Philippians 1:12-14 (NIV)
12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
You probably know the back story to the above passage. The apostle Paul planned to go to Rome for a strategic evangelistic campaign. Well, he finally made it to Rome, but not in the way he had imagined. He arrived in Rome as a prisoner.
I’m currently reading “Winning the War in your Mind” by Craig Groeschel (a great book that I would highly recommend). In chapter 7 he imagines what Paul could have written in the face of having all of his big plans derailed.
“Now, I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me really sucks (Craig’s word, not mine). I wanted to spread the good news through preaching to government officials, but that did not happen. As a result of this hell I’ve been through, I have decided prayer doesn’t work, and I am never going back to church again.”
Instead of reacting negatively to the situation, Paul chose to believe that God’s plan was better than the one he had in mind and he forged ahead, sharing the gospel with the soldiers he was chained to 24 hours a day. Instead of giving up in discouragement because his plans were interrupted, he trusted that God was working out his sovereign strategy and actually viewed his chains as a blessing.
As I read that chapter, it caused me to think about how we have responded to the COVID pandemic. We entered 2020 optimistically, with our “2020 VISION” plans in place. Then our lives and ministries were disrupted by a word most of us had never heard before; Coronavirus!
Suddenly, in a matter of days, all of our plans and programs disintegrated before our very eyes. We could no longer have in-person worship services, in-person discipleship, in-person outreach or in-person anything. Like Paul, in Philippians, we were (and still are) faced with a choice on how to view this pandemic. Some pastors and churches viewed it like this:
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, that this Coronavirus pandemic has made it nearly impossible to pursue our mission. How are we supposed to make disciples when we can’t meet for worship or Sunday School or small groups? I guess we will just have to tread water until this pandemic is over and we can get back to normal.
Other churches and pastors responded more like Paul did with his imprisonment:
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, that this Coronavirus pandemic has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, we have learned to develop effective online worship experiences, we have turned to Zoom for discipleship and we have been forced to be creative in taking the gospel to people instead of expecting them to come to us. The truth is that COVID has forced us to make changes we should have made already anyway!
If Paul can thank God for how his chains actually advanced the gospel, then we can thank God for how COVID has helped us to advance the gospel. It’s all in whether or not you choose to believe that God’s plan is better than ours.