5 Ways to Build Strength During the Pandemic

As I pondered what to write for this article, I decided to turn from any attempt at being profound and go for the personal and practical. Just last night, John and I FaceTimed with some international friends who let us know that their conference scheduled for later this year would now be held online rather […]

As I pondered what to write for this article, I decided to turn from any attempt at being profound and go for the personal and practical. Just last night, John and I FaceTimed with some international friends who let us know that their conference scheduled for later this year would now be held online rather than in person. We were sad that we wouldn’t be with them, but honored that we will still be a part of the online event.

This season demands flexibility. Each week presents another pivot to how things might look in our future. But in the midst of all the things changing externally, I don’t want to miss out on any pivots I might need to make with my priorities and the why.

We are all in uncharted territory navigating a pandemic. People are sick and dying. Many are isolated from their loved ones as they battle an aggressive and highly infectious virus. My heart goes out to those who are suffering alone, surrounded by so many unknowns. At this time, scientists and healthcare professionals are still scrambling to find effective treatments and longer-term remedies.

Tidal waves of uncertainty have hit us all. What will happen to our global and national economies? Homeschooling parents wonder if schools will resume in the fall. Question marks punctuate the future of churches, jobs, healthcare, the role of government, sporting events, travel, conferences and concerts. Global fear and distrust have grown to epidemic levels. As we look for answers, we only discover more questions. People everywhere feel powerless, frightened, agitated, and overwhelmed. We have come face to face with the reality that we are not in control.

This month I turn 60. Six decades of life have repeatedly taught me that control is an illusion. In so many ways, Christianity is counterintuitive. We bless those who curse us, win through surrender, and rise by falling. I have echoed the words of the Psalmist David until they became a prayer:

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. (Ps. 86:11)

And:

I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Ps. 18:1–2)

Which makes me wonder if the High and Holy One has taken me up on my prayers. Historically, God has used seasons of hardship to remake his people. I know it has exposed some idolatry in my life. Idols are anything we choose to give our strength to or draw our strength from outside of God. They are the things or people we allow to have power over us. We can make idols out of both good and bad things—what matters is keeping things in their proper place.

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The year 2020 was heralded as the year of clarity and vision. Perhaps when we look back, we may discover that it was. I believe God can redeem this awful time and use this pregnant pause as an opportunity to clear away any idols that might obstruct our view.

Confession time. In recent years, my ministry schedule was the idol in control of me. I was running from one thing to the next, with a few exhausted laundry pauses in between. Each year, I vowed to create margin in my schedule. But time and again, I was driven by the commitments I’d already made the year before. Then, when everything came to a screeching halt, I hit my face and confessed my failings. Immediately, I sensed God’s strength.

Those who were more numerically aware than me coming into this new decade have been quick to point out that twenty plus twenty equals forty, a number that represents transition or change throughout the Torah and Talmud. Forty also carries the concept of renewal, which sounds like very good news.

I am determined to go from a place of human weakness to a reliance on God’s strength. I feel that we are in a wilderness of sorts where we are again being granted the opportunity to learn that we do not live by bread alone (what we can make and bake), but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). It is up to us to determine whether these days will act as tests that bring out the best in us—or whether we will allow them to become a cesspool of temptation that brings out the worst in us. These are days for building strength. Here are a few ways that we can see this happen.

1. Don’t be afraid to have the hard conversations. Close and constant proximity with our spouses, children, family members, or roommates will serve to highlight the things we were able to avoid when our lives had more buffers and fluff. Stop arguing to make a point and fight for the relationship. Give people the same mercy you’d want for yourself. There have been so many times that I wanted to slap John, and God told me to reach over and hug him instead.

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2. When people bring out the worst in you, take it to One who wants to bring out the best in you. People are rarely ever your real problem, nor are they your answer. God is. If Jesus understood that prayer and communing with His Father were where both His directives (John 5:19) and strength came from, it’s time we did the same. We are in a day when both our independence (self-reliance) and much of our interdependence (community) have been stripped from us. It is time for us to embrace a dependence on the comfort and counsel of the Holy Spirit and the foundation of Scripture.

3. Learn to speak to your soul. Hard seasons will try to hang heavy on our souls. In Psalm 42:5, we overhear David address his soul, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation.”

4. Cultivate generosity. We have all heard the whispers tempting us to hoard what we have. Don’t do it! Seasons of famine are opportune times to give. Go through your closets and give away your excess. Pick up your phone and encourage a friend. Say something nice on social media. My devotional Strong launched one week into the pandemic. Rather than sell it, we decided to give it away in exchange for a gift of any amount. Let your deeds in this season be seeds for your next one.

5. When all else fails, sing. Nothing shifts the atmosphere of a house and the posture of the heart faster than singing! Thanking God for His faithfulness in past seasons builds hope for our future seasons.

I don’t know what our future will look like, but I do know that cultivating strength in this time by allowing God to remake us will bear fruit in the next season.