Over 20 years ago, I rode up an elevator with a man who was holding an open box full of little red books. I commented, “You must really like that book to have ordered so many copies!” He said it was his favorite book to give away and had given away literally hundreds of copies. He then handed me a copy of “The Red Sea Rules” by a Nashville pastor named Robert J. Morgan. I was going through a tough season at that moment, and the book (subtitled “Ten Principles for Difficult Times”) ministered to me in profound ways.
It hit me that Rule No. 1 applies perfectly to the current pandemic and crisis in which we all find ourselves. We are aware that this crisis has many themes and subplots—medical, social, economic, and political.
But most importantly—and perhaps most subtly—there is a predominant spiritual theme to this global crisis. The great news is that this spiritual plotline is the one being written and directed by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, “the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2, NKJV).” All of His purposes in this unfolding drama will be realized.
The medical, social, economic and political subplots all will eventually resolve. But of much greater—and more eternal—consequence will be the myriad ways that 7.8 billion spiritual plots resolve, both in the lives of believers and unbelievers.
As Morgan explains from the book of Exodus in “The Red Sea Rules”, the nation of Israel has finally escaped Pharaoh’s grasp and is now headed into the wilderness to worship and offer sacrifices to God. Suddenly, Pharaoh changes his mind (again) and begins to pursue the Israelites. God’s chosen people now find themselves trapped between the mountains, the Red Sea, and the oncoming roar of chariots of the vast Egyptian army. God’s people are completely trapped, totally hemmed in on all three sides with literally nowhere to escape.
Rule No. 1: “God has you right where He wants you!”
What? The first time I read Rule No. 1, I was incredulous! Why would God want His people (and especially me) to be utterly trapped, completely helpless, and boxed in with nowhere to go? The answer becomes obvious soon enough! Our God is the all-loving, all-powerful God of the Bible who jealously craves for only the very best for His people. He allows His chosen people to find themselves in dire straits so that they will cease depending upon themselves, hoping in themselves, and relying upon themselves and look to Him alone to save them!
This theme of God doing “whatever it takes” to get the attention of His children in order to draw them back into intimacy with Himself plays out again and again in the Old and New Testaments—as well as in our individual lives. This just happens to be possibly the most extreme “severe mercy” we have experienced in our lifetimes in terms of God getting the world’s attention! As C.S. Lewis said, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
To my knowledge, nothing like that which we are now experiencing has ever happened on such a global scale, at least not in our lifetime. Our entire whole world has been brought to its knees by this pandemic. We have been painfully reminded that we are NOT in control and that we do NOT have all the answers.
Following the devastation of World War II, Sir Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste!” What would it mean to waste this current crisis? Allow me to make four simple applications:
Go deep with Jesus
First and foremost, if we miss this opportunity to go deep with Jesus personally in great humility, sincere confession, radical abiding, and lasting repentance, then we will have wasted this crisis! I urge you (as well as I urge my own heart) to carve out time to go deep with Jesus and to journal what the Lord is saying to your heart in this season of crisis. God is speaking to me with a megaphone about embracing the simplicity, solitude, silence, stillness, and Sabbath that have been forced upon us, along with solemn reminders of the importance of “sitting at His feet,” abiding with family, and cultivating friendships in new and creative ways. What is God teaching you in this season through humility, confession, abiding, and repentance?
Go public with Jesus
Secondly, if we fail to seize the opportunities before us all to go public with Jesus in gentle and sensitive yet bold witness to the gospel both at home and around the world, then we will have wasted this crisis. Our faithful East-West missionaries and national partners are experiencing unprecedented openness to the gospel in response to this pandemic. We are responding with increased investments in digital evangelism and humanitarian support to best engage this unique season of opportunity.
“Listen, now is really the ‘right time’! Now is the ‘day of salvation’!” -2 Corinthians 6:2, ISV
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” -2 Timothy 4:1-2
Additionally, if we fail to examine the roots of our fears and take them before the Lord for confession and repentance, then we will have wasted this crisis. What drives our fears, our anxieties, our worries during this crisis? Am I more concerned for preserving “the kingdom of me” or for advancing the Kingdom of God? Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Paul writes, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7, NKJV).” And Jesus said to those who would follow Him, “Never be afraid of those who can kill the body but are powerless to kill the soul! Far better to stand in awe of the one who has the power to destroy body and soul in the fires of destruction (Matthew 10:28, JBP)!”
I must ask myself, “How is my own heart doing today in light of Jesus’s classic exhortation against the three cousins of fear, worry, and anxiety, which He delivered in the Sermon on the Mount?”
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? … But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” -Matthew 6:25, 33-34
And finally, if we miss the fact that in this pandemic (and every day) we are in this world as bondservants of Jesus who are all called to lay down our lives before Him in order to love and serve others, then we will have wasted this crisis! Jesus’ radical call for His followers to be servants is unmistakable: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Matthew 23:11-12).”
“‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’” - Matthew 16:24
Remember, in the middle of this present crisis, ironically God has us all “right where He wants us!” I urge us all not miss this unique opportunity to go deep with Jesus, to go public with Jesus, to repent of our fears, and to love and serve God and our fellow man in this historic season! Please don’t waste this crisis!
Kurt serves as East-West's President and CEO, providing leadership and oversight to all worldwide ministry endeavors in the nearly 50 countries in which East-West currently operates. Kurt and his wife, Pat, live in Dallas, Texas and have nine children and seven grandchildren.