By Darlene Winans
We live in challenging times. In the United States, COVID restrictions are beginning to be lifted in some states; in other states, the restrictions hold fast. In other parts of the world, COVID runs rampant, hitting communities with a second or third wave. No matter where you live, it is a challenge just living your life. Masks, social distancing, working from home, how we go to the market, how we go to church – many new restrictions have become the “new normal”. And whether your community is easing up on these restrictions, or shutting down for the second or third time, these remain challenging times. What will life be like in a post-COVID world? Which of the changes made during COVID “stick”? Will we remain socially distanced? Will people return to churches, or continue to “watch” online? Will we continue to work from home because businesses have found it more cost effective?
Again I say, we live in challenging times. It has been challenging for 16 – 18 months. It’s a long time to live in a heightened state of stress, fear, anxiety, loneliness, isolation, depression. Suicide, depression, mental illness, and calls for help to a counselor or therapist – all have increased exponentially. As believers, how do we cope? How have you coped under the threat of COVID for the last 18 months? What has “stuck” with you? How have you held on?
Paul (and the apostles of his day) lived in challenging times. If the religious leaders of his day weren’t after him, the Roman Empire was. He was beaten and left for dead on several occasions. He was jailed, shipwrecked, and suffered starvation. Yet he had the courage to continue in his faith, to continue spreading the gospel. Centuries later, he still encourages us in his writings to this day.
As he wrote, Paul knew his fellow believers would face similar challenges from the religious and Roman leaders. He knew many would be afraid or even tempted to fall away from their faith. It wasn’t popular to be a Christ-follower at the time. A common theme in his writings, and also repeated in other apostle’s writings is this phrase: stand firm. In fact, he tells the church to stand firm ten times:
- Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Cor. 15:8
- Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 1 Cor. 16:13
- Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 2 Cor 1:21-22
- Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. 2 Cor 1:24
- It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
- Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then . . . Eph 6:13-14a
- Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit,[a] striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. Phil 1:27-28
- Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! Phil 4:1
- Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. Col 4:12
- For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 1 Thess 3:8
- So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 2 Thess 2:15
And consider this: not all of the passages in Scripture about standing firm in the faith are from the New Testament. Paul was not the only writer to pen these words. The Old Testament has twenty verses as well that encourage us to stand firm. Our God knew we would be tested. He knows we will be tried. But praise God, believers, He is the victor!
Now, many of you are not under threat of persecution, but you have lived under the threat of COVID for quite some time. Have you stood firm? Have you held on to the faith? Has your faith increased even more after what you’ve been through? Some of our IWM sisters live under both the threat of COVID and religious persecution, can you imagine that? Women whose names we can’t even name because it would put them in danger. I know they stand firm every day. Do we get discouraged? Sometimes. Women, believers, Christ-followers, run to Him, the author and finisher of your faith! Stand firm in your faith!