Most of us are in an unusual situation in this partial lockdown or “circuit-breaker”. We feel isolated in our homes; some even feel imprisoned and suffocated. As the 17th-century French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal once noted, “The only cause of man’s unhappiness is that he cannot be quietly in his room.”
What do we do when we are stuck at home all the time? Many must work from home; when the initial novelty wears off, they start to miss the experience of actually going to work, meeting office colleagues, and coming home to rest. The stay-at-home arrangement tends to blur the line between work and family, and challenges those who have difficulties with self-discipline.
Being with our family members means we have plenty of time to interact with them. For some, this may be a daunting experience. What do we talk about? If we are not used to such family discussions, we may fear running out of topics and the silence that may follow.
Others are finding ways to keep themselves occupied, through entertainment and passing on information and news (both factual and fake) to friends. Some have become full-time broadcasters of news and entertainment. To help people pass their time, there are now more shows available, including free events that would usually charge for admission. Jokes are passed around. Somehow, people are trying to spend the days keeping themselves amused.
But it is possible, to borrow the title of author Neil Postman’s book, for us to be guilty of “amusing ourselves to death”. We may be wasting an opportunity for us to grow deeper towards God and to reach more widely with His love.
What are some spiritual opportunities provided by the partial lockdown?
First, we can take the time we have been given to draw closer to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Amid a tiring time of ministry, Jesus invited His disciples by saying, “Let’s go to a place where we can be alone and get some rest” (Mark 6:31 CEV). What a wonderful opportunity the Lord gave His disciples to have quality time with Him, to get away from the crowd, the noise, and the voices, and to be able to give attention to His voice.
The normal day of a busy Christian is filled with distractions and preoccupations. The heart becomes cluttered, the mind is confused, the body is exhausted, and the soul is shrivelled. Jesus knows our needs: we need isolation and refreshment so that our souls can be watered well and our hearts fed with His voice and Word. Then we would give attention to the true condition of our interior life.
Is it possible that the partial lockdown, in curtailing our normal pursuits and activities, is giving us an opportunity to pursue Christ? Can our overload of sensory and social stimulation cease so that we may receive a spiritual downpour of blessings from heaven as we give greater attention to the Lord?
In sending His disciples to proclaim and demonstrate the power of the gospel of Christ, the Lord instructed them: “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs” (Matthew 10:27). The two phrases are connected here. Who is it who whispers into our ears? The answer is in the first phrase: “What I tell you”. It is Jesus who speaks to us in the dark and whispers into our ears.
This idea refers to the practice of rabbis and religious teachers who had personal interpreters. They would whisper into their interpreters’ ears words in Hebrew. The interpreters would then speak out loudly what they had heard, in languages that the people would understand.
Doesn’t this present pandemic and the anxiety and isolation we feel seem like a period of darkness? Consider the plague of darkness experienced in Egypt, when “no one could see anyone else or move about for three days” (Exodus 10:23). We pray that light will dawn and the darkness will end.
But even in this darkness, and especially in this dreary period, the Lord speaks to us clearly. He whispers into our ears. In our normally busy and hurried lives, our hearts and minds are too noisy and distracted to hear the “gentle whisper” of God (1 Kings 19:12). During the lockdown, our ears can be sharpened and tuned to hear His voice.
What may the Lord be whispering to us? Is He pointing to things that are not right in our lives, important areas that have been neglected, sins that must be renounced? Or is He reminding us of His truths and promises and His will for us?
Whatever He whispers into our ears, we can proclaim it when the darkness ends and we find ourselves in rooftop situations before an audience. Perhaps the Lord is preparing the heart of the church and giving it a message that must be proclaimed in the coming days.
Second, we must keep our good spiritual disciplines and habits and be cautious of learning bad habits.
The prophet Daniel faced a dilemma when King Darius, deceived by Daniel’s enemies, issued a decree that for 30 days, no one was allowed to pray to anyone other than the king (Daniel 6). Daniel could have given excuses for not maintaining his prayer habits—after all, it was only for 30 days. But he carried on praying to God three times a day.
In his book, Longing for God, author and theologian Richard Foster points to research that 30 days are needed to change or establish new habits. If you want to develop a new habit, you will have to do it for at least 30 days. If you want to replace a habit with something else, you need to repeat it for a minimum of 30 days.
If this is true, imagine what will happen if someone stops praying regularly. He would develop a new habit of prayerlessness! How subtle Satan can be in disrupting our spiritual disciplines and destroying our spiritual life.
Today, all our church services are delivered online and members tune in at home. This is the best we can do to maintain the habit of gathering as the Body of Christ even though we are physically isolated. But what would happen when we can return to our sanctuaries? Will some get so used to viewing church services and hearing sermons in the comfort of their homes that they stop attending their churches?
The writer of Hebrews urged his readers: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:24–25). Some Christians in those times had developed the habit of giving up the discipline of meeting in church; may that not happen to us in the post-pandemic period.
It is also possible that even as we view online services today, we may develop some bad habits, such as dressing sloppily or treating the holy moment of worshipping God and hearing His Word being preached so lightly that we do these things while nibbling on food or lying down comfortably on couches. Such attitudes will become bad habits that can be carried into the sanctuaries when they re-open.
Positively, the lockdown provides us with a great opportunity to exercise our spiritual muscles by practising good spiritual disciplines. We should keep a regular quiet time that connects us with the Lord deeply. We can spend unhurried time reading and meditating on the Bible, seeking to hear God’s voice whispering to us.
We can also learn to pray deeply, experiencing the presence of the Lord and engaging in a holy conversation with Him. We can pray for others we know and of whom we read in the news, and make it a habit of bringing individuals and groups into the light of our gracious and righteous Lord.
These may become new habits that will sustain us till the end of our lives; the lockdown is an opportunity to do just this.
Third, we can use the lockdown to reach out.
While there are heavy restrictions limiting social interaction, we can still reach out to people in need. You may know people who have been infected with Covid-19; people struggling in this crisis; people who have lost jobs or whose businesses and livelihoods are threatened; single parents who are unable to cope with their responsibilities; elderly folks who are alone and isolated, unable to go out or use technical gadgets; or people who have chronic or terminal illnesses and who are struggling with their treatment.
How about contacting such people by phone? You can prayerfully send them encouraging messages—not just forwarding WhatsApp messages that go around, but personal messages that are prayerfully written.
Some churches are awakening to the needs of their neighbours. They have become more aware of the homeless, the migrant workers, the poor and marginalised, and many others. They are finding wonderful ways to open their churches to the homeless, sending food to the poor, or welcoming troubled people to call hotlines manned by volunteers. And individual Christians are volunteering to help in caring for patients and those seriously affected by the pandemic.
These are opportunities for us to reach out with the truth and love of Christ. As we do so, they can also become long-lasting habits that will deepen our lives and bring glory to God.
If the Lord has allowed the pandemic and the lockdown, we must take heart that He is still in control. His purposes have not changed, and His presence and promises remain fresh each day. The lockdown provides us with a moment in our lives to slow down and hear God more clearly, take root more deeply in His Word, and make real connections with individuals near and far.
Let us not waste the lockdown.