After 12 months of ongoing adjustments to existing plans and uncertainty about future plans, the outworking of COVID-19 has brought a weariness to the heart and soul. In God's kindness, with the vaccine rollout, it appears that for the remainder of 2021 we are entering a time of normality. Yet the strains of living through the pandemic linger.
What is noticeable are the numerous comments showing that weariness has also affected the normal patterns of Christian discipleship and ministry life. The constant adjustment to what can and cannot be done in church, even for the folk who enjoy change, has taken a toll.
Clearly, the past year has been exceptional. But it has not fundamentally brought a new challenge for Christian life and discipleship. What has happened is that the pandemic has heightened and intensified something that always existed: weariness is an ever-present reality that can be experienced when living for Jesus.
Enthusiasm can get us going, but inevitably effort is required to keep going in many aspects of the Christian life. The burst of enthusiasm will always meet the strains of time and circumstance. The good things that we know are good never simply develop a momentum that keeps everything moving forward. We all have the tendency to grow tired of doing the things that God says are good.
The resolve at the start of each year to regularly read the Bible has enthusiasm and focus, but it erodes with time. Sometimes, it is the circumstances of life. Other times, it is just the slog of doing something that does not seem to be getting any apparent results.
The regular pattern of meeting with other Christians is an unambiguous good. But the accumulation of small and large matters that clamour for attention and focus means that sustaining the pattern requires constant attention and effort.
I remember well the enthusiasm of starting a new church seeping slowly away with the sheer regularity of keeping it going. It is not as if you lose heart, but what you need to fall back on is effort.
In God's wisdom, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made with different personalities. We all can view the same circumstances slightly differently. However, whether the glass seems half full or empty, inevitably Christian life and ministry needs effort to keep it going.
The apostle Paul knew of the reality of weariness. In Galatians 6:9 he wrote, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”.
Paul was very much aware that there is temptation to give up because we have grown weary in doing the good that God desires. There is the general weariness of life that comes as a result of living in a fallen world, but the verse is speaking of the weariness of living faithfully as a Christian.
What we should note is the incentive Paul gives for not becoming weary in doing good. First, at the proper, God-given time, what is accomplished in not giving up will become apparent. You keep going not by sight but by faith.
Second, there is the promise of a reward. "We will reap a harvest" as a consequence of not giving up. God is gathering the faithful, ongoing efforts of all those doing good to ultimately reap a harvest far greater than we could imagine from our individual efforts.
The consequence of this understanding is profound. God is neither disconnected or disinterested in any of the God-directed good that we do. Nothing is too small or inconsequential for God. The Bible’s evidence is that God most commonly uses ordinary people faithfully engaged in the good he desires to accomplish his purposes.
We can always come up with reasons why we cannot keep going in doing good. But the only way we fail is by giving up. There is always good we can do. The promise is that in not giving up, God will gather these innumerable, faithful, good efforts by ordinary Christians into a harvest that is staggering.
Given that promise, how do we each deal with the reality of feeling weary or despondent about doing good? We know the good that God desires. We know that we live the Christian life for others and not ourselves, but we don't feel like it.
Don't give up! Take the step in faith towards the good that God desires. But pray as you go. "Father, I take this step, acknowledging that I could easily give up. Help me to be faithful as I do your good, changing my heart even as I step forward trusting in you."
Keep going in the good to which God calls you.
Bishop Peter Hayward is the Administrator of the Diocese.