13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13–14 (NKJV)
We will begin this week’s devotional with wise words from Bob Gass.
“Get your eyes out of the rear-view mirror and start looking ahead. Celebrate the fact that you’ve survived! The devil tried to destroy you, but the good news is that he failed!”
By now I think we have pretty much all gotten over the initial fear that the Covid threat created in each one of us. Sure we are wary and careful to be Covid safe, but it’s not the same as it was in those first few weeks. What is becoming increasingly apparent is that what we once regarded as normal life before Covid is gone, possibly forever. In its place is a whole new way of living. For example, personal hygiene is no longer a matter of personal choice but rather a legally mandated requirement. If you don’t sanitize you don’t enter, we must now observe social distancing and all that kind of thing.
As Australians we are not accustomed to restrictions being placed on our ability to travel, visit family, or even take a holiday. It all sounds like something that pre-covid we would expect in some totalitarian regime. Yet here we are, and we are gradually adapting to the new normal, for our own sakes and those of our communities.
How does that affect us as individuals? The first person I think of in this respect is the apostle Paul. Firstly, named Saul, he was a wealthy Roman citizen by birth, superbly educated by some of the finest minds of his time and generally considered a rising star in the leadership of the Jewish people in first century Jerusalem which was and remains, for a Jew, the navel of the world. His future looked bright. He was zealous for the purity of the faith and adherence to Torah. When a young heretic named Stephen, was sentenced to death by stoning, it was Saul who held the garments of those who threw the stones that killed Stephen. As the Jewish authorities realised that the followers of Jesus were growing in numbers and influence they determined to exterminate this heretical sect of Jesus people from the face of the earth. The church scattered all over Judea and Samaria, except for the apostles. Then we read in Acts 8:3 (NKJV) : –
3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Saul grew in his zeal to cleanse the world of believers and secured permission to travel to Damascus to track down the Christians in that city and bring them bound back to Jerusalem. He believed that he was on a divinely appointed mission from God. Until God confronted him.
It was on the road to Damascus that Saul’s ‘normal’ life was changed in an instant and the new normal became a life lived on the edge. For the first time in his life he was blind and helpless, totally dependent on others for his personal needs and safety. Upon his conversion to Christianity, he became, for the rest of his life, a fugitive from the Jewish authorities and was understandably mistrusted by the very Christians he had done his best to imprison and kill. His new normal was very uncertain and dangerous. Here is some of the troubles that Saul, now Paul, faced as he followed Christ’s leading for ministry. Paul summarised his sufferings in:-
2 Corinthians 11:23–33 (The Message)
Are they servants of Christ? I can go them one better. (I can’t believe I’m saying these things. It’s crazy to talk this way! But I started, and I’m going to finish.)
23–27 I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.
28–29 And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut.
30–33 If I have to “brag” about myself, I’ll brag about the humiliations that make me like Jesus. The eternal and blessed God and Father of our Master Jesus knows I’m not lying. Remember the time I was in Damascus and the governor of King Aretas posted guards at the city gates to arrest me? I crawled through a window in the wall, was let down in a basket, and had to run for my life.
With the best will in the world, I don’t think any of us come even close to Paul in the contrast between his first normal and his new normal. It is up to us to decide how we respond to the challenges we face ahead of us in this Covid infected world. So far, as a church, we have transitioned our non tech members from paper to following the services and devotionals online on our new website. We have introduced the idea of 24/7 contact with each other through our Messenger chat room. Our prayer meetings are being held in the manse now but those who are unable to be here personally can join us by video.
What lies ahead? I have no idea, but I do know that despite everything the devil has thrown at us we have thrived and grown stronger as a church family since the crisis started. We need to resolve to continue to seek God for guidance as we face the future together, both as a church and as individual followers of Jesus.
When you quit, there’s nothing more God can do for you. So, ask Him to give you the strength to get back on track today.
 Bob Gass, A Fresh Word For Today : 365 Insights For Daily Living (Alachua, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), 186.
 Ibid 186.