A Time of Distress

Deuteronomy 4:25–31; Jonah 2:1–10; Matthew 9:35–38 (read online ⧉)

Moses is not all that optimistic about the future spiritual health of the people of Israel. He’s downright pessimistic about what paths they will follow away from God. There is something in today’s opening verse that is important, “When you…have been in the land a long time….” We often focus on the acting corruptly piece. It is the underlying comfort piece that we should be aware of. Being in a place for a long time breeds comfort. Comfort often produces contempt (which is seems to be the thrust of Moses’ concern). Moses continues with how their descendants would, instead of worshiping the God that rescued them from Egypt, worship lifeless idols of wood and metal. What a mess!

And then…DISTRESS! Honestly, as we understand reading the story of the fall of Israel, we understand just how much distress they experienced. Reading the prophets we understand just how much contempt they had, as well. Yet, the distress was a refiners fire for the Israelites, and that was a good thing.

Jonah’s distress was also self-inflicted. He ran away from his call from God. When he finally acknowledged his responsibility to the call, he was tossed into the sea and swallowed by a fish. Not quite a refiner’s fire, but perhaps the gastric juices of the fish served the same effect. Jonah, in his distress, approached the throne of God. DISTRESS! It was a good thing.

After all the Israelites and then the Jews (the last known identifiable remnants of Israel) had been through, they were still in distress at the time of Jesus. The crowds that followed Jesus were adrift on a spiritual storm-tossed sea. They were abandoned (without a shepherd). When Jesus had compassion on them, it was (in many respects) no different than God’s compassion on the lost Israelites. These people were in distress. The good news? That drew them to Jesus.

Distress is not an uncommon thing. Sadly, it’s not uncommon at all. It is part of the human condition. It is what we do in and with the distress that is important. Distress can refine us. The refiner’s fire can often be an uncomfortable thing. We are now at a time when we all need to embrace the distress and the fire. For some, it the endless activities that have ceased. For others, it could be the shape of the church that was, is, and is to come. Then there are the economic and stability questions that desperately need answers.

For all of these things, and more, there are assumptions that need to be questioned. Some will be retained (and that’s okay). Others we may change. There is a snarky comment directed at politicians…a good politician will never let a crisis go to waste. We shouldn’t either. In the case of a politician, it will usually be for power. For us, it needs to be so that we are made, re-made, and continually re-made into the image of Jesus Christ.

Almighty God, we surrender our desire to control this crisis. We surrender our fears and anxieties. Help us to, most of all, surrender ourselves to your will and way. We know that you will to take our bad and turn it into good for us. Help, Lord, to embrace, accept and pursue your loving hammer and chisel that shapes our hearts of stone. Give us new life that takes any part of us that is stone and unyielding to you, and turn it into living flesh that brings you glory and honor. Amen.

1) What is the biggest “obstacle” for you right now in the current situation? Is it an obstacle that is between you and God?

2) How do you see the current COVID-19 situation being a “refiner’s fire”? How is it not a “refiner’s fire”?

3) What other distress points are on your heart right now? What might God be using those to draw you to him?