Be Still and Know that I am God

“Be still and know that I am God.” ~ Psalm 46:10

This week has been unusual to say the least. The world as we have known it has altered.

There has been panic buying, school closures, cafes and restaurants forced to close,  social distancing, self-isolation and a list of other actions that just a couple of weeks ago seemed unimaginable. The church I pastor has ceased all gatherings of people and we have no idea when the doors will open again. I have been inundated with suggestions for how I can stream Sunday worship services, set up video conferencing for Bible studies, prayer meetings, leadership meetings, run a virtual Sunday School and so forth. I have a myriad of other suggestions being thrown at me for home school inspiration and what my children could learn or do with the new found time at home.

I have had to tell myself to stop, to shut out the barrage of social media posts telling me everything I can and should be doing, learning new skills and tools, which it would appear I should have become an expert in already.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

I am reminded of my first day at Art College (way back in the final year of the last century). I arrived not knowing what to expect and completely unprepared. My first two weeks were to be spent in the ‘Fine Art’ rotation and the first day involved drawing or painting a still life. Along with my fellow students I walked into the art studio and set up a piece of paper on an easel. The tutor welcomed us and told us our task was to draw or paint (I forget which) the still life set out before us. The instruction included the advice “the time you take to observe is important, if not more important, than what you paint (or draw)”. As the other students quickly busied themselves sketching and making marks on their paper I sat and looked. For the whole first half of the morning I did nothing but look at that still life. When the tutor made her way round to me she asked what I was doing and I repeated her words back to her… “I am observing, because as you said that is as important, if not more important that what I draw”. Her response? – “That’s excellent!” I think the same advice applies today.

We need to stop and observe.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

The church will survive if for a week or two there is no Sunday worship, prayer meeting, Bible study or meetings. My children will not be hindered in their education if it takes a week or so to find a routine or settle into some kind of home learning.

In fact, if I step back and observe I may then find I am in a position to recognise what the needs really are. Perhaps a streamed sermon will be important and I’ll produce them. Perhaps phone calls, emails, home visits (well door step visits) or something else will arise as the most important. No one expects anything right now (if they do I suggest it is their own insecurity talking and what they really need is reassurance), this is a new world. So, today we can and should observe.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

The result of churches closing their doors for gathered worship and other activities for temporary restrictions could result in the permanent closure of some churches. There will be financial loses that are unavoidable. Leadership teams will break under the pressures or cease to function effectively because they cannot meet together. We don’t know what worship will look like and whether when the restrictions pass who will come back in through the doors. Some of our members will not be alive when the restricts lift, others will have lost jobs and be searching for employment, some will move house or be moved into care homes. Some members will discover that they don’t miss church and the break in routine of attendance will cause them to wake up to an honest reality that their faith is not what they thought.

This could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and churches will close.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

This could also be the thing that really makes the church.

Central to the Christian faith is death and resurrection. Our churches may be about to die (or at least come very close to death) and for plenty they have been in a state of palliative care or on life support for years. It is a time for unhelpful traditions, obstinate thinking and unhealthy communities to pass away.

Yet there will also be a resurrection, so what will the church of tomorrow look like? Will it bear the scars of self-sacrifice? Will it have the aesthetic beauty of the self-preserved who have hoarded for themselves? Or, will it have the gaunt look of an exhausted mother who has given all she has so that her children do not starve? Which is more beautiful?

Will it be the church of the slick podcast and glossy publicity? Or will it be the church who completes yet another twelve-hour shift on a ward with exhausted colleges still somehow sharing a joke and song and offering to make the tea? Will it be the church or the excessive feast relaxing in front of the latest TV boxset? Or will it be the church who works hard all day then joins the queue with her neighbours at the shop that’s been stripped bare then collapses on the sofa before doing it all over again the following day?

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Like others, I fear for our little church community, but I hold this small glimmer of hope. When I look at that hope it appears quite beautiful – like single candle flame flickering in a dark room it offers light and warmth. It has the potential to grow if we nurture and protect it. It has the potential to be snuffed out by nothing more than a gentle breeze. I think that hope may just be the Spirit of God.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

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