2020 was a crazy year. Pretty much everyone’s plan for the year was shot deadline by Covid-19. Everyone was affected by it in some manner. Some experienced loss of income, some loss of home, some loss of family members and some loss of relationships. In times when we’ve needed to be around others for their support and encouragement, we’ve had to face the hardships alone. Churches, businesses, restaurants and places where we gather with others we’re all shut down. Gallup did a poll in November, like they do every year, on mental health. Almost every demographic showed people’s mental health ratings go down and the total population reached a new low. However, people who attended church regularly, were an outlier. They did not show decline in mental health.
Churches had to get creative in providing ways for us to gather this year because of all the requirements and guidelines. On one of the first few weeks of the shut down, almost every church used Facebook Live to air their services. I remember it overwhelmed their system and they couldn’t handle the amount of videos. Small groups began to use Zoom in order to meet. For Easter, families were encouraged to dress up and join live streaming services in their homes with families. Just like the Early Church, people began to gather in homes instead of buildings. The Church in essence went back to its roots this year and provided connection for people when everything else in their lives was disconnected. Pastors understood the importance of finding ways for people to meet safely, whether virtually or in person, because we were created for connection and relationship.
I heard Hebrews 10:25 quoted several times this year. It says, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (NLT). Whether you assemble virtually or in person, you need to be getting together with other people and encouraging each other. Clearly this has been a mentally tough year on people. God’s design for you to be connected to a body of believers was built to withstand Covid-19. He provided a vehicle in the Church for believers to meet and stay connected throughout the centuries. It has survived persecution, pandemics and people who have tried to stop it. If you are one of the ones who feel like your mental health has declined this year, let me encourage you to get connected to a church and attend regularly. You will find hope and people who will love you and encourage you.
Throwback Thursday is a new feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
One of the things I love about our car is when you get low on gas, not only does it notify you, the navigation screen automatically shows you where all the gas stations are. If I keep going, the alarm will continue to let me know every few miles that it’s time to fill up. So far I haven’t run out of gas in it. That’s a good thing because I know what it’s like to run out of gas and to have to do the walk of shame to the gas station.
What about you? Have you ever run out of gas? Have you ever run out of gas spiritually? Again, I’m guilt of that too. I’ve let myself run out gas spiritually and I’ve stalled. There were warnings that I over looked and things that I did that caused me to run out. One of the first things I quit doing was reading the Bible daily. It was more of a box to check off for me at the time and I saw it as a chore. When I quit reading my Bible, my faith took a hit.
Romans tells us that faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of God. I increase my faith by putting God’s Word in me. I wasn’t doing that, and I quickly found out that I was susceptible to attacks. It turns out that faith is also our shield that helps protect us against the fiery darts of the devil. I then began to slip in areas I had never had trouble in. I started to go places and to do things that I never dreamed I would have.
After that, I noticed that my church attendance began to slip. “I wasn’t getting anything out of it,” I would say. I wasn’t getting anything out of it because I wasn’t trying to. I wasn’t listening because I didn’t want to be convicted of the things I was doing. I didn’t want to be questioned by people at church when I did go, so I started leaving as soon as the pastor ended his sermons. I cut myself off from the community of believers.
Hebrews 10 tells us not to forsake the assembling of fellow believers. I looked up “forsake” and dictionary.com said, “to quit or leave entirely.” Because I did it, I know why the writer said we shouldn’t. I left a group of people who loved me, prayed for me and lifted me up when I needed it. Church is more than just a group of believers going to hear a message. It’s a place where we connect and find a sense of belonging.
After I left, it didn’t take long before I ran out of gas. When I couldn’t move forward in my life anymore, I decided to take that walk to the altar. The good news is that this walk isn’t a walk of shame. It’s a walk of rejoicing because God comes in, fills us with His love and restores us to a right relationship with Him. If you’re on empty today, you might have made the same mistakes I did. The good news is that He’s waiting to fill you up again and to restore your life. He did it for me and my church accepted me back with open arms. There’s no shame in walking home.