How to Flourish in the “New Normal”-

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age- Psalm 92:12-14a NIV

 Among other notable distinctions 2020 has been a year that has produced some annoying but unique catchphrases and buzzwords. Thanks to the “Rona” even those generally unfamiliar with medical jargon are now familiar with terms such as “self-quarantine”, “contact tracing”, “social distancing” and “flatten the curve”. 2020 has also given us some brand-new catchphrases such as: “show you care, mask-up” “spread kindness not COVID”, “we are in this together”, “remember to wash your hands”, “staying apart is the best way to stay connected” and “stay home to stay alive”.

Sigh.  

However, the award for the most annoying new slogan or catchphrase of 2020 has to go to the expression “the new normal”. I resisted this phrase from day one. I was horrified at how quick people were to accept the idea that a stupid GERM would automatically change everything about how we function in this world. After all, germs are not a new thing. Germs have been around since the fall and humans have managed to survive quite nicely in spite of their presence in the world. Moreover, this is the twenty-first century for the love of all that is good and decent! We are not living in the stinking dark ages for heaven’s sake! At this point in history humans ought to be sophisticated enough to cope with a stupid virus, even a novel virus without it destroying the best parts of our civilization (free speech, sporting events, live entertainment venues, face-to-face communication, free exercise of religion, unrestricted travel). Acquiescing to the notion that a virus with anything less than a twenty-percent mortality rate could change EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING is a kind of spineless defeatism I was and still am very uncomfortable with.  

Nevertheless. 

As time has worn on, I have been forced to acknowledge reality.  COVID-19 really has shaped a new normal that will doubtless continue to affect our daily lives for some time to come. Unfortunately, little of the new normal is healthy, pleasant or life-giving. In fact, most of it is corrupt, unhealthy, illogical and extremely distressing in some way.  So far, the “new normal” includes a lot fear, an appalling lack of logic, political division, hostility, hate, rioting and government control. 

I am still not a fan. 

That being said. Because God promises He will never leave us or forsake us, Christians will ALWAYS have the ability to flourish spiritually even in the most challenging of times (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5).  The book of Jeremiah demonstrates this reality.  Jeremiah is mostly a grim and unpleasant book.  After generations of idolatry, sexual sin and open rebellion against God the people of Judah were finally faced with the consequences of their sinful lifestyle.  God lifted His hand of protection and the nation was conquered by the Babylonians. Jeremiah prophesied that this would not be a short-term inconvenience. Israel would remain in captivity to the Babylonians for seventy years. However, Jeremiah also assured the nation that even in the midst of their painful and ugly “new normal” God still loved them.  He promised God would still hear their prayers, He would continue to dwell among them, He would continue to bless them and He still had good plans for their future (Jeremiah 29:10-14). 

What was true for God’s people in 605 B.C. is still true for God’s people in 2020 A.D. God is still God and God is still good. He has plans for His people and they are good. 

This is without question a season of rebuke and judgment. God is not dealing just with those outside the church but also with Christians who have become disobedient and negligent in their devotion to God (1stPeter 4:17). During a season of rebuke and judgment it is vital we ruthlessly root out the idols in our lives and seek to become active participants in the sanctification process (2nd Corinthians 13:5, 2nd Peter 1:5-11). We must examine our lives and repent quickly so we can be a peaceful and life-giving presence to non-Christians who have reached the end of their own coping mechanisms and false belief systems. Our ultimate obligation before God is to live holy lives and seek the good of the culture we have been placed in, no matter how corrupt or sinful our culture happens to be (Jeremiah 29:4-7, Matthew 5:16, Matthew 28:18-20, 1st Peter 2:12). That means being spiritually ready when God  brings revival to the unbelieving.  

 Historically, God does His best work in the darkest of times. Our time is no different. God promises to do great things in and through the faithful.  The seventy years of captivity gave us some of the most heroic, encouraging, and instructive stories in all the Bible. The books of Daniel, Esther and Jonah are all stories that tell how God worked in and through those who remained faithful during their season of rebuke and judgment. If we cling to God and stay open to what He is attempting to do in us through this season we will not lose heart we will see God do great things in us and in our culture. 

We will flourish. 

How We Survive These Crazy Times-

`When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things– 1st Corinthians 13:11 NASB

In December of 1776 Thomas Paine penned his now famous words:

These are the times that try men’s souls”.

With all due respect to Mr. Paine and the times he lived in, his times had nothing on our times. 

Seriously.  

This is swiftly becoming a tough time to be alive and an even tougher time to be a Christian. Politics have become deeply divided, making it harder for individuals to find common ground on nearly anything of any consequence. Once-stanchly democratic governments are trending more towards authoritarianism. Violence has become routine in places where people once dwelt in safety. Additionally, the whole stinking world just got kicked in the behind by a pandemic that has produced even more division, more violence and more authoritarianism.  

SIGH. 

Christians must also deal with the reality that our God is routinely mocked in every way imaginable (Galatians 6:7). Many have taken to calling good evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20). Those on the side of unlimited sexual freedom have LITERALLY invented new ways of doing evil and are doing their level best to lead our children down a path of inevitable personal destruction (Romans 1:30). Because almost no one believes in absolute truth anymore deception has taken root to such an extent that otherwise intelligent people literally believe lies when the truth is right in front of them. For most believers, it feels as if evil of every kind is gaining ground daily. This is disheartening on a level that is difficult to find words for. 

However.  

If we believe God is sovereign we also have to believe God placed us here in these times for a reason. If we believe that we also have to believe God wants us to live in these times in such a way that we bring Him glory (Esther 4:14). All that being said, these times are not for the faint of heart. Nor, are they for overly-indulged saints who love their own comfort and wellbeing more than they love God or the Church God has called us to love and serve (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, 2nd Corinthians 13:11, Galatians 5:13). If we want to live in a way that brings God glory in spite of circumstances we must be willing to ruthlessly root out attitudes and behaviors that are toxic to our spiritual health. A spiritually toxic behavior or attitude is any attitude or behavior that is sinful or will inevitably lead to sin.  Following are five spiritual toxins slowly killing Christians. 

Entitlement-  

Entitlement is a sense we have a “right” to certain freedoms or experiences or to have situations the way we like to have them.  Sadly, there are a lot of Christians more focused on their rights than their responsibilities as Christians. Entitled believers will withdraw from churches, not because of doctrinal issues they can’t overcome but because they have been “offended” or because changes have been made in their church they don’t like.  Christians are called to model their lives after Jesus who was literally entitled to EVERYTHING (Philippians 2:1-11) but rather than demand what He was rightfully entitled to He sacrificed His own wants and needs to benefit us.  Christians must learn to do the same.   

Expecting to be served rather than serving- 

Christians are never more like Jesus than when they serve others (Matthew 20:27-28, Luke 22:25-27).  However, in most churches twenty percent of the people do one-hundred-percent of the work that needs to be done. This is lazy and God is categorically not a fan of laziness (Matthew 25:26, Hebrews 6;12). It also tends to produce a spirit that is critical of the efforts of others (Ephesians 4:29).  The cure for this one is easy. Get busy serving and do it with a servant’s heart (Galatians 5:13, Ephesians 6:7). 

Allowing fear to run the show- 

The world is a scary and unsettled place right now and for the most part recent events not bode well for Christians. Even so, Christians are not called to live in fear but rather walk in faith (Proverbs 29:25, John 4:18, Romans 8:15). Walking in faith means we stay obedient to Jesus at all times with the understanding that even if things are not okay it will be okay because our souls are secure in Jesus (Luke 1:50 Romans 8:18, Romans 8:28).  

Refusing to let go of old behaviors- 

In Colossians chapter three Christians are given a list of eleven spiritually toxic behaviors we are commanded to put to death. Failure to do so inevitably results in some sort of spiritual and/or moral disaster. 

Depending on anything or anyone for hope or help in times of trouble besides Jesus- 

People were designed to crave a defender, comforter and source of wisdom and strength in times of trouble and upheaval.  But because we are a fallen and therefore imperfect (Genesis 3) we tend to want all the wrong defenders, comforters and sources of wisdom and strength. We turn to charismatic political leaders, the people we love, our founding documents, drugs or alcohol, dubious sources of information or the approval of others to give us the comfort and help we should only seek from God (Isaiah 41:13, Psalm 20:7). If God is not who we run to first in times of trouble we are in danger of becoming ensnared in the sin of idolatry. 

Tough times are never something anyone hopes for, but for God’s people tough times are an opportunity to be a light in the darkness. In order to become the light our world needs we must pray continuously for wisdom, discernment, spiritual strength and freedom from these five sinful attitudes that can so easily entangle us and keep us from being the person God needs us to be in these times (Hebrews 12:1).   

Some Recommendations for Living in Scary Times-

Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You- Psalm 56:3 NKJV

At this moment in human history the list of things to be afraid of is lengthy.

 At the top of the list is stupid COVID-19.  Even those who don’t fear the virus itself are anxious about all the practical issues it has created:

 The economy has tanked, once-thriving business have closed and unemployment has become a reality for millions who once felt financially secure. Those who live alone are feeling overwhelmed by the isolation of quarantine.  On the other end of the spectrum many are learning it is impossible to social distance from those we live with. This reality has placed a tremendous strain on relationships. Incidents of domestic violence have soared and many are turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with their gloom and despair.

 Then there are the more esoteric worries.

 As states push quarantine guidelines far beyond federal recommendations some worry that something more sinister than public health concerns is driving those decisions. Governmental overreach is becoming a very real concern as states and municipalities suspend constitutional rights in an effort to “keep people safe”. Even Christians wonder where God is in this mess.  

 Sigh. 

 Truth-be-told these times are a challenge even for the most mature of Christ-followers. Despite the apparent evidence to the contrary, our God is still on His throne. I believe God wants all of us to:

 Redeem the time-

 This may be the only season in our lives when we have the time and opportunity to learn something new about God, teach our children the deeper truths of the Bible and purposefully grow in our faith. We should use it wisely.  Choose a book of the Bible and purchase some commentaries online, then take the time to learn everything you can about that book of the Bible. If you have kids at home use this time to teach your kids how to think about life from a truly Christian perspective.

 Get your heart right-

  God is practically pleading with the whole stupid world to get right with Him by turning away from their sin (Matthew 3:8). If you are NOT a Christian this means confessing your sin to God and asking Him to forgive you and willingly submitting every aspect of your life to Jesus Christ (Acts 3:19, Acts 17:24-31, 2nd Corinthians 7:10, Romans 3:23 Ephesians 2:8).  If you’re are a Christian this is a time for reflection, personal repentance and crying out to God on behalf of the willfully disobedient around us (Daniel 9:1-15). God wants Christians to give Him permission to tell us what’s wrong with our thinking and our behaviors (Psalm 139:23-24).

 Channel concerns into action-

 If you don’t already know, find out who your state representatives are and spend some quality time on their Facebook pages. Share any concerns you have with them. Respectfully and rationally give them reasonable ideas for dealing with this crisis. If you’re frustrated with how the crisis is being handled in your state, prayerfully consider ways you can help bring about new leadership in your area.


Turn worry into prayer

 Sometimes it feels like there are only two choices when it comes to worry. We can either castigate ourselves for agonizing over the stuff we find terrifying; or we can ignore what the Bible says about worry and worry our heads off anyway (Matthew 6:25-34, Luke 12:25). There is a third option. We can discipline ourselves to turn worry into prayer and gratitude. You can make a mental list (or a real one) of all of the things that worry you and all of things you are grateful for. Take both lists to God in prayer. Don’t get so hung up on your worry that you forget to praise God for the good things.  Continue to pray and praise until the anxiety subsides and thankfulness takes over (Philippians 4:6).

 Change what’s informing you-

 We are all informed by the information we allow into our minds. We are informed by what we learned in school, the news, the underlying messages thrust upon us by television programs and the mindsets of the people around us. The COVID-19 crisis is a good time to detox from some of those sources. It is also a good time learn to filter the information we receive through the lens of Scripture by getting into the habit of comparing what other sources say to what the Bible says.

 Work on you-

 This is a great time for prayerful self-examination (2nd Corinthians 13:5, 1st Peter 4:17). Look at your life in light of Scriptural standards and pray about what God is asking you to change (Luke 10:27, Galatians 5:19-20, Romans 6:11-14, 1st Corinthians 6:9-10).  Ask God to give you the inclination, power and motivation to change the things He wants you to change.

 None of the above-motioned practices will make the stupid COVID-19 virus go away.  However, they will ensure we all come out of this situation better people who have a bigger impact on our corner of the world.