31 May Disguised Grace In A “New Normal”
In recent government announcements, Singaporeans were prepared to move into a “new normal” in the months to come, if a vaccine for COVID-19 is not yet ready. It is about half a year since the emergence of the coronavirus, and indeed, a “new normal” seems to be setting into our lives. There has also been talk that even after the pandemic ends, its repercussions may linger for one year or even longer. For it will take time for the economy to recover, and for people to get back to stable lives. Such worrying circumstances call to mind the words of prophet Jeremiah, when the Israelites also faced the problem of captivity and uncertainties ahead. Although our situation is not exactly the same as the context of Jeremiah, there are also precious lessons we can learn from the Book of Jeremiah.
God’s blessings are not always obvious.
Sometimes, what man deems as good may not be so, and what man scorns may have hidden blessings instead.
In <Jeremiah 27>, we read that God had said through prophet Jeremiah, “14 Do not listen to the words of the prophets who say to you, ‘You will not serve the king of Babylon,’ for they are prophesying lies to you. 17 Do not listen to them. Serve the king of Babylon, and you will live. Why should this city become a ruin?” Naturally, the Israelites would not wish to be taken captive and leave their homeland. Yet over here, God gave them instructions that were opposite from their desire and counterintuitive to their understanding. Those who were willing to be taken captive and serve Babylon, will live. On the contrary, those who refused will suffer.
Indeed, God’s grace does not always follow humans’ common sense. In the eyes of the Israelites, perhaps to remain in their home country and be near to the temple of Jerusalem seemed safer and better, while to be taken captive to a faraway land seemed like a curse. However, this is contrary to God’s plan. Usually, people will think that problems, sickness, captivity, etc, are considered curses, while prosperity, good name, comfort, etc, are blessings. Yet, this may not be so. If a person rejects Christ’s salvation simply because he is rich and successful, then it is no blessing at all, but curse instead. On the contrary, if a person’s problems and misery lead him to God’s redemption, then that is actually blessing in disguise. In fact, God sometimes uses counterintuitive guidance to open man’s eyes. Therefore, we need not be discouraged too soon over adverse circumstances. Sometimes, a seemingly bad situation may contain more grace than a situation that appears good.
However, we must have the heart to seek out God’s reasons for permitting us to go through unfathomable problems.
Here, God wanted to let the Israelites know that whatever they encountered was not by chance, but God had a plan for them: <Jeremiah 29> 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
Indeed, sometimes God’s plan seems incomprehensible, just like Israel’s captivity and the pandemic today. But even when we do not understand, God tells us to call to Him and He will answer us, seek Him and He will be found by us. God has important plans for both the Israelites of the past and we people of God today. God’s chief purpose is for His people to seek Him. At the time of Jeremiah, God’s people had already drifted from Him, and many believers today are also gradually wandering away from God and replacing Him with various idols. God sometimes allows certain things to happen, so as to bring His people back to Him. Importantly, no matter how great the adversity, God’s plan for us is never to harm us but to bless us. Through the process, God wants to draw us closer to Him, and make us more Christ-like. Ultimately, God will not let us remain as victims, but will make us victors in Christ.
God may bless us not by removing the problem, but giving us grace amid the problem.
<Jeremiah 29> 4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.
God may not let the problem pass quickly, but his help is revealed in the midst of the problem.
<Jeremiah 29:11> is a well-liked verse, because it tells us that God wants to prosper and not to harm us. This sounds like God’s help would come very quickly to Israel, yet God said that the dreadful captivity for the Israelites will last as long as 70 years. Yes, God planned to give them a bright future, but it was something very different from what they had hoped for. Contrary to their wish, in the short-term, they would not see relief. Therefore, God instructed them to start a new life in their land of captivity where they were unwilling to stay, and then to build houses, plant crops, build families there; in other words, God was telling them to settle down in the “new normal”.
Isn’t this similar to our situation right now? We are also stuck in a pandemic we do not like to remain in. We also hope that this global crisis will be over soon. But looking at the situation, even if the pandemic cools down, the economy and employment rate will not recover so fast. Yet, as believers, we have to understand that the peace and welfare that God promised us are not just fulfilled only after the problem passes, but they can be experienced even during the problem. Just as God promised that the Israelites could still multiply and not decrease even during captivity. Even in a “new normal” which we would rather opt out of, God still offers us sufficient grace and practical provisions.
The problems faced by believers will not be permanent.
<Jeremiah 29:10> This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.
God told the Israelites that there would be a time limit to their captivity; after 70 years, they would be brought back to Israel. Likewise, the misery of God’s people today will also not last forever. In God’s beautiful time, our problems will end, either in this lifetime, or if not, at least in the heavenly kingdom which we are entering.
Dear brethren, perhaps you are perplexed today about your current adverse situation, or you do not like the “new normal” you are thrown into. Today, God wants to reassure you with His words, that He meant to “prosper you and not to harm you”. Who knows, months and years later when we look back on this pandemic, we may be able to see how “things work for our good” <Romans 8:28>, and how “evil can be turned into something good” <Genesis 50:20>. God can transform our problems into testimonies. Sometimes, God’s grace may be disguised such that we cannot recognize it, yet “if we were to call on God, He will listen to us. If we seek Him, we will find Him when we seek Him with all our heart.” <Jeremiah 29:12-13> May the Lord help us to recognize His grace today!