In 1859 Charles Dickens wrote the novel A Tale of Two Cities where the plot centres on the years leading up to the French Revolution in the late 1700s and culminates in the creation of the first French Republic. Charles Dickens began his novel with these contrasting words;
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredibility,
it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
And down through the ages we find that the unfolding worst of times often create a season of opportunity with spectacular breakthroughs for those who had the courage and insight to see the spring of hope that was contained in the winter of despair.
William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar reveals this paradox of ideas in the memorable words of Brutus where
“The enemy increaseth every day,
We, at the height, are ready to decline.
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows, and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.” (Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3)
These are the times that contain defining moments DEFINING MOMENTS | Rod Denton (roddentoneng.com.au) that give birth to unprecedented opportunities, that require a leader to take challenging faith steps in the midst of difficulties that come at a great price, but lead to a new season of breakthrough and breakout.
In his article “These Are The Worst of Times And These Are The Best of Times” Leith Anderson describes the terrible culture of the Roman Empire in the first three centuries. In many ways it was the worst of times where:
- people lived in filthy, disease ridden ugly places.
- divorce was so common that marriage virtually disappeared as an institution.
- abortion was very common.
- the most common form of birth control was infanticide, particularly amongst female babies.
- plagues would destroy as much as a third of the population and cities were evacuated except for the sick and elderly and children who were left behind.
But ironically these worst of times proved to be the best of times for Christians who:
- searched for abandoned babies and brought them home to raise them to become Christians.
- welcomed immigrants into their cities and gave them jobs and a home.
- stayed at home when the plagues came and fed the elderly and took care of the children and the sick who became believers in Jesus Christ. In the process, many of the Christians died.
- insisted that the girls they raised had to marry a believer in Jesus Christ. Consequently, Roman men converted to Christianity in the thousands because it was the only way they were ever going to get a wife.
Leith Anderson in his article references a book called “The Rise Of Christianity” by Rodney Starke who argues that the reason the Roman Empire became Christian was because of the behaviour of the Christians over a long period of time.
“Constantine declared Christianity the real religion of the Roman Empire because he had no other political choice. The Christians now outnumbered the pagans because paganism had collapsed under its own sinful weight and Christianity had simply been Christianity.”
And Leith Anderson concludes, “The Gospel – it works! And so in these best of times and worst of times, may we reach our generation for Jesus and His cross.”
A similar story occurred in the early New Testament church where it took a great persecution to push the Christians beyond Jerusalem and into Judea and Samaria, thus fulfilling the second part of Jesus’ great commission.
“On that day (the stoning of Stephen), a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Acts 8:1-4
Again we find that God was sovereignly at work advancing His kingdom to fulfill His global mission and worst of times gave birth to the best of times. I remember learning in a physics lesson that the greater the heat, the greater the expansion.
Early in 2020, a global pandemic broke out and greatly impacted our lives in noticeable ways. Lockdowns of whole communities have occurred, world travel has been severely compromised, millions of people have been hit by this cruel virus, large numbers have died, and for many people their economic livelihood has suffered. Social gatherings have been restricted and churches in much of the world have been brought to a standstill and even closed.
Suddenly, the “worst of times” had arrived and the church faced an unparalleled challenge for which it had not been prepared. However, a review of history at such a time as this provides us with a timely reminder that in the worst of times the church has experienced the best of times and the following are a few pointers that we can hold on to as we make sense of what some people are calling the New Normal.
- Times of crisis do not take our sovereign God by surprise. Jesus is still building His church and the gates of hell will not overcome it. For the church, crises have always opened the door for opportunities. Paul lived with such discernment.
“And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that EVERYTHING that has happened to me here has helped to spread the good news. For EVERYONE here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.” Philippians 1:12-14
- Could it be that we have been living through a season where a great shaking is taking place so that only unshakable things (the Kingdom of God) will remain? Hebrews 12:27
Are we courageous enough to accept that this time of upheaval has achieved for us a valuable service where we can boldly enter into the New Normal with a simpler wineskin that is capable of holding the new wine of the Spirit that will empower us to reach our generation for Christ?
- Now that our church buildings in many cases have had limitations placed on their use, is it not time to realise that Jesus has called us to be salt and light in the world in which we live? Are we not most like Jesus when we get out of the saltshaker and immerse ourselves in a lost world beyond the four walls of our church building, to pastor a city and not just a church?
- Our Father is still at work today and wants to open new doors of opportunity that we have never experienced before :
- Since the pandemic impacted our life, my wife Sue and I have for the first time been writing letters to our neighbours to ask how we can pray for them and we have daily prayer walked our neighbourhood. In the process, barriers are breaking down and meaningful relationships are developing.
- A friend recently told me that his church has been for the first time conducting the ALPHA course by Zoom and following the last course, 61 people in the surrounding community committed their lives to Jesus Christ.
- I am now able to mentor and teach by way of Zoom and Skype and have recently conducted 3 new leadership training classes in the Middle East and Asia.
- It is in times like this that a new wave of leaders rise up, who are ready to lay down their lives and seize the day for opportunities that are unseen by leaders who find their identities in their long held traditions of the past. These new leaders march to a different drumbeat that ultimately is resulting in a new and vibrant wineskin taking shape that attracts the new wine of the Spirit. These leaders are like the men of Issacchar, mighty men of valour, who “understood the times and knew what to do.” 1 Chronicles 12:2
- It is a time of spiritual warfare where Satan will do all that he can to remove you and me from the intense battle that is taking place. Consequently, we must be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power and put on every piece of God’s armour and go forward in the mighty name of Jesus. We dare not enter the arena of warfare in our own strength.
- It is a time of restored intimacy with the Father so that we like Jesus can say, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too, am working……the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” John 5:17,19
Let us with fresh perspective courageously move forward by following the prompts of the Holy Spirit confident in the fact that it is often when the world is experiencing the worst of times, that the church of Jesus Christ is experiencing the best of God’s Kairos times. Onward Christian soldiers.