In our virtual Bible study a couple of weeks ago, we looked at Mark 12:13-47, and we were challenged by Jesus’ condemnation of empty religion, and his desire to see God truly honoured, with heart, mind, soul and strength, loving our neighbours as ourselves.
Off the back of that, came the brilliant question – the Covid-19 pandemic means that most of us are spending lots more time at home, and have more flexibility with our time than ever before. What does it look like to use my time in isolation to honour God?
I think if we’re honest, everyone has a sense that there’s more to life than just binge-watching Netflix, or catching ‘em all (Pokémon reference for the uninitiated). That we were made for more than that. But what is the more we were made for? And what does it look like to actually live in the “more”?
The Bible teaches us that we were made for God. We were made to glorify Him, and enjoy him forever. And that actually in the way he has set up the world, to live for his glory is the thing that brings us greatest joy, now and forever.
That’s the big picture, but what about the detail?
Well, at the start of the Bible we get a sense of how God has designed life to work well.
And we see two things about how we were made that might help us think through what it looks like to live for God in the lockdown.
1. We were made to be fruitful for God
26 Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’
Genesis 1:26-28, emphasis mine.
The first thing God says to the people he has made is this: Be. Fruitful. That is where flourishing is found, being fruitful for God.
But what does it mean to be fruitful? I think we see a few things here.
First, increase in number. Adam and Eve were the first people to enjoy the blessings of life in God’s kingdom, but God does not want them to be the last. He is eager that many people taste the goodness of life in his world. For Adam and Eve, born in the kingdom of God, the task was simple in one sense – have lots of babies. But after they turned away from God everything changed – we are no longer born inside God’s kingdom but outside.
And so since the fall, to increase in number is also to seek to bring people back into God’s kingdom, to enjoy the blessings of life there, or as Jesus put it, go and make disciples!
Talking about Jesus with others might be scary, but increasing the number of people in God’s kingdom is part of the fruitfulness God made us for. He loves it when we explore ways to increase the number of people in his kingdom.
Who could we be reaching out to during our time in lockdown?
Second, fruitfulness means filling the earth and subduing it. God made the world very good. He has made it exactly as he wanted it to be. But it’s striking that the very good world he made has work still to be done – it needs to be filled. It needs to be subdued. God wants us to be involved in the decorating of his world. The picture is of productivity. Of work. Of creativity. Working to create beauty God’s world. All work in one sense is attempting to fill and subdue God’s world, creating order out of chaos.
So if we still have work to do, let’s do it! Let’s fight distraction and be productive.
If we’ve been laid off or furloughed, let’s find new ways to be creative or productive. Could you draw something? Write a poem? Write a song? Get into photography? Volunteer to help the NHS? Develop a side hustle? Give blood?
And I think finally, since the fall, there’s also a sense in which we can be fruitful for God simply by doing anything for Him. Jesus said that he is the vine and we are the branches, and that in him we will bear much fruit, I think there meaning the distinctly Christian fruit of godliness.
Galatians 5:22 helpfully identifies the distinctive marks of those led by the Spirit of Jesus: 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
In that sense, Christians can be fruitful for God in anything we do if it’s done for Him. Watching TV might be a selfish act or a loving act. Doing the dishes might be an act of peace or an act of frustration.
So let’s be fruitful for God! Let’s increase in number. Let’s be productive! And let’s do it for Him.
But fruitfulness is not all we were made for…
2. We were made to enjoy God's rest
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
God rests because his work is complete. After work comes rest.
And the implication is that now humans are working, and the end of our work will be to share God’s rest.
Rest is not intended by God as a useful tool to enable us to work harder and longer. Rather, we work in order that we might enjoy God’s rest. Rest is the goal.
Rest is a massive theme through the Bible – there is no rest outside of God’s kingdom, partial rest in God earthly kingdom Israel, but true rest is found in Jesus, who promises rest for the souls of those who come to Him (Matthew 11:28-30).
Wouldn’t it be great to use our time in lockdown to really enjoy Jesus? Wouldn’t it be great if we re-emerged in a few weeks or months more thankful for him, more secure in Him, more dependent on Him?
In one sense, enjoying Jesus’ rest for the soul is a spiritual work God does in us, and we should pray that He would do that work. But the usual way in which God works is through means, and he has given us some wonderful means to help grow our joy in Jesus.
Like the Bible. God’s Word to us, filled with reminders of his great promises and mighty deeds for his people.
Like Christian books, written by people who’re further on than us in their knowledge of God, and who’ve written down their own discoveries from the Bible.
Like Christian songs, rich lyrical truth set to music that engages our emotions.
Like other Christian media – articles, videos, podcasts – there’s loads out there.
One of the reasons we often cite for not praying is our lack of time – why not use lockdown to get systematic with your prayers for others? What better time is there?
Let’s enjoy the soul rest that comes from knowing Jesus deeply.
But resting is more than just a spiritual exercise – we are physical beings with bodies, and there’s nothing anti-Christian about watching Netflix, playing Call of Duty or doing a home workout.
So enjoy the many leisure activities we have on offer, and give thanks to God as you do – for the artistic storytelling of those who’ve created the TV show you’re watching, for the game designers who’ve created a virtual world to explore, for the blessing of a functioning body with which you can workout.
Isn’t it great that we don’t need to choose between honouring God and flourishing as humans during lockdown?
Because as we look at God’s blueprint for life, we find that, surprise, surprise, it’s actually really good. Turns out our maker knows what is good for us.
So let’s not just whittle away the time with meaningless activities – let’s come back to God’s pattern of being fruitful for Him and enjoying his rest.
And let’s honour him as we pray, as we eat, as we work, as we game, as we watch stuff, as we read Scripture, as we exercise, giving thanks to him despite the limited circumstances.