My online news feed brought some cheery news this past week. (Why, oh why do I keep reading the online news feed?) “They” figure we’re headed for another wave of Coronavirus outbreaks, with more lockdowns and other regulations. Given that I know people in different parts of the world, who haven’t been out of the first lockdown yet, this is like another kick in the teeth – more cause for depression.
That, by the way, is what “they” say is another by-product of the Coronavirus pandemic: depression from being in isolation. “I miss the hugs” is an oft-heard refrain. “Stir-crazy” – defined as an episode of mental instability caused by prolonged periods of confinement – is showing itself in a variety of ways among people.
How do you fight it? Here are some examples to consider:
EXAMPLE 1: After King Herod had made the Apostle James the first Christian martyr, he saw that he was onto a good PR ploy with the people and arrested the Apostle Peter. Peter was bunged into prison, chained between two soldiers, with two sets of guards at the gate. That night, as he was asleep, an angel appeared in the cell and a light from heaven shone on Peter. Peter slept on. The angel called him. Peter stayed sleeping. The angel hit him in the side, and finally Peter woke up. The shackles fell away, the gates swung open and the angel led him out into the city.
EXAMPLE 2: The Apostle Paul and his mate, Silas, were arrested for causing a disturbance in Philippi (Paul had cast out a spirit of divination from a young woman, thereby depriving her “handlers” – spirit pimps, you might call them – of a rather lucrative income). They were put in a cell in the innermost part of the prison, with their feet in stocks. At midnight, the two of them were praying aloud – and loudly – and singing songs of praise to God. They were so loud, the other prisoners couldn’t sleep. Suddenly, there was an earthquake, and all the chains were broken away and the doors to the cells were flung open. The jailer woke up, and when he saw what had happened, he pulled his sword and was about to kill himself, when Paul called to him, “Do yourself no harm! We are all here!”
EXAMPLE 3: The prophet Jonah, trying to avoid an assignment from the Lord, got on a ship to go in the other direction from where he was supposed to go – Nineveh – but a great storm came up and the ship and its crew were threatened. Jonah confessed that the storm was a result of his disobedience and let the crew toss him overboard. The storm died down, and a large fish appeared and swallowed Jonah. In the three days and three nights that Jonah stayed inside, he prayed and declared that God answered his prayers – no matter what the answers happened to be. Eventually, the fish spat Jonah out onto dry land, and onto the route to Nineveh.
What’s the common thread through all of this? When faced with this forced confinement, rather than bewail their fate or even dwell, in Jonah’s case, on how much they might have deserved it, they prayed. Peter was so confident that God was in control of everything, even though he might have been unjustly executed the next morning, he slept – and slept so soundly, that the angel had to hit him to wake him up. Paul and Silas kept everybody in the prison awake with their singing and praising. Jonah declared his dedication to God. And all three of them were miraculously released and set off to do the work God had intended them to do.
That’s the mindset we need to cultivate in the face of the prospect of more lockdowns and restrictions on our activities. Sure, there are people, some of whom are self-identifying Christians, who want to buck the system and claim there’s some kind of nefarious conspiracy to limit people’s freedoms; but that takes away the possibility that God has something going down.
There are a couple of sidebars worth noting. One, is that, when Jonah went overboard into the ocean, he was out of his element. But the fish wasn’t. Being in the fish gave Jonah a measure of safety and comfort for three days and nights, which gave him the opportunity to reflect, pray, praise and get his head back together. Let’s consider times of lockdowns and other restrictions as opportunities sent by God for us to “re-calibrate” and take another look at how we’re approaching our lives. Praising God during times like these effectively allows Him into the picture and demonstrates our hope and faith. Remember: it’s safer in the fish.
The other, is that when the earthquake burst open the doors and broke the chains in Paul’s and Silas’ prison, they did not make a run for it and lead the other prisoners with them. Rather, they stayed put, and prevented the jailer from killing himself. Paul’s first concern was for the people around him and, in particular, for the jailer, who would face dire consequences for something that wasn’t his fault (the soldiers guarding Peter were executed for letting him get away). Paul seized on the opportunity for ministry, and the jailer, his household, and the prisoners went on to become the church at Philippi.
It was to that church that Paul later wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)
With the possibility we could see renewed restrictions on our physical freedom, here are three examples we can follow to keep from going stir-crazy: keep looking up and out, and don’t stop praising God. We are promised that we will be able to relax, think more clearly, and eventually, get “spat back out” onto the route that takes us to where we’re supposed to be going.
Drew Snider is a former pastor at Gospel Mission on Vancouver's Downtown East Side, and has been a guest speaker at churches in BC. He writes about the people and events in his e-book, ‘God At Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty’. (available at online bookstores)
You can read more articles on our interfsaith blog, Spiritually Speaking HERE