20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV)
For many years I prayed these verses at the end of our monthly church family prayer meetings, rightly so. But looking back, perhaps I prayed with a pinch of laissez-faire nonchalance? Praying these words now, in these times, physically distant from brothers and sisters from church, perhaps now I pray with a tablespoon more of humility, a bigger handful of dependance and a soupçon of awe as I look forward to what might be as our sovereign, good, powerful heavenly Father works for the glory of His church and for the exaltation of his Son.
Friends, these are refining times as our sovereign, good, God works in and through the most awful circumstances, in a way that is beyond anything we might ever dare to have asked for. How might God work in us? How might he refine us in these harrowing times?
Refinement #1 – a greater longing to gather with God’s people
A South Korean pastor put this well…
‘Finally, being the church without a central meeting place has been excruciating. It’s an odd feeling not to meet your brothers and sisters at least once a week. We miss it terribly and realise how much we took it for granted. But it also forces us to hold on to our oneness in Christ, and to be more intentional about reaching out and praying for our spiritual family.
In times of isolation, a longing to gather with God’s people is wholly unsurprising; it should be excruciating. For when we gather on a Sunday we participate in and have an anticipatory foretaste of the heavenly gathering (Heb 12). So pray that despite the frustrations of isolation, our longing might grow; a longing to gather with brothers and sisters in our churches, but pray too for a greater longing to gather round the throne in the heavenly city, singing the new song to the worthy Lamb.
If gathering each Sunday has been demoted to an optional amongst many, clambering for space in your diary. Then if this challenging time refines our appreciation and priorities, that is for our good and for the glory of Christ and his Church.
Refinement #2 – a greater longing to sing with God’s people
As churches have worked hard to serve their people providing recorded content and online streaming, many have struggled to wade through the quagmire of legal and technical frustrations (see our previous blog post). Some musicians have valiantly played to camera; sometimes alone, sometimes awkwardly as a small group appropriately social-distancing! Well done to everyone who has endeavoured to serve their people as best they can. It is good and the Lord can use it, but let’s be honest, it is not the same and we all feel the unsatisfactoriness of singing along to a laptop or a phone in isolation.
(For a helpful and more detailed article specifically on streaming, have a look at Jeff Purswell’s article here)
We may be able to praise God alone in front of a screen, but we cannot build up our brothers and sisters so the Word might dwell in them richly (Col 3). Even a tone deaf, foghorn friend of mine shared the other day how much he missed singing. I wanted to text him back saying that I doubted anyone was missing his monotone contributions, but the truth is they are missing him and he is missing them. Why?
Because singing as we gather not only enables us to teach and edify one another; it moves us, stirs us, plants truths of God’s Word down deep into our hearts and minds.
If singing each Sunday has become a turgid routine, a ministry of burden not delight. Then if this challenging time refines our appreciation of singing as we gather, that is for our good and for the glory of Christ and his Church.
I’ll finish with a few practical thoughts as we face weeks and months unable to physically gather with our brothers and sisters.
Practical #1 – pray
If you have more time, especially on a Sunday, pray. If you are a musician, you have previously had to get to church early for set up and rehearsal, use that time well.
Practical #2 – practice
Use any increased diary capacity to get out your instrument and practice. Wouldn’t it be so encouraging if we all returned more able to confidently and clearly lead God’s people in singing.
Practical #3 – prepare
If all things ‘music admin’ have gone slightly awry, why not use this time to think about best practice for you in your situation. )
Two potential refinements and three ‘p’s’ of practical pointers.
But let me share a little secret as I finish. Over the last 30+ years there have been very few Sundays where I haven’t led the singing at church. It is a privilege, it is a joy, but it’s also really tiring and hard work sometimes! So my secret is this: although I long so much to gather with my church family, hearing God’s Word publicly read, preached, sung, prayed and celebrated in the visible word of the Lord’s Supper, this Sunday when I watch a recorded broadcast online I will do so enjoying the rest that this challenging time allows me – and that is ok!