CHURCH IN A PANDEMIC: Testing God or Trusting God?

“It’s not a concern. The virus we believe is politically motivated,” Pastor Tony Spell proclaimed. We hold our religious rights dear, and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.” The Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has continued to meet in defiance of orders from the governor prohibiting large gatherings. Over 1,000 people gathered for worship, trusting God to protect them from danger and heal their diseases. To Pastor Spell, it is a matter of faith.

Mark Palenske is no Tony Spell. He is the pastor at First Assembly of God church in Greers Ferry, Arkansas. The church assumed they were safe given their rural location and no government orders prohibiting them from meeting even though the authorities urged people to practice social distancing. They held a children’s ministry event at their church. Since then, 34 people who attended the event have contracted Covid-19, including the pastor and his wife. Bill Barton, a 91-year-old greeter at the church, died from the virus. Pastor Palenske writes, “Please adhere to the social instructions that you are receiving locally and nationally.”

One pastor made headlines. One pastor has regrets.

THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS

Satan took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and challenged Him to throw Himself down (Mt. 4:5-7). “God has promised to protect you,” Satan asserted, quoting Psalm 91:11-12 to prove his point. It is a matter of faith. Jesus could prove the power of God to the world by trusting the promises of God to protect Him. He could do the impossible because God would somehow suspend the laws of gravity to save Him. Jesus refused. He said, “It is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord Your God to the test (Mt. 4:7).”

Testing God or trusting God? Both Satan and Jesus quoted Scripture. Jesus was right!

We test God when we assume that God will protect us from our foolish choices.

THE VALLY OF REPHIDIM

Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16. The context is the great Shema of Israel. Love God with all your heart, soul, and might, and He will bring you into the land He has promised to you. Moses exhorts the people not to forget God when they are safe and prosperous in the land. It is in this context that Moses makes the statement that Jesus quotes. But Jesus does not quote the whole statement of Moses. Moses said, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.” Massah is the clue to the meaning of the text.

Israel arrived in the Valley of Rephidim weary, hungry and thirsty, but there was no fresh water to drink (Ex. 17:1-7). God had promised them the Promised Land, but all they had to show for His promises was a wasteland. They rebelled against Moses and demanded that he provide water immediately. Moses said, “Why do you test the Lord?” They wanted God to prove Himself to them by meeting their needs. The people did not want to trust God’s plan. They wanted water now! God provided water miraculously through the rock at Horeb. Moses “named the place Massah (test) and Meribah (quarrel) because … they tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?” To test God is to question whether He is with us in our circumstances. Testing God means that we force God to prove Himself to us.

We demand that God do what we want Him to do when we want Him to do it.

We test God when we presume that God will meet our expectations.

GOD’S PLAN

The next episode in the Valley of Rephidim is the great victory over the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8-16). Moses took Aaron and Hur up to the top of a hill, and Joshua led the army in battle below. If Moses raised his arms, Israel prevailed in battle. When Moses dropped his arms, the battle turned to Amalek. Aaron and Hur stood beside Moses and held his arms high until Israel won the battle. Moses built an altar and named it “The Lord is My Banner” (Ex. 17:15). God had promised them the Promised Land. He did not promise them an easy road to that land. The only way to win on the path to the promise is by faith in God’s plan.

We trust God when we rest in God’s plan for our lives.

The lesson of Rephidim was to wait on God for His provision. The Israelites knew that God had promised them the Promised Land, so they should have trusted God to provide the water. They fought the battle with the Amalekites by trusting God for the power to win. The lesson of Rephidim is to wait for the water but fight when directed. Moses had learned the art of warfare from the Egyptians. In Egyptian warfare, the general stood on a high hill. When the general raised his arms, the army attacked. When the general lowered his arms, the army retreated. We wait on God until called to act.
 

WAITING ON GOD

Waiting on God fills the psalms (Ps. 27:14; 37:7; 52:9; 62:5; 130:5; 145:15). Waiting on God is as much an act of faith as fighting for God. They both involve dependence – the essence of faith. Waiting is not inactive—practice active waiting. Act in accord with your faith in God’s plan. In our church, we are not gathering on Sunday, but we are practicing active waiting on God. Our elders are calling all our members to check on them. People are in place to help with getting groceries or meeting other needs. Some people volunteer at food banks, and others are serving in the medical profession or as first responders.

Oddly enough, the greatest act of faith sometimes requires us to be quiet and wait. Stay home and trust God. Spend time with your family. Talk to your children. Face time or Zoom with friends. Check on a neighbor. These intensely human activities are acts of faith in the face of death. Waiting on God is not splashy, exciting, or inspiring, but it is powerful. When God decides to move, we are ready and waiting.

Wait for the Lord;

Be strong and let your heart take courage;

Yes, wait for the Lord.

(Ps. 27:14)