Editor’s note: As China maintains its commitment to no Covid within her borders, citizens in many cities across China have been placed under draconian lockdown. These lockdowns, which are more severe than anti-Covid measures used in the West, have occurred in cities from Shanghai to Xinjiang, from Jilin Province to Chengdu. During them, many have been confined to their apartments for weeks, and have reported shortages of food, medicine, and basic necessities.
This is the second installment of a series of emails a pastor sent to his congregation during lockdowns this past spring. (Part one can be found here.) The pastor reminds his people that God has not forgotten them; that the Lord uses evil to accomplish good; and that waiting on God is an indispensable part of following him. They encourage and exhort weary Christians to continue following God, even when they do not understand his ways.
April 12, 2022
Although many people pray this prayer, neither cries for release, nor press conferences, nor even the Bible give us the answer. Instead, in Mark we find a different truth.
Jesus told the disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” The disciples did not choose the wrong path and then run into waves; instead, they met the waves after they accepted Jesus’s invitation. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” they grumbled. The huge waves shocked the fishermen. They began to complain that Jesus brought them into the situation and was responsible for it.
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“Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Jesus rebuked his disciples because they lacked faith. Of course, he calmed the waves before allowing the disciples to ask, “Who is this?”
Jesus led his disciples into tribulation; he left them on their own; he saved them; he rebuked their faithlessness; and he made the disciples more aware of who he actually is. Jesus was not just a descendent of Abraham and David, but the One who created heaven and earth!
Brothers and sisters, do you believe God has deliberately placed us here and now, so that we can experience hardship and know him better? Our Lord was cast into the sea like Jonah, and he bore judgment for all his disciples. Are you willing to get in his boat and go through the waves with him?
I hope that during this Holy Week, we will go with Jesus as we enter the Holy City with him, are buried with him, and rise again with him.
April 19, 2022
After Holy Week, life is returning to the new normal: PCR tests, antigen tests, mass buys of shared groceries, and cell phone swipes. Over the past weeks, I have shared with many brothers and sisters how one phrase repeated through Scripture has reformed my understanding. I call this the “but God” vision.
In Genesis 50:20, Joseph says to his brothers: “But God meant it for good.”
In this lockdown period, and even before, it is common to hear Christians (including me) look at the present like this: “God is sovereign, but my circumstances…”; “God is good, but my sin…”; “Christ is all-loving, but our church…”; “Jesus sits as King, but our country…”
This is not the “but God” vision; this is the “but I” vision. The Israelites had the same problem: although the pillar of cloud and fire was ahead of them, they could not help but look at Pharoah’s army.
We humans always turn from God and look at man. Yet when Joseph was old, he said, “but God.” This “but God” vision did not make Joseph’s days in the pit or in prison any better, but when he tasted God’s blessing and saw how God blessed his traitorous enemies through him, he experienced a great and final turning point. His previous suffering became light and momentary.
After Easter, let us remind ourselves: “But God… has risen!”
April 27, 2022
According to our incomplete statistics, at this point people in our city have been under lockdown for between 25 and 70 days. The question on everyone’s lips is: “How long is this going to take?” The goal is to wait until lockdown is over. The implication is that lockdown is abnormal, and many things can only be done once this abnormal period is over: “We cannot do anything but wait.”
In the world’s most efficient city, it is only natural we would think like this when the pause button is suddenly pressed. We feel compelled to do something to be “who we really are.” At the moment, we cannot do anything.
At last week’s small group, I shared a passage from Numbers 9, which occurred chronologically just after the end of the book of Exodus. The Israelites had left Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, received the Law, worshipped the golden calf, and were temporarily spared by God. Then they again received the Law, took a census, built and sanctified the tabernacle, and (at last!) received God’s glory in their midst. It was time to depart.
Numbers 9:17-22 reads:
“And whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, after that the people of Israel set out, and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the people of Israel camped. At the command of the Lord the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the Lord they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the people of Israel kept the charge of the Lord and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was a few days over the tabernacle, and according to the command of the Lord they remained in camp; then according to the command of the Lord they set out. And sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning. And when the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they set out.”
This passage is like a commander telling the Israelites: “Let’s go! Listen to my command!” Reading on on, you will be amazed:
“Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, abiding there, the people of Israel remained in camp and did not set out, but when it lifted they set out.”
Sometimes the cloud stayed for two days, sometimes for a month, maybe even for a whole year! This sounds a lot like our situation. The people of Israelites are held in place by the cloud of God. Perhaps they asked, “How long will this take?” or “When will the cloud go up?” or “God, where are you?”
Where is God? Just look at the cloud! It is right here, and it never leaves! God was with the people of Israel wherever they were. He gave them manna, provided for their daily needs as they worked six days and rested one, and he gave them the law. Sinners who were in “lockdown” together could depend on each other, hurt one another, and reconcile with one another. God gave them the tabernacle so they could worship and offer sacrifices. Although the Israelites could not do anything, with the presence of God, they had no lack.
Waiting patiently was an indispensable part of the process of the exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. The detour to the Red Sea was God’s training. Staying still in the wilderness was God’s way of refining his people.
It does not matter whether you have been home for 25 days or for two and a half months. I want this passage to remind you this is a meaningful time, not a waste. Do not waste these days when you cannot do anything. The Bible contains enough knowledge for us to live godly lives and be trained to become more godly: pursuing worship, devotion, prayer, love for one another, using our gifts well, working faithfully, and loving our neighbors. You can also turn to the church for help in your spiritual life and to be equipped for the work of ministry.
I look forward to the day when the clouds will rise, the camp departs, the lockdowns are lifted, and we see the growth in Christ in one another.
Wang Jianguo is a collective pseudonym for a group of urban Chinese house church pastors committed to preaching the gospel of grace.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Chinese facing lockdowns to trust God as they wait on his timing.