So, here in the UK, we 're coming out of Lockdown for the second time, some of us for the third time, and some of us don't know whether we're coming out of Lockdown only to go into Tier 3 (which looks a lot like Lockdown). I'm sure many of us will have managed to do really creative things with Zoom (other video conferencing apps are available) but I wonder how we're feeling? Tired? Disillusioned?
If you are at all like me (I hope you're not), you may be asking the question: "Where are people?" I've been really surprised when strong Christian adults have mentioned in conversation, that they have not engaged online at all with church, some even since the start of Lockdown which was eight months ago here. Some have tried to do Bible reading and prayer alone or in families. Some haven't. If you're a youth worker, you'll have been keeping a register of who has engaged online with the group, so unlike the vicar/ minister/ pastor, we know who has never been. We are probably delaying removing people from the group database, for now.
Paul writes in Ephesians 6.10-13 about the famous 'Armour (sorry, American friends!) of God':
"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything,..."
If you were writing this to the church, I wonder how you would finish the sentence. You've been strong and struggled against dark power, I'd want to finish with talking about a victory. Yes, it's been hard, but hey, you've rescued people from the devil's clutches, you've said no to sin, you've won a great spiritual battle! Hallelujah! And yet, that isn't how Paul finishes. Instead, he says:
Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, TO STAND."
Is that it? Apparently so. Paul's key concern in this situation, the call he makes after this massive spiritual battle, with Christians wearing all the armour of God, is for people to stay standing.
Maybe then, the question for us shouldn't be how often people have attended our Zoom meetings, gamed with the group on Discord or watched our Instagram video, Maybe it is enough when we start meeting together, that, by the grace of God, some people are still standing. I appreciate that compared to daily life in many parts of the world, eight months of intermittent Lockdown in the UK isn't very much, but here, it looks like we are coming out of one of the hardest times in recent history,
Considering how painful it has been here, I'm so thankful that some young people are still standing as Christians. Some have lasted like lions, coming to the group every week, standing strong. Some will barely make it, bowed, almost broken, embarrassed perhaps that they haven't been for weeks, but standing. Praise God!
When we get back together, remind me not to say to anyone, 'Where have you been?' but to say, 'Well done! You've managed to stay standing!'
And if you're not sure it's going to end up like this, read again 1 Kings 19.9b-18, then remember God's power and love, and laugh. I did.
Dave Thornton is author of 'Raising the Bar: Nearly everything you need to know about Christian youth ministry'. Buy the book here.