“Sheltered in place” now takes on a whole new meaning. We hear it used more and more in some areas of the country, not as a response to an “active shooter” or terrorist threat, but as a response to an invisible virus. Fear of this virus spreads much faster than the virus itself. That’s not all bad. It helps us take precautions, avoid groups, stay home, and “shelter in place” as much as possible.
While a wise thing to do, especially for the elderly and vulnerable, sheltered in place for the Christian also means not being able to gather with other Christians in the shelter of our church community. It means not being able to receive there the gifts of God through His Word and Christ-instituted sacraments. It means not having our faith nourished as we sing and pray and listen and fellowship with other believers.
How do we grow in faith while “sheltered in place”?
The Holy Spirit gives us two simple things to consider through Paul’s letter to the Philippians. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:4).
Nothing selfish about this, especially when it comes to growing in our own faith. Whether we voluntarily stay at home, are self-quarantined, or are quarantined in a nursing home or assisted living community, our faith can be challenged. It is okay look after our interests because we know God cares for our own interests.
I used to hate sparrows. They would attack my freshly filled bird feeder like a starving mob fighting each other for a preferred perch. Greedily plunging beak first into the seeds, they would toss them around ravaging for their favorite morsel hurling unwanted flavors to the ground smothering my grass. In a short span of time the feeder would be empty. More respectable birds—chickadees, finches, cardinals—never had a chance. I used to hate sparrows.
Then I was reminded Jesus does not. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God” (Luke 12:6). “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value that they?” (Matthew 6:25) “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Mathew 10:31). Okay, Jesus, I get it!
God values you and me. We may be fearful. We may be alone. We may feel lonely. But we are never more valued and loved by our heavenly Father through Jesus. Take advantage of time at home, of time alone to be reminded, “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20).
Have you wanted some quiet time to be with God? Here’s your chance. Remember how you wanted to read the Bible more or go through that devotional book? Now’s the time. The LORD is indeed in His temple. He is in charge and at work in all of this. He works in your life during all of this. You are not alone.
So, this might be a good time to do some exercises! Exercise your faith. God allows trials to that very end because an exercised faith, a faith used, is a faith that becomes stronger. “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith –more precious than gold that perishes through it is tested fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
Lent gives us a grand time to be reminded of the focus of our faith—Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul says everything else is “rubbish” compared to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). The prophet Habakkuk faced isolation and the fear of impending destruction as he waited for the Babylonians to invade. Maybe you can identify with how afraid he was. “I hear; and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me” (3:16). Yet he concludes his prayer in chapter 3 with these astounding and beautiful words. “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on the high places” (3:17-19).
He talks about losing everything, the basics of Israel’s agricultural economy. YET! He rejoices in the God of His salvation. That’s what keeps us going. That is the object of our faith. Jesus saved us from sin at a high and divine price. He will not, therefore, abandon us in our fears or loneliness. It’s okay to look out after your own interests when it comes to your faith. Focus on Jesus. He will strengthen you.
I streamed a Lenten service from a fellow pastor. I liked the positive way he started his sermon. “This crisis is going to enable us to love God and love our neighbor in brand new ways!” Instead of “going to church” we can “be the church” even if we find ourselves “sheltered in place” for a variety of reasons. A great way to grow in faith is to look out for “the interest of others.”
What does that look like?
Now don’t skip over this point with, “Yeah, we know that. Let’s move on.” Having more time at home or wherever we live means we have more time for prayer. It means we have more time to become very specific about our prayers. Ask your pastor for a list of fellow members in need of specific prayers. Read the paper and watch the news with a notepad. Jot down things, people, communities, even whole countries that you could pray about.
Pray for those who because of their vocation run a high risk of being exposed. Pray for people losing their jobs. Pray for those working around the clock to find a vaccine. Pray for our leaders who work endless hours to lead us. Pray for you pastor and other pastors facing situations never faced before. Pray for . . . . . . . The list is endless. Use that extra time God has given to be fervent in prayer, to love your neighbor, to look after “the interests of others.”
Wait, is this allowed? Well maybe not in a physical sense. But we can touch people in other ways. I’ve been told that the most unused app on a smart phone is the phone! Use it or your flip phone or the phone plugged into the wall to touch someone. Do you know people in nursing homes or assisted living communities where visitors are restricted or not even allowed? These folks can become very lonely. Check with your pastor, the church office, and even the nursing home or assisted living community for a list of people that could use a card, a letter or a phone call. When talking with family, friends or co-workers, at the end of conversations, you might say, “Hey, would you mind calling or writing to so-and-so?” Help others experience the joy of looking after the interests of others.
Maybe you are capable of organizing this on a bigger scale. Use that “phone tree” set up in your congregation to let people know that you are thinking of them. Ask them how things are going. Do they have any needs? Do what you can to fulfill those needs or put them in touch with someone who can.
These days technology offers many ways to touch someone—email, Facebook, Snapchat and the list goes on. I would list them all but, well, I’m not really sure myself what they all are! Maybe you are that way also. How about this? If you cannot email, perhaps you can use that old-fashioned method now called “snail mail.” A hand-written note on a card or on a plain piece of paper can mean a great deal. Add a Bible verse. Let God’s Spirit be at work.
Because a myriad of complications following knee surgery, I was home bound for several weeks. Friends and members of my congregation sent prayers and thoughts via email and that was appreciated. But some sent cards and little notes. I even received a Dairy Queen gift card! One particular card-sender stood out. He sent more than one! I came to recognize the writing on the envelopes which revealed a shaky but legible hand. (For those of you who think you might be too old for such a task, my multiple-card-sender is 100 years old!) Need cards, note pads, stamps? I bet you know someone who could drop some off.
My wife loves to quilt. She is working on one right now that is made up of little triangles. I mean LITTLE! She sews them together into blocks and the blocks, sewn together, begin to form the quilt. The little triangles were not much to look at, but when sewn together the whole is beautiful. Looking after the interests of others does not need to consist of large endeavors accomplished by coordinating the efforts of many people. Sometimes a small endeavor, a tiny touch can produce something beautiful.
Are you “sheltered in place” for one reason or another? As difficult as it might be, try looking at it as a means to grow in faith. See it as a time to look after your “own interests” spending quiet time with God and His Word. See it as a time to look after “the interests of others,” growing in faith by loving your neighbor in simple but beautifully powerful ways. See it as a time to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) who perfects our faith, grows our faith, especially during times like these.
Rev. Dr. Jim Lamb
Life Advocate for Lutheran Family Service
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