You might recall these words from the opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” While Dickens’ context is very different from ours, these words could be said of the times we now find ourselves in. These are perilous days, but they’re also hopeful days. We’ve lost people and things, but we’ve also made gains. Pessimism strains against optimism, anxiety wages war on tranquility, and life is threatened by death. In the midst of it all, there’s the question of God. Where is he?
Once upon a time, God’s people found themselves in their own contradictory times, lasting decades. Decades upon decades of despair and longing in captivity; what tension! They couldn’t even sing happy songs. They had lost their freedom and familiarity, violently uprooted and disrupted from their usual rhythms of life, and left only with memories which fueled their longings for home. In that setting, God injects hope:
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
(Isaiah 43.18 – 19)
God is doing a new thing, but his people cannot perceive it. Could God be up to something in our day also? Could we perceive it and be energized by the hope it promises or are we so caught up with the loneliness and vastness of the wilderness, that we cannot see him making a way there? Are we so caught up with the reality of the dryness of the wasteland, that we cannot see or imagine streams flowing there? Are we so consumed with the desire to escape it all, that we don’t see God at work? Are we distracted? Distraction has been described as the feeling of being pulled in many directions at once, resulting in anxiety and fragmentation. There are just too many voices and opinions about COVID – 19 doing the rounds, and many of us are consumed with the search for a way out, anxious and fragmented.
As he did then, so he does today; God is calling us to attention, to see and perceive him at work. What is he up to in the midst of all this? To perceive it, we need to be attentive to the mission and movement of God. Jesus went about his life, in suffering and triumph, with his eyes set on God: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working…the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5.17, 19). He was as attentive to God as God was attentive to him throughout the seasons, rhythms, and postures of his life.
God is calling us to attention in the midst of the contradictions of our days. Leighton Ford has observed that attention is “one of the most difficult concepts to grasp and one of the hardest disciplines to learn. For we are very distractible people in a very distracting world.” An attentive life is a contemplative life, a life of “putting together,” connecting the dots of our life between normal time—chronos—and kairos time, those moments of encounter with God, because we are attentive. God wants us to be attentive people, as he is an attentive God.
We can learn by first believing that God is with us. Always. To the end of the age. Never leaving nor forsaking us, and always at work doing something new. We can begin by asking God, “What are you up to in this darkness? Open my eyes, let me see so I can praise you!” Attentiveness is looking for Jesus in every situation and aligning ourselves with him.
We should also make ourselves at home in Christ, staying put and fixed on him through the seasons. This is the discipline of stability. A posture of stability is shaped by this simple truth: we are hidden with Christ in God. Jesus calls us to remain in him; he is the Vine, we are the branches. Only if we remain in him can we be fruitful, and if I may add, make any sense of everything going on in the world today. And if it’s peace we’re looking for, we have this promise:
“You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.”
In the darkness of unknowing, when your love seems absent,
Draw near to us, O God,
In Christ forsaken, in Christ risen,
Our Redeemer and our Lord.
– The Revd Johnny M. Weche – Director of Missions, The Navigators Kenya –