“I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.”—2 Timothy 1:3–4
The days are getting longer, it seems. The morning comes and there is nowhere to go. Here at my house, by 10am, we begin to wonder if it is time to eat lunch. The quarantine is beginning to take a toll, particularly for those of us whose jobs do not demand we get up and “head to work.” But the Lord is good and gracious. He will sustain us even as he teaches us some important lessons along the way.
In these strange days, more than one person has written to help us understand what God’s purposes are in this time. Of course, we know the ultimate aim is his glory. Yet, what specifically he is doing in our individual lives is a bit harder to nail down. As our chancellor has said in the past, God is doing ten thousand things at any given moment, and we might be aware of one. That certainly is true in this case. God is at work, of that we are sure (e.g., Ephesians 1:11). And that his purposes are marching on is an unshakable reality (Job 42:2). What exactly he is doing in your life in this moment, well, he knows and you can rest knowing that he is for your good (Romans 8:28).
One of the things I believe God is doing in our particular predicament is causing us to feel the need we have for one another. Having been forced away from the regular gathering of God’s people for over a month now, I have become more aware than ever before of the absolute necessity of the church in my life. I have read with fresh eyes and felt the weight in new ways of the reality of certain passages of Scripture. The one that comes immediately to mind is what Paul says to Timothy at the end of Paul’s life. He writes, “I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:4).
Read that again. A little slower this time. Note the words. Paul longs to see Timothy, his “beloved child” (1:2). There is a deep desire to enjoy the physical presence of his partner in ministry, his friend in the fight of faith. Why? What benefit would Paul derive from such friendly communion? He tells us in the purpose clause of the sentence. “I long to see you, ἵνα….” The ἵνα denotes the purpose (i.e., “that” or “in order that”). The act is seeing Timothy. The purpose is so that he “may be filled with joy.” Seeing Timothy would contribute to Paul’s joy in this world.
Surely you see the relevance for this verse in our current moment, right? I would bet that even as you read this there are particular persons you can think of that you long to see. For me, several faces of church members flashed in my mind as I think about how I long to see them. Seeing them would be, by the grace of God, a means of grace that would cause joy to well up within my soul. In fact, I think this is one of the pathways to happiness in Jesus. By his grace, through the power of the Spirit, God uses the church, our brothers and sisters, to make us happy in Christ. To say it another way, there is a churchly contribution to our joy in Jesus.
If we aim specifically at our school, the same holds true in the present moment. The ability to meet together, to sit side by side as we look at God’s Book, talk about glorious realities, and wrestle through how to live faithfully in this age, is missing. We feel the relational or social distancing deeply. Professors miss being in the room with students. Students miss walking up to professors and engaging before or after class. The staff of our school miss seeing students walk the halls, or colleagues sit across the table in a meeting. There is, in light of these realities, a reason for sorrow.
Yet, in all of this, God is at work. In the midst of sorrow, there are massive reasons for rejoicing. We rejoice precisely because our Father is always working, even in the midst of painful, weird, and hard times. In these moments, he tends to work miracles among us. God is, I believe, causing our hearts to long for one another in new ways. He is reminding us of how important it is to live in community with each other. Our great Teacher is helping us see that we are not meant to live in isolation from the blood-bought family. Perhaps, God is helping us see that community is not insignificant, but one of the very ways he has ordained to help us to live joyfully and faithfully in his fallen world.
So, what is God doing? Today, what he is doing in my life is causing my heart to long for my brothers and sisters in the faith. Tomorrow, he may do something very different in and around me. What I do know is that he is doing far more than we could ever imagine. And everything he is doing aims at our good, at the joy of all peoples, and at the fame of his name.
Jonathon D. Woodyard, M.Div. ’16
Lead Pastor, Northfield Community Church
Adjunct Instructor, Bethlehem College & Seminary
- Pray that God would grant us grace to trust and see what he is doing during this time.
- Pray that God will sustain our students and faculty as they near the end of the semester.
- Pray that God will give grace to our leaders as they guide us through this difficult season.
- Pray that God will sustain the necessary giving to allow Bethlehem College & Seminary and its two extension sites to fulfill the mission he has given us.