God created us with a need to be together. None of us can survive alone. Our lives are connected and intertwined. We depend on each other for food and medicine; for physical health, mental wellness, and spiritual growth. Togetherness is fundamental to life, but getting close to people is risky.
Hospitals are sending doctors and nurses home in the midst of a pandemic. Some floors of the hospital have become ghost towns. It’s not because people don’t need the hospital. They do. It’s because people are afraid of the hospital. They would rather suffer with heart symptoms at home than risk the emergency room. We fear the very people who can save our lives.
We need each other, but it’s dangerous to be together. COVID-19 illustrates these facts, but this situation is nothing new. It’s been this way since the beginning.
Look at Genesis. God created Adam and Eve to help each other. God crafted Eve out of Adam’s rib to be Adam’s ezer. Ezer is a Hebrew word, translated “helper” or “companion.” Contrary to popular belief (at least among men), the word does not mean “maid” or “plaything”. In fact, the word ezer is sometimes used of God. God is nobody’s maid or plaything. The notes for the New English Translation define ezer as “one who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” So, Eve was created by God to do for Adam what he could not do for himself. Adam was also to be Eve’s companion. The two were designed by God to work together as a team. Whatever Adam lacked; Eve was to provide. Whatever Eve lacked; Adam was to provide. Their relationship is a model not only for marriage, but for all human interaction.
It was a great plan, until they teamed up to rebel against God and their relationship became toxic. They suffered the consequences of their sin. They faced a curse. The Lord said to Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16 NIV) There was a struggle between the man and the woman. They should have worked as a team, but sin created dissension. Eve desired Adam. Adam controlled Eve. Jealousy and hatred led to murder among Adam and Eve’s sons. God’s design for human interdependence was shattered.
The virus of sin infected Adam and Eve and still infects us today. They hid from God and covered their nakedness from each other. We also hide from God and wear masks to cover our vulnerability. Some masks are visible, like the bandannas covering our faces at the grocery store. Some masks are unseen, like the defense mechanisms covering our emotional vulnerabilities. We need each other but choose to remain six feet apart.
While Jesus encourages us to love one another, Jeremiah warns us, “Beware of your friends; do not trust anyone in your clan. For every one of them is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer.” (Jeremiah 9:4 NIV) Jesus was deceived by a friend. His love earned Him a cross. There is delight and danger in human relationships.
I don’t know about you, but I miss handshakes and hugs at the doorway of the church. Then again, I’m suddenly aware of the risk of physical interaction. The latest advice from church consultants warns against things like passing offering plates and communion plates when starting regular church services back up. They advise against choirs singing too close to each other, not sharing microphones, and deep cleaning everything after every public service. I guess I never knew how risky it was for people to come together for worship.
This pandemic illustrates physically what has always been true about relationships emotionally and spiritually. Being together is hazardous. But God created us to be together, and Jesus died on the cross to bring us back together. When the time seems right, and we open the doors to the church building once again, we will be taking a risk. Whenever we get close to other people, we take a risk. When you open your life to relationships with others, you expose yourself to potential pain. But when you slam the shutters, you risk something even worse. Loneliness. In the end, the rewards of fellowship far outweigh the risks.
Can a hurricane’s eventual path in Texas be influenced by something as small as the flap of a butterfly wing weeks earlier in China? Edward Lorenz was a mathematician and a meteorologist who discovered large changes in weather models resulting from very small variations in initial conditions. His work sought to promote a “chaos theory” whereby very small differences in initial conditions can result in very large differences. Lorenz used his theory to demonstrate that predictability in systems such as weather is inherently limited due to these small variations. In other words, small things can make a huge difference.
The “butterfly effect” as it came to be known, shouldn’t be difficult for us to understand given our world’s situation at the moment. A virus infected a single human being in China, and now the majority of the world’s population are staying home and wearing masks in public, economies are threatened, oil prices plummet, unemployment soars, close to 175,000 people have died worldwide as 2.5 million cases are confirmed. The only way a virus can replicate is inside the cells of a living organism. The virus is spread from one person to another when the virus makes the jump from one host to another. In the last month or so, this has taken place over and over again to arrive at the numbers we now see. A microscopic virus has agitated the entire world. Small things can make a huge difference.
Consider the life of one man named Jesus who lived two thousand years ago. The Population Reference Bureau approximates that 110 billion people have inhabited planet Earth since the beginning of human life. Yet, this one life continues to have such a tremendous influence. The message of the gospel, like a virus, is spread mainly through human contact. Faith in Jesus is passed from one person to another. The gospel of Jesus is not caught by accident, though. It is spread intentionally and received willingly. The gospel of Jesus cannot be seen through a microscope. Its effects are evidenced not in death and destruction but in life and love. The outcome of Jesus’ life perpetuates through your life and mine. It grows as we become more obedient to His influence in our lives. It spreads as others experience it and it is born within them as well. That one human life has eternal impact, because He was both God and man. It is a privilege to be included in a chain with links that extend all the way into eternity.
Consider how your small acts of kindness, accomplished in the name of Jesus, might make a big difference in this world. You may think your tiny, mustard seed act of faith will have very slight impact. But you would be wrong. Worldwide revivals are fueled by small acts of faith, the origins of which may never be known. British revivalist Henry Varley once told Dwight Moody, “the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to Him.” It was an inspirational word that Moody carried in his soul throughout his extensive evangelistic ministry. Later asked about it, Varley couldn’t recall having said those words. Think of the throwaway lines we speak each day that might inspire a future Moody.
Though the originator of the butterfly effect theory, Edward Lorenz, didn’t figure God in his calculations – we can. The small things you do to the glory of God today will yield surprising results spreading to eternity. So don’t neglect the small things. Flap your little butterfly wings. Don’t underestimate your diminutive contributions. As the musician, Kittie Suffield, wrote in an enduring hymn, “Little is much when God is in it.”
In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.
(Psalm 57:1 ESV)
King Saul and his mightiest mercenaries relentlessly pursue David. The king seethes with a toxic mix of jealousy, insecurity, and power. He wants blood.
Meanwhile, David shelters in a cave. He knows he can only hide from Saul so long. It’s just a matter of moments until Saul’s warriors overrun his rocky retreat.
How does David pass the time? Does he fear and fret? Is his heart filled with worry and dread? Does he imagine the gory details of his impending demise? Not quite. In fact, he pulls out his guitar and sings a song of praise to the Lord. Don’t believe me? Look at Psalm 57. David knows he is vulnerable, and he knows the power of the enemy. He says, “I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to live among ravenous beasts – men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.” He knows that he is the object of their violent search.
Nonetheless, into a long night the fugitive David sings, “My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.”
How is it possible for a man like David to sing, a man with a price on his head, a man with a target on his back, a man whose face adorns wanted posters along every road? The secret is in the condition of his heart. “My heart is steadfast,” he says. To be honest, I’m not sure if my heart would be steadfast in a predicament like David’s. At best, I might claim steadfastness like the cowardly lion claimed courage. Say it enough times and it comes true.
We all could use some steadfastness right about now. As I write we are in the midst of a shelter-in-place order from the government due to the threat of a microscopic enemy with pandemic power. Public gatherings are halted. Weddings are postponed. Schools and churches are confined to the internet. No concerts. No ball games. Just four walls and endless news reports. Of course, there really is no comparison. I’d much rather be sheltered at home with my family and modern conveniences than in David’s cave, but, I can learn a thing or two from his steadfastness.
The word for “steadfast” can also be translated “established”, “fixed”, or “confident.” David’s confidence is so great that he makes music. His creativity excels in the darkness and acoustics of the cave.
How is it possible to be steadfast while on high alert? David leaves no doubt in the Psalm he composes. This isn’t self-confidence. David’s confidence is in the Lord, his God. He sings, “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.”
David’s well-being is established in the mercy and protection of God. He fully embraces the assurance that King Saul’s toughest men don’t stand a chance against the armies of the Almighty. So, David breathes deeply, rests in the refuge of God’s shadow, and sings full-hearted praise to his Lord. The combination of his meditation, his prayer, his song, and his faith, fixes his heart securely to God’s heart.
As a teenage camp counselor in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, I learned the power of singing from a trembling heart. One night a number of counselors were awakened from our sleep and pulled from our cabins. There was a fire at Blue Ledge, a popular hiking destination with a breathtaking view overlooking the Hudson River. Someone neglected to fully extinguish their campfire. A number of us were charged with the responsibility of strapping heavy tanks of water on our backs to head down the trail and battle the fire. Together, as we hiked the roughly two miles to Blue Ledge with sloshing backpacks, we had strength in our camaraderie and flashlight power. We arrived to a root fire, mostly burning below the ground. We carefully began to drain our packs through the attached sprayer hoses. When my water was empty, I turned to my head counselor and asked, “Now what?” I kind of hoped he would say, “Go back to bed, we got this.” Instead, he said, “Go back to camp. Fill your tank, and return.”
I hit the trail by myself. It seemed much darker without the posse. Just me, a winding trail, and a dead flashlight. I trudged through the darkness trying to keep my eyes on a trail lit only by moonlight, my ears full of strange scurrying sounds in the woods around me. Probably squirrels, but in my imagination, definitely bears and wolves. Strangely enough, in that moment, the Lord brought a song to my mind. I learned the song at camp, and led it around many campfires, but now it emerged as a weak solo from an unsettled voice.
“My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow. My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow. Strength for today is mine always, and all I need for tomorrow. My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow.”
The more I sang the more confident I became. Until another counselor ran up the trail behind me. He didn’t see my embarrassed face in the darkness, but he did join his voice with mine as we sang our way down the trail. I don’t know how many times I went back to refill my tank that night, but I do know I saw the sunrise.
Your steadfast heart can sing words of praise into thick darkness, and God will be your light. David puts it this way, “I cry out to God Most High, to God, who vindicates me. He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me-- God sends forth his love and his faithfulness.”
Here we go again, trudging through the gloom of an uncertain time. Fearful thoughts echo through our minds. What will the future hold? Let’s not give in to fear. Let’s take courage in the Lord. He knows the way through the wilderness. Let’s follow. Let’s sing into the shadows. He’ll send forth His love and faithfulness. He’ll establish your steps. He’ll awaken the dawn.