Have you ever had something you said, or worse say often, come back to haunt you? I got a little taste of that a couple of weeks ago. The statement I have made multiple times in the past is this: “Laying down my life for Christ in John 15:13-14 is obedience to Christ’s commands TODAY, not just allegiance to Christ at the point of martyrdom. If I am in the habit of dying daily through reverence and obedience to Christ, I won’t have to worry about allegiance. I’ll be well-practiced at at dying for Christ if that day ever comes.” So how am I doing at dying daily? Well friends, not very well. I failed the last test. And I didn’t just fail it, I made a royal hash of it. Here’s what happened.
A few weeks ago, my husband was diagnosed with COVID-19. This precipitated daily calls from the state health department, beginning with instructions that I needed to quarantine for 14 days from my last day of exposure to him. To get my quarantine completed as soon as possible, we were instructed to sleep in separate areas of the house, use different bathrooms, wear masks, and stay six feet apart when in the same room. We had to take our temperatures twice daily and keep a written record. I had to sign a statement that I would voluntarily quarantine and acknowledge that I would be under mandatory quarantine if I refused. Every day the health department called to ask if either of us had fever or other symptoms. All of this felt very invasive to me. Just informing us of the state guidelines would have been sufficient. We had no intention of exposing others to the virus, but it seemed like government nannies were treating us like disobedient five-year-olds. In addition, the health department ignored my husband’s statement about the onset of his symptoms and set his onset date four days after his symptoms began, which extended our quarantine period. I felt violated in my health privacy and in my own home. And I responded with anger. For several days I felt unsettled, irritated, and resentful. And my behavior was rather prickly. My sinful self was in control.
Then the Lord reminded of about my own admonition about dying daily, considering every trial as coming from the hand of God, and an opportunity for practicing faith, all the while considering it all joy as James exhorts us. Really, Lord? How did this sneak up behind me? I, the preacher of dying daily to self and being prepared to give up everything for the name of Christ Jesus, discovered I am not as prepared as I thought I was. Why did I fail to recognize this as an opportunity to practice reverence and obedience to my Lord? Two thoughts come to mind. First, my thoughts were more on my circumstances than on my Lord. And second, is the warning, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Because I wasn’t on guard, I had failed to heed the warning light of rising internal stress over the 2020 election and the future of our country, coupled with the disappointment of canceled trips to celebrate our anniversary and to visit my mom in another state, missing friends and family, and interrupted ministry due to the pandemic. I didn’t take all those stresses to the Lord, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ when they first appeared. I wasn’t tending my confidence in Jesus to keep it growing and strong. I needed to re-center my heart and mind. I needed to remember the promises of God: that though Christ’s followers would have trouble in this world, Jesus Christ has already overcome the world; promises that Jesus will never leave or forsake us; promises to provide everything we need; promises to shepherd us through our deepest valleys; and the reminder that our citizenship is in heaven, not here on earth. I also needed to remember that when I bowed my heart to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, I gave up all my rights, including the “right” to be offended.
So what to do? How could I grow my confidence in Christ and His promises? How could I be more willing to give up my “rights”? How could I move my preparations from theological theory to theologically-driven actions? After taking these questions to the Lord, I realized there are no new answers to these questions. God has already given me what I need in what are often called, “the ordinary means of grace”- the Word of God, prayer, and the sacraments. The Word reminds me of God’s promises and His faithfulness to fulfill them (2 Cor. 1:20). Prayer brings me boldly before the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper remind me of my identification with both the death and the resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:3-5). But these ordinary means of grace must be intentionally practiced. Thinking further about turning my heart’s focus to my Lord, I have found that the music of hymns helps plant rich theology deep in my heart and then brings it to mind and tongue again and again (Eph. 5:17-20). Corporate worship and fellowship encourage me through the faith of sisters and brothers in Christ and remind me that I am not alone (Heb. 10:24-25). I can ask the Lord to help me recognize opportunities to practice death to self while waiting for His eternal kingdom, and I know that when I ask according to His will, He will give me what I ask (1 John 5:14-15). Finally I can remind myself often that nothing comes into my life without my Father’s sovereign oversight, and I can say with my Savior, “Not my will, but Yours, be done,” (Luke 22:42).
I suspect there will be many opportunities in the coming days to practice trusting Christ’s promises, opportunities to submit to government authorities without grumbling or being resentful, and opportunities for many other little daily deaths. Practice makes better. Thank You, Lord, for Your grace when I fail. Help me lay down my life today.