Lots of words are being used to describe the current environment we find ourselves in due to the pandemic that is COVID-19. While there are certainly many that could rightly apply, the one that most often enters my mind is the word “unsettling.”
The incredibly rapid spread of the virus is unsettling. Watching the number of cases steadily rise, while the stock market steadily falls, is unsettling. The forecasting of mass layoffs resulting in potentially record unemployment and the impact on our economy and on people’s ability to feed their families is unsettling. The photos and videos from overwhelmed hospitals, the rising death count, and the unshakeable feeling that everyone you meet could be a carrier are all quite unsettling.
Much could (and is) being said about being rooted and grounded in Christ (Col. 2:6-7) when our world seems to have been uprooted so quickly, and the church does well to cling to God’s promises in times such as these. Praise the Lord that our anchor holds.
But the church would also do well to consider another truth from God’s Word during these unsettling times: that unsettled hearts are hearts that are suddenly much more prone to hear the gospel.
Unsettled & Listening
Think about it—never in the history of time has someone put their faith in Jesus apart from being unsettled.
For many, it was when everything seemed to be unraveling that they looked to God for help. Perhaps a broken marriage, an addiction, a health scare, or something similar. It’s during times like these that many will cry out to God in their brokenness, and God will hear their cries and draw them to himself through Jesus.
Of course, that isn’t everyone’s story. I myself found God when everything in my life was going right. I was in a season where I had everything I ever thought I wanted, and I was unsettled by how unsatisfying it all was. God used this to show me I was made for more—I was made for him.
No matter what the presenting problem is, the ultimate unsettling event for the soon-to-be Christian is when the truth of God’s law hits home—that all of us stand guilty and condemned before him (Rom. 3:23) and all are deserving of God’s wrath and even death (Rom. 6:23). This unsettling leads us to cry out to Jesus for salvation, who loves us enough to take the penalty we deserved (Rom. 5:8) so that we can be saved through him (Rom. 10:9-10).
No one in history has given their life to Jesus without being profoundly unsettled, ever.
So, what does that mean for an entire world that is suddenly unsettled all at the same time? It means that we find ourselves with a unique opportunity to share Christ with people who are more prone to listen. Not everyone, but many. As humanity is reminded of how fragile we truly are (imagine if the mortality rate was even higher) and how quickly things can change, God will use this event to humble us and to draw many eyes upward to himself. Out of the ashes, beauty will be found. When our earthly kingdoms are shaken, God will call many to a kingdom unshakeable.
Unsettled & Proclaiming
Being unsettled also has a way of encouraging God’s followers to be that much bolder with the gospel. As we are reminded that our hope is not in this world, that our treasure is in heaven, and that God has given to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-21), we are empowered to share our hope with others. When our world is shattered, sharing the truth should be easier, not harder, to do.
I’ve always been struck by the response of the persecuted church in Acts 8. Opposition to the gospel, led by Paul himself, was ravaging the church. Many were being dragged out of their homes and being thrown in prison. Some, such as Stephen (in Acts 7), were even killed. The result was that the church was unsettled and dispersed from Jerusalem to the surrounding regions. The result?
“Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
They had lost everything: their homes, their jobs, their neighbors and friends. They couldn’t have been more unsettled. And yet, with their eyes fixed on Christ and not this transient world, they went about telling people about Jesus. And as God’s power shown through his people as they proclaimed Christ, they brought joy to the cities they were scattered to (Acts 8:8). God used an unsettled people to bring hope to those who otherwise wouldn’t have heard.
May history record a similar response in God’s people during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020: that though we were all rapidly unsettled, the good news of the gospel went forth through Christians proclaiming salvation to a world that was suddenly listening.