John Twisleton writes about 'Experiencing Christ's love' in a pandemic
‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.'
St Paul’s words from Philippians 4:6-7 are timely even if it's hard to avoid anxiety when you’re housebound in a pandemic. An epidemic is a widespread disease. A pandemic threatens the whole world and in the case of Covid-19 is fatal for a small proportion of us even if numbers of deaths sound alarming.
As Christians we follow the prescription for isolation as best we can with an eye to helping the vulnerable in our acquaintance. Though our worship routine is lost, save online, our discipline of prayer, study of the Bible and spiritual authors, commitment to caring for others and to reflect on life remains. Like many I’m finding I have too much time to reflect in this crisis. In our household we ration the news and try to build in more prayer and care for others shown in phoning and messaging around our circle.
In my book Experiencing Christ’s Love (BRF, 2017) I celebrate and share ideas about holding ourselves to the basic Christian disciplines of worship, prayer, study, service and reflection. The writing of this book came through a communication of what I sensed as an invitation from God to convey something of his grace and how best to stay living in that grace. You might know what I’m talking about in describing how verses you’re reading in the Bible sometimes jump out at you. This happened to me reading Matthew 22:37-39: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.'
As I prayed for God-given competence to frame the book, the Lord drew me to an image of his hand reaching down to me and my own hand grasping his with its five digits expressing five loves commended in Christ’s summary of the Old Testament Law. In this teaching Jesus implies that worship and prayer are to be seen as heart and soul of our love for God. He implies, though, that without study engaging the mind with divine teaching, that love will be ill formed, and without service, love of neighbour, and reflection, loving care of self, our loving God is a delusion. Those five commitments - worship, prayer, study, service, reflection - make for me a hand that can grasp the hand of God reaching down to us in Jesus Christ to raise us into his praise and service with all the saints, an image of the grace - or favour - of God towards us. They provided the framework for the five short chapters of Experiencing Christ’s Love.
God loves us through and through which is the best news on earth. If we follow Jesus our response to that love finds expression in a rule of life in the power of the Holy Spirit so we worship on Sunday, pray every day, study the Bible, serve our neighbour and reflect upon our lives confessing our sins. Such thinking and action has fuelled my life as a Christian and, though public worship is denied me, helps keep me close to the Lord with compassion for others in this difficult season.
Dale Carnegie once observed: ‘Two men looked through prison bars. One saw mud and one saw stars.’ It’s a decision we make, to look up; one of faith, and it has the potential to topple anxiety. ‘Look to the Lord,’ we read in Psalm 34:5 ‘and be radiant’. We may be housebound but as ‘by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,' we present our requests to God, his peace, 'which surpasses all understanding,' will indeed guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
John Twisleton is based in Sussex and the former parish priest of Horsted Keynes in Chichester Diocese, where he also led the diocesan mission and renewal team for eight years. He has also worked as an Area Missioner in London Diocese and as Principal of an ordination training centre in Guyana. He has written on issues including baptism, confession, priesthood, prayer and healing, and he broadcasts regularly on Premier Radio.