Corona-Clarity and Experiencing the Rest of God as Youth Ministers
I have never needed glasses or contact lenses, but I have heard from friends and students who do that once you get the right prescription, the result is breathtaking. It’s a great relief to finally have clarity – to have the fresh insight of seeing things as they are and being able to enjoy and navigate the world in front of you. This is an image and an idea that I keep coming back to during this time of the Coronavirus and being socially at a distance.
This is a clarifying time. Aspects of our current experience are an invitation from God to see Him, to see ourselves, and to see reality in a new, fresh light – to see things closer to what they actually are as youth workers and followers of Jesus.
Some passages of Scripture have been taking on a new light for me. One example is Psalms 42 and 43. These psalms are favorites of mine. Though I typically present as a cheery person, I am usually serious and even melancholic internally. Psalms 42 and 43 have been a comfort for me in those more sorrowful moments of life when my soul feels “cast down” and “in turmoil.” The psalmist is primarily in the depths because of isolation from God and His people due to the persecution of certain “adversaries.” He expresses a deep ache and longing for God and the worship of God’s people.
And this is the part of the psalm that has become fresh for me in the past few weeks – the part that has been clarifying. In verse 4, the psalmist is transported in his memories to how he used to participate in corporate worship: “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.” He was a leader of worship, but now he is in isolation in a desolate place, “the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar” (42:6). I relate to this section in a new way and can lift my voice in lament with the psalmist in a way I never could before – perhaps you can too.
I am used to leading the congregation in worship, to preaching and teaching regularly, engaging our teens in conversation, and rejoicing with glad shouts and songs of praise each Lord’s Day with God’s people. But now, this experience is stunted. Worship services and youth group have still been going on, but they’re being pre-recorded or live-streamed in isolation. The vibrancy and inter-relational joy and fellowship of congregational worship is limited. This grieves me deeply.
Even as I am overjoyed and thankful for the technological advances that allow me to worship with my church family each Sunday and hold our youth group meetings on Wednesdays, it’s achingly not the same. I have found myself pouring out my soul in grief as I remember the times of corporate worship and youth group meetings that we all took for granted. In a new way, I connect with the experience of the psalmist, whose soul in downcast in isolation in the wilderness as he remembers the simple but profound joy of corporate worship and ordinary church life.
And yet, deep-down, I think this moment is a significant gift from God – if we are able to receive it. In a variety of ways, many of us are being forced into a time of rest – a time when we are not able to do as much of what we used to do ministry-wise, while also having to figure out how to do it differently. Even if we are successful in developing a positive “new normal” for our church and youth group, we are still limited in what we can do. In general, our interaction with each other has a cap on it because of the realities of quarantine and our natural human limitations.
We can only Zoom so much physiologically. We can only consume and engage with so much digital content before emotionally and spiritually checking out and shutting down. The very digital technology that helps us stay connected is also inherently of a reduced quality; it does not make up for the relational deficits that we are all experiencing. Spatially, our world has shrunk to the size of our own homes and neighborhoods. Attending to our own needs and the needs of our families has gotten more demanding and challenging – requiring more creativity, initiative, patience, and spiritual strength.
So what is God doing in all of this? For one, I think He is calling us to rest in Him more deeply and, as a result, to come to know Him more intimately. Simultaneously, God is asking us to entrust “our” ministries and the spiritual development of “our” students to Him, that we might be more fully assured that His Spirit continues to work even as we are not able to be physically present. God is clarifying our vision of who He is – and it’s all for our good and His glory.
In his book The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath, Mark Buchanan writes, “Sabbath imparts the rest of God – actual physical, mental, spiritual rest, but also the rest of God – the things of God’s nature and presence we miss in our busyness.” This clever double meaning clarifies the double blessing that the Lord extends to this time of isolation and limitation. God wants to give us Corona-clarity: that we might rest in Him more deeply and that we might experience and enjoy aspects of His nature and presence that are either unknown to us or that we overlook in our normally busy and frantic days.
I don’t know about you, but this gift is challenging for me to receive! Slowing down and embracing my limitations have never been a natural bent of mine. It’s an area of Christian maturity in which I have needed to grow significantly. In fact, God has been steadily inviting me into a slower, deeper discipleship with Him over the past five years. I am beginning to see this season as a continuation of the work He has already been doing in me – learning to receive His gospel rest and to enjoy a deeper fellowship with Him as a result. This is still unfolding for me as I am sure it is for you. But I am at least convicted that it is what I need right now and that the Spirit is skillful in His work. I am looking for the lessons in this season of interruption.
As my friends here at Rooted say so often: “The gospel is rest.” I have adopted this as a life mantra. It is good news every day of the week if we will receive it, even as we lament things as they are in this season. There are blessings from the Lord all around even as we walk through these days and try to minister to our students out of weakness, uncertainty, and exhaustion. The puritan “Heavenly Doctor,” Richard Sibbes, was aware of this as he encouraged his congregation in a time of trouble:
“…it is prayer that gets, but thankfulness witnessed by obedience that keeps, blessings. And what can our thoughts devise, our tongues utter, or our lives express, better than the praise of our good God, that ever loadeth us with his benefits? That so God may delight still to shew himself to us in the ways of his mercy, and think thoughts of love towards us, and dwell amongst us to the world’s end.”
My friends, let us receive with open hands this Corona-clarity that we might see and know the rest of God as we journey on our way to that brighter day and more delightful land where will we “shall know fully, even as [we] have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
 Buchanan, Mark. The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 3.
 Sibbes, Richard. “The Saint’s Safety in Evil Times.” Sermon. In Works of Richard Sibbes, 1:295–313. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), 313.