No matter who we are; a doctor, a nurse, a cleaner, a parent, a worker or retiree, a multi billionaire or someone seeking to keep a roof over their head and to feed their family, the head of state, a leader of government or a leader of faith communities; we all need encouragement and support, especially in times of crisis. It sustains us in life and helps us focus on others.
Week 9 of our changed lives in the pandemic in the UK, has seen a move to live our lives under less restrictions whilst trying to avoid spreading and contracting the Covid-19 virus. It is more difficult and complicated to come out of lockdown, mitigating risks to lives, than it was to suddenly go into lockdown. We all need encouragement to live in lockdown and to move out of lockdown and to see ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ to sustain our lives.
This week is ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ encouraging us to be aware and take responsibility for our own mental health, to avoid slipping into the darkness of depression and anxiety which seeks to destroy, to be aware of what is happening to us and to talk about it to those we trust; to know the hand of encouragement which sustains us. The theme in Mental Health Awareness Week has been kindness. Kindness to one another gives a purpose to our lives, a helping hand of support, it encourages others and of course helps our own well being.
Our God, of course, was well ahead of us in giving us guidelines in scripture to live a happy and sustained life. The Father’s precious son, Jesus, was sent to show us the immense love, delight and encouragement that God has for us and to show us how to live a life intended by God for each of us and with each other. Jesus was asked (Matthew 22:36-40)
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, ” ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Jesus didn’t put these statements in terms of options or choices, but actually commands to enable us to live a full life, no matter the stresses and strains and joys that we encounter. How we live this life of course needs a lot of unpacking and help from Jesus Christ. Advice is freely available in the Bible, the Book of Life.
I recall reading of the time when Prime Minister Churchill, in 1941, travelled from Britain to meet with President Roosevelt in the USA, when Japan entered World War II and the USA found itself entering the War with Britain and its allies.
Britain of course had, since 1939, stood alone, and then with her allies, against Hitler’s Nazi onslaught. In these very dark times, Churchill writes in his book ‘The Second World War’.
“He (Roosevelt) and I went to church together on Christmas Day, and I found peace in the simple service…Certainly there was much to fortify the faith of all who believe in the moral governance of the universe”.
Churchill, with all his enormous responsibilities in the darkness of War, when all was mounted against the nation, found peace and sustenance in Christ in Church.
I often wonder if our nation’s well being, that has been built on faith in Christ and its outworking, is directly related to our willing engagement with our God of love and his Church. Is the decline in our engagement with a living Jesus Christ and his Church related to the decline in our mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing? You may recognise this passage from Mark 4:35-41.
“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them (his disciples), “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Here we have professional fishermen, who knew the Sea of Galilee so well, taking Jesus, probably trained as a carpenter by Joseph, across the sea to the other side. Here they had command of their own boats, they were masters of sailing and fishing on this sea. So Jesus went to sleep. Yet they found themselves in a crisis, they lost control in the storm, they did not know if they would survive or not, they were frightened and panicked, even though they had the son of God with them! No wonder they were accused of having no faith. Jesus might be journeying with them, but he was asleep, so they panicked. Jesus wants to journey with us in our crisis, but we have to believe in him, want him to be with us and not panic when, in our view, we see no action from God. After all isn’t the Church closed? Perhaps we may need to talk to Jesus, even cry out to him, perhaps we need to believe in who he is and pray.
Listen to these words written by Brian Doerksen.
“Faithful one, so unchanging
Ageless one, you’re my rock of peace
Lord of all I depend on you
I call out to you, again and again
I call out to you, again and again
You are my rock in times of trouble
You lift me up when I fall down
All through the storm
Your love is, the anchor
My hope is in You alone”
We are encouraged and sustained in our life by our faith in Jesus Christ, not by our circumstances. It is in our circumstances that Jesus Christ journeys with us to bring about his kingdom.
This week the Church has celebrated the ascension of Jesus after his resurrection to be at the right hand of God his Father, in heaven. (Acts 1:6-11).
“So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Jesus left his disciples again. The first time was at his crucifixion and now, after his amazing resurrection, he is ascending into heaven. I am not sure how they would have felt? Devastated, joyful, trusting, doubtful, alone? We too may have all these emotions. Luke’s account in his Gospel tells us that they were joyful and worshipped Jesus and continually blessed God. Yet their crisis hadn’t changed, it was to change through their faith and action in the power of the Holy Spirit. So our crisis will change and we will be sustained in our life by faith and action in Jesus Christ, in the power of the person of the Holy Spirit. We know that encouraging spiritual hand on our shoulder. Perhaps in this time when the Church is called to pray, our prayer could be:
Thank you Lord for your unfailing love and faithfulness. Help me to turn to you, to speak to you and to know your love and forgiveness and grace. In this crisis, dear Lord, may you encourage and sustain our Leaders and all those in the fight to eradicate the virus. May you show me the people who I should pray for and help me to work for your kingdom and your glory. Fill me afresh and anew with your Holy Spirit so that I may walk with you and be sustained by you.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
See the Churches call to prayer at http://www.thykingdomcome.global.