:15-16).” Here the apostle directs believers to pay close attention to the way they “walk” (i.e. live). Calvin unpacks this as a believer’s not being, “blind toward their own conduct…” but rather regulating “their life circumspectly as wise men, who have been educated by the Lord… (vol. XXI, 314).” Puritans sometimes described this growth in living for God, as a believer’s learning “in the school of Jesus Christ” (e.g. Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, 184). And here in Ephesians, part of the curriculum in Christ’s school, is a believer’s living wisely by, “making the most of [our] time” (v. 16). Put simply: God’s people are to live for God’s glory, in the time we have.
Yet, in the midst of the current pandemic, when many are confined to their homes, while schools and businesses are closed, and churches cannot physically meet, one might think the opportunity to make the most of our time for the Lord is pretty much lost. Further, one would think this sense of having missed it would be, perhaps, especially prominent in the mindset of city dwellers and suburbanites. As a pastor in greater Philadelphia, I can attest that the norm here is to dart through life at breakneck pace, burying one’s self and family under mountains of lessons, sports and activities, and willingly packing one’s schedule to overload. So you would think the current, social, stop sign prompted by COVID-19, would have given believers the sense that the chance to make the most of their time is essentially passed. However, many have found that the mandatory slowdown has been a great opportunity to recoup some neglected, kingdom shalom. I see this materializing in at least three ways in the church.
Means of Grace
Though our congregation is without their traditional smorgasbord of busyness, many are making the most of their new-found hours by rediscovering the joy of more focus on traditional means of grace: like Bible reading and prayer. Thomas Brooks said, “Remember it is not hasty reading, but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that makes them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It is not the bee’s touching the flower that gathers honey, but her abiding for a time upon the flowers that draws out the sweet. It is not he that reads most, but he that meditates most, that will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest, and strongest Christian (Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 21).” And now, more of our church’s members are tasting this themselves.
The same is true of prayer. The Bible tells us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) and “at all times” (Eph. 6:18). Gerald Bray poignantly notes, “To be a Christian without praying is like being married but never speaking to your spouse. It may be theoretically possible, but what kind of relationship would that be? It would certainly not be one that is growing and flourishing. To put it succinctly, the closeness of our union with Christ can be measured by the quality of our prayer life (God is Love, 623).” Yet, now with the required unrushed, more believers are experiencing these means of grace. They are tasting the benefits of thoughtful, rather than speedy, time with the Lord.
Second, in the absence of our typical running around, many are seeing more vividly God’s, great blessing of family. The reality is, the surrounding non-Christian society often conforms us to its ethos in ways that are more furtive than plain. So, when the world invites us to partake of clear debauchery, Christians quickly opt out. But when the spirit of the surrounding, non-Christian society is sheer busyness, Christians often join the rat race, without even realizing their “paradise lost.” It’s like the proverbial frog in the pot, blissfully ignorant that it’s being boiled to death in slowly heated water. So Christians, in their busyness, can be incrementally “cooked” with their non-Christian peers.
However, an advantage of this mandatory slowdown is that many believers have had a Copernican Moment. Namely, though they recognize that a world pandemic is not something to rejoice at (remember “…he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished,” Prov. 17:5); yet a hidden grace for many believers has been a redeeming of their family time. For many, many, slowed-down, Christian families are now eating dinner together every night, talking more, playing games, having devotions and loving it! Until this required halt, many had not realized that their family time had been frittered away by busyness. May we not lose this, for it’s a lesson on what’s important and on making the most of our time.
Loving One Another
Finally, many in the church are making the most of their time now by being more conscious about loving one another in the body of Christ. Paul says, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith (Gal. 6:10).” Yet, showing love and doing good for God’s people seems an item that would be quickly neglected at a time like this, especially since we cannot gather as a church. However, many church members have been even more conscious and proactive about expressing love for one another, especially while we’re away.
At our church, the elders and deacons have divided the church directory and have been calling the entire congregation every ten days. If needs are discovered, an action plan is created to meet each one. Further, these leaders as well as the congregation at large, have been more purposeful about being neighborly and gracious to one another: providing groceries, rides, meals, phone calls and even sharing private stashes of toilet paper (no joke). “…if you were a Christian,” wrote Wilhelmus A Brakel, “you would love those whom Christ loves and those who love Christ. For this is an unmistakable characteristic of the Christian… (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 4, 60)” Practicing love more purposefully, is a wonderful way in which more of God’s people are making the most of their time. This is some of the good fruit I’ve seen in the church, during this uneasy time.
There are many things we simply have no control over in life, COVID-19 among them. Yet, God’s Word indicates that believers are to exercise some godly dominion over the area of our time. My prayer is: when this viral threat is over may the church take these rediscovered, good lessons; and by our continued practice of them, make them good lessons learned.
Dean Landry is senior pastor at Indian Valley Faith Fellowship in Harleysville, PA.