Billy Cerveny: Coronavirus crisis – My Sunday message about why being out of control is a gift

Our family went to the beach in South Florida last month. The first morning there I took my 5-year-old daughter into the ocean and pulled her past the breakers on a cheap plastic raft.

Once we were in the calmer water she grinned and pushed away from me, testing the boundaries of her control. It was a game that brought her a tremendous amount of joy; that is, until a fish flipped or a large boat sent a wake big enough to wash her illusions of control out to sea. She would then scramble like a cat in a bathtub to jump onto my arms as we both belly laughed.

Toward the end of our trip, my wife and I woke to hear the coronavirus had reached pandemic proportions. I sat on our porch that afternoon and found myself thinking about my daughter and the game we played in the ocean. Her floating confidently in water too deep for her to stand was like a performance art piece for my own spiritual life.

CORONAVIRUS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

It is so easy to become giddy with the illusion that things are in my control. I can blindly trust the thin plastic rafts of my health, ministry life, abilities and religious busyness. But as I watched infection statistics and line graphs rise like waves, all those things seemed so anemic. There was something much more powerful and untamed coming my way; something beyond my control.

If we dare to be honest, the pandemic isn’t stripping us of control. It is showing us how little control we have always had. It also reveals the God-given cry of every human heart: What is bigger than me and more powerful than me that will take care of this?

Our current situation — barring a supernatural gift for denial — brings things into sharp focus. It not only reveals how flimsy the rafts upon which we tend to build our lives actually are, but how helpless we become when the air goes out of them.

If we dare to be honest, the pandemic isn’t stripping us of control. It is showing us how little control we have always had. It also reveals the God-given cry of every human heart: What is bigger than me and more powerful than me that will take care of this?

From a worldly perspective, this realization has the makings of a weapons-grade existential crisis. This is when we fill our closets with toilette paper and raid Walmart for Purell. Don’t get me wrong. Those things aren’t inherently bad; but when done to gain a level of control that God never intended us to have (especially at the expense of others), we only become more fearful and desperate.

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Jesus tells us in John 16:33 that “In this world you will have trouble.” That is good to know because it shows us pandemics and rising unemployment rates are not evidence that God has forgotten about us. Pain and suffering are hallmarks of this fallen world. Jesus’ words also free us from the illusion that we might somehow be able to wrestle this belligerent world to the ground. How could we do that when we can’t even do it to our own hearts?

While hearing this is helpful, if Jesus stopped there we would be left with a God that is more like a football coach telling us to rub some dirt on it than a savior. Thankfully Jesus continued saying, “But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

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Christ having overcome the world by His cross and resurrection means rising morality rates might reveal our lack of control, but they do not undermine His power (Is 41:10). He is writing a deeper story of which He is not only the author but the main character; and He has skin in the game (Col 1:17). He chose to be resurrected with open wounds in His hands, feet, and side so when we experience pain and fear in this world, we will never have to do it alone.

Most of all, Christ’s overcoming the world gave us access to the Father. Now our shattered illusions of control are no longer fuel for an existential crisis, but an invitation to trust in His power. After all, we will never trust in the power of God until we are shown the limits of our own.

When we turn our eyes to the Father we realize that He has never turned His eyes away from us (Ps. 33:18-19); and contrary to what the song might say, He is not watching from a distance. He stands beside our thin plastic rafts and holds us tightly in His arms when the waves rise around us. There is not a pandemic, personal fear, doubt, moral failure or attempt to wrestle free and do it on our own that can loosen His grip (John 10:29, Rom. 8:38). He’s got this.

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In a world ravaged by the coronavirus, putting our trust in the Father is an act of spiritual warfare. That is the only place we will find a joy big enough and sturdy enough to hold our fears, hopes and longing. This is true now just as it has always been.

One day this pandemic will end. Sports teams will play, Starbucks will reopen and we will go back to work. Things will seem much more in our control then. When that happens, don’t believe it. The only true and real power we will ever experience in this world is not ours. It comes from surrendering our sense of control as we lean into the Father. There is no better time to learn how to do that than right now.

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