It is now month three (I think?) of all this quarantine business, and I have to say that it feels like it just won’t ever stop. Will life ever get back to normal? When can I go to a coffee shop again? Will my wife, in September, be able to celebrate and visit with her friends after the delivery of our son? There are many questions.
The stay-at-home order has especially impacted ministry, among other things. We just can’t meet in the large groups that we used to. We can’t even meet in home churches right now, which is so strange. If you’re like me and wanting ministry to “pick up” again soon, you might be wondering why God is allowing such a pause to take place on an important thing like His work. For me, I’ve watched the high school groups I’m part of slow down considerably. I’m sure if you’re involved in some sort of ministry things are definitely not how they used to be. What’s going on?
Well, I’m not sure I can give a complete answer to that question. However, I think it is 100% reasonable to suggest that God has something in store for this season that could blow our minds later on when we can see the big picture. For an example of this, let’s look at the story of Philip in the New Testament book of Acts.
Philip was one of the first leaders in the early church. He was actually one of the first seven deacons appointed (Acts 6:1-7), back when Paul (who was Saul then) was still persecuting the church. He was leading and evangelizing so much that he later became known as Philip the Evangelist.
In Acts 7, a co-leader of Philip’s, Stephen, was stoned to death for preaching the Word. In the beginning of Acts 8, the church was being persecuted and Saul was “going from house to house” (v. 3) and sending Christians to prison. Many of the leaders had to flee because of this and ended up in different areas. Philip ended up in Samaria. Think about how he must’ve felt! One of his close friends was dead, the church was on its heels, and now here he was in a completely different city. Sounds like an easy time to give up to me. However, he did quite the opposite. Acts 8: 4-7 says,
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
Wow! Philip boldly went out there, told people about Jesus, and received an incredible response to the gospel. Instead of being afraid, he stepped out in faith and was rewarded with a ton of fruit. End of the story, right? Nope. Just a few verses later, Philip is asked to go to another city. Acts 8: 26,
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.
Okay, so let me get this straight. Philip had already been run out of one town but then faithfully recovered in a tremendous fashion. People were coming to the Lord left and right. Success! Then God says to leave? And to go- where exactly? Up some desert road? In the preceding verse, Peter and John get to go back to Jerusalem. But now Philip is stuck in some small town ministry. Here’s how Howard Hendricks puts it:
“It would be as if I were preaching in Houston with the Billy Graham team, and folks are coming to Christ and the Spirit is at work and we’re turning the city upside down with the gospel. Then one evening, the Lord says to me, “Hendricks, get on a bus, and head to West Texas. I’ll tell you when to get off.” You know, I’d sort of feel demoted. Here’s all this exciting stuff going on in the big city, and I get sent to the minors. But not Philip. He obeyed, and the Spirit brought him to an official from Ethiopia. He led the man to Christ, and the gospel spread to Africa” (Living by the Book, 166).
That’s right. Even though Philip had absolutely no idea where God was sending him or why He was sending him there, he listened. And then he ended up leading an important Ethiopian man to Christ who then took the message back to his country. The passage is wonderful and totally worth including here:
27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official… This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.
Long story short, Philip ended up leading this man to Christ all because God sent him away from the busy, booming ministry in Samaria and instead up to some dirt road. As Hendricks said, it would’ve been incredibly easy for Philip to feel demoted and not really give whatever God had in mind a real shot. Instead, since he did, some truly astonishing things happened.
Similarly, the question for us becomes, “What does God have in store for us in this season?” Is it possible that He has something bigger in mind if we just open up our eyes enough to see it? Of course this would involve a willingness to get on God’s page and listen, like Philip.
I know for myself it has been easy to feel like this is an “off” time and I can kind of just pick ministry back up once this season is over. I have to wonder, though, if I do that what all I’ll miss. Philip could’ve seen his time on the old desert road as an “off time” where he was demoted to doing the mundane. He didn’t, thankfully, and hopefully we don’t either.