By Jennifer Greenberg
The walls were constructed of rough stone. The floor was dirty and cold. The guards outside were hardened soldiers; the kind of men who could nail another man to a cross and play dice beneath him as he died.
In this place of darkness and isolation, the Apostle Paul was writing. He wrote to the church in Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and to Philemon, who led a small worship gathering at his home in Rome.
Paul scribbled his letters down or possibly dictated them to Timothy or another disciple. Then they’d make the long and dangerous journey to deliver the gospel to the congregation.
However the letters were carried to their destination, Paul knew his words would be read weeks or maybe months to come.
Do you feel a bit like Paul?
Perhaps, in quarantine, you feel a bit like Paul. It’s comforting to recall that if God used the words of Paul—from behind bars and prison guards—surely, he can use you now, preaching behind keyboards and mics.
Paul couldn’t see his congregation. He couldn’t hear their songs or immediately answer their questions. Yet God used Paul’s faith in a mightier way than any of us will likely experience.
While the medium is different and the situations are roughly comparable, God is still at work.
If He can work through ancient snail mail, He can work through email too. Even in isolation, you’re never alone.
You have but one audience.
If you’re a pastor, you’ve only ever had one audience: God. And He’s present.
Your congregation has never been your audience; they’re participants in worship with you. They’re witnesses to your act of praise as you preach.
Whether that preaching is scribbled on parchment in a Roman jail or recorded as an MP3 in your home office, it doesn’t matter.
The medium has changed. Our God hasn’t; He remains sovereign and faithful.
Maybe you’re used to being tuned into the emotions of your congregation. They respond to you, and you respond to them as you preach and pray.
This dynamic feels impossible when you can’t see or hear them. In fact, sitting behind a mic can feel strangely personal and intense.
Focus on your audience of One. Speak to Him. Speak to His children, but remember coram Deo. You preach before the face of God.
God’s Spirit isn’t hindered by livestreaming
Don’t worry about whether God’s Spirit will reach your congregation, simply because you can’t see them, shake their hands, or hear their affirming, “Amen!”
God’s word won’t return to Him void but will accomplish what He desires for the purposes He ordains (Isaiah 55:11).
Remember how powerful, faithful, and good our Savior is. Not even death, Satan, or all the host of hell could keep Jesus in the tomb.
YouTube, Facebook and Zoom have nothing on the grave, so we need not fear that technology or distance can hinder His Spirit.
God continues to work
I’m convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither coronavirus nor quarantines, nor any technology, neither men nor governments, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
God works all things, even pandemics, together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). Just as He worked through Joseph and a devastating famine (Genesis 41), He’ll work through COVID-19.
Just as He worked in the days of Paul, and through times of persecution, war, and plague since the beginning of time, so He’ll work today.
God’s Spirit defies governments that outlaw the Gospel and corporate worship. He’ll defy quarantine too. God is victorious.
Longing to gather; growing in empathy.
Perhaps, during this time of isolation, God will teach us what a blessing and a privilege we’ve become accustomed to in gathering together every Sunday.
Perhaps, He’ll grow us in compassion and sympathy for our homebound brothers and sisters. Perhaps, having experienced a small taste of their loneliness and deprivation, we’ll remember them better.
And perhaps God will use this time to build us up in mercy and prayer for Christians living in places where corporate worship is illegal, where preaching is punishable by prison or death, where Christians are isolated with no churches to go to!
Think of the many ways God may use this time to bless your congregations. It’ll be hard, yes. These are frightening days.
But maybe that overcommitted family you’ve been worrying about; the one racing from band practice to ball games to co-op to swim meets, will be able to read the Bible as a family more often.
Maybe married couples disconnected by long hours and busy children, will pause, hold hands, and pray. Isolation, I think we’ll find, has a way of bringing people together.
God isn’t limited by anything.
Whether you meet in person or on Skype, preach via pulpit or podcast, God is mightier than any medium. It’s God who saves, not your sermon, not even the sacraments.
If He can make the very rocks to rise to worship Him (Luke 19:40), He can enable your congregation to worship, wherever they are; however you may reach them.
So, whether you blog or stream or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
JENNIFER MICHELLE GREENBERG (@JennMGreenberg) was abused by her church-going father, yet she’s still a Christian. In her book Not Forsaken, she reflects on how God brought life and hope in the darkest of situations. She offers biblical truths and gospel hope that can help survivors of abuse as well as those who walk alongside them.