by Eugene Higgins
The New Normal; Let’s Not Get Used to the Unusual
Do you remember the days when there were no security checks at airports, when non-ticketed people could wait at the actual gate to welcome arriving friends, and when a traveler never needed to worry about the size of shampoo bottle in his carry-on luggage? After the shocking events of 9/11, our world changed, and we have been adjusting ever since.
Now, due to COVID-19, more seismic changes are taking place in our world. We are being told that we need to get used to it – it’s called “the new normal.” Some of the changes are miniscule; some are monumental. On the trivial side: shaving cream is lasting a lot longer as hirsute men are holed up in their homes rather than heading to offices for work. On the tragic side: economies are teetering on the brink of disaster and, sadder still, many lives have been lost.
In the light of this contagion and the ease with which infectious diseases can be spread, common-place things that were done without a second thought are now being reevaluated. Dr. Anthony Fauci has stated that one of the lessons this crisis has taught us is “you don’t ever shake anybody’s hands. I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you.” The Italians are a gregarious people, family-oriented, outgoing, given to speaking with their hands and hugging with their arms. Many are questioning how these affectionate greetings can be replaced, and with what. The French are wondering about the wisdom of their legendary greeting – the double kiss involving both sides of the face. (When I meet people like that I always find myself turning the wrong way and having to adjust mid-flight so our cheek-bones don’t crash). As the confinement lengthens, there is as yet no consensus on what will replace such signs of friendship. As someone wrote, “Touching elbows or feet, fist bumps, and other such foreign barbarisms are not catching on.” Paper money, it is feared, is a vehicle for transporting germs. Cough in public and you could end up in a tumbril headed for the guillotine. Rip Van Winkle woke to find that the world had changed while he slept. I fear we could emerge from our cocoons to find that our world has changed and, if we are not careful, that we too have changed and have become a colder and less friendly people.
Now, some things about “the new normal” are great. Efforts to remove germs from our homes (reminiscent of Jews scouring their houses to remove the slightest vestige of leaven) is a positive thing. If we are more conscious of the importance of cleanliness, of disinfecting surfaces, of not spreading germs so generously at work or at home – all of those are improvements to be applauded.
But, there’s a lot about the new normal I don’t like. Please pardon all the self-references in the following paragraph: I don’t like being unable to meet publicly with the Lord’s people. I don’t like being unable to have Gospel meetings. I don’t like the thought that the general public is going to be dramatically more reluctant than before to attend meetings in a Gospel tent or Hall or anywhere that may involve being in a crowd. I don’t like being unable to truly remember the Lord by “breaking bread at His command.” I came downstairs this past Lord’s Day morning and my wife had CDs of the Believer’s Hymn Book tunes playing. As I walked into the kitchen, a hymn was playing. I recognized the tune immediately and the words flew into my mind, “O if this glimpse of love, is so divinely sweet…” I am not sentimental, and do not cry easily, but tears sprang to my eyes. I can’t wait to get back to those “glimpses” of the Lord, with His people, with the Savior in our midst, and the emblems of His body and blood before us. I can’t wait to preach the Gospel again. I can’t wait to be back with His people, listening to ministry actually and not merely electronically.
So, before we are all forced to get used to the unusual, maybe it would refresh our hearts to be reminded of what is normal for believers – what characterizes normal Christian living and, hopefully, will continue to mark us. The New Testament gives us a colorful picture of first-century Christian life and reminds us of what were daily occurrences. I will list a few from the Book of Acts.
- There was daily fellowship: “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart” (Acts 2:46).
- There was daily growth (blessing): “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). “And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5).
- There was daily evangelizing: “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (Act 5:42). “Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him” (Acts 17:17).
- There was daily care: “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration” (Acts 6:1).
And then we read this wonderful adjuration in Hebrews 3:13, “Exhort one another daily.” Instead of “discouragement,” which we considered earlier, think of the topic of encouragement. Part of the meaning of the robust Greek word translated “exhort” in the New Testament is “encourage.” Look at the following verses with that word substituted:
- “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all encouragement” (2 Co 1:3).
- God “encourages us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to encourage them which are in any trouble, by the encouragement wherewith we ourselves are encouraged of God” (2 Co 1:4).
- “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our encouragement also aboundeth by Christ” (2 Co 1:5).
- “Nevertheless God, that encourages those that are cast down, encouraged us by the coming of Titus” (2 Co 7:6).
Encouraging others should be a daily custom for a Christian. You never know what sorrow, what trial, what bitter disappointment, what demoralizing or disheartening burden a believer is quietly enduring beneath a forced smile or hiding behind a response of “I’m fine, thanks” to your “Hi! How are you?”
Just as the word “enthusiasm” is a combining of the word “en” (“in”) and “Theos” (“God”), the word “encouragement” is a combination of the word “en” and “corage” (“courage,” “heart”). Encouragement is not offering false hope but fresh heart, imparting the ability to keep going. The famous Bayeux Tapestry, in a museum in Bayeux, France, tells, in 72 pictures, the story of the Norman Conquest at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. One scene depicts William the Conqueror marching behind his troops with a drawn sword in his hand, prodding on his own soldiers. Beneath the picture are the words, “King William comforteth his soldiers.” I’m sure his warriors got the “point”: he was urging, “comforting” (encouraging) them forward in the battle.
To paraphrase another, there are only three kinds of people who respond to encouragement: men, women, and children. If you encourage others and give them fresh heart you will be in good company: God encourages (2 Co 7:6); the Holy Spirit encourages (Acts 9:31); the Lord Jesus encourages (Acts 23:11; Php. 2:1); the Word of God encourages (Rom 15:4). May God make us all Barnabas-like “sons of encouragement” (Acts 4:36).
More than fame and more than money is the comment kind and sunny,
And the hearty warm approval of a friend;
Oh! It gives to life a savor and it strengthens those who waver,
And it gives one heart and courage to the end.
If one earns your praise – bestow it! If she’s helped you – let her know it!
Let the words of true encouragement be said!
Let’s not wait till life is over, and she lies beneath the clover,
For she cannot read her tombstone when she’s dead.