Why did nobody see this coming?

I spent the first two months of this year working hard as part of a team planning a conference which takes place regularly every two years.  It was due in mid-March and we ended up cancelling it because of Covid-19 with just one week’s notice.

In the months that have elapsed since I have reflected on that, and the many other events, programmes and services that have been derailed by Covid-19, and the big question I have been left with is why a group of people who claim to be led by the Spirit, and together have the mind of Christ, were so blissfully unaware of what God knew was going to be happening.

In Genesis, God gave Joseph a dream which enabled him to plan for the famine which was coming.  God sent Jonah to Nineveh to warn them of impending destruction.  In Acts 11 God used a prophet called Agabus to warn the church of a coming famine, so that they could prepare.  Paul was regularly warned about the impending suffering he would face (Acts 20:23).  The unchanging God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, warned people of the trouble that was coming.

I am sure such experiences still continue even though I’ve not experienced them.  I recall hearing a story, though I can’t find it online, about a church in central New York city which felt led during the summer of 2001 to buy in stocks of blankets and bottled water, with the result that on 9/11 they were able to be a resource to the injured and the rescuers of the Twin Towers.

Yet I have heard no story of any church or agency having any inkling at all that Covid-19 was coming, though I’m sure now I’ve published this that the reports will come flooding in.  Whether you believe in prophetic gifts, or Holy Spirit-inspired common sense, how come the millions of Christians on this planet who all talk to God daily didn’t have a clue?

Having reflected on this, I’ve come to a conclusion:

It’s not that God didn’t warn us, it’s that we weren’t listening.

For example, I never once prayed about whether we should organise our conference; we just did it because we do it every two years, and I asked God to bless it.  I suspect many of us were so busy asking God to bless our plans that we didn’t even question whether they were his plans.  Quite possibly most of our planning meetings are more like secular management meetings (topped and tailed with a prayer and maybe even a biblical reflection) than a discussion reminiscent of Acts 15 where different people relate how God is leading them and together they come to an agreement that “seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28).

Perhaps now would be a good time, instead of us asking God to ‘bless the work of our hands’ each day, to be asking ‘What are you doing today, God, and can I join in?’  It may result in havoc in our programmes, but an incredible Spirit-led involvement in the lives of random strangers.  I wonder if this was what Ananias was doing when God told him to go and pray for Saul (Acts 9:10).  We know nothing about Ananias – who he was and what he did – but he clearly was able to listen to God.

Perhaps now is the time to start dismantling much of our structures and become more flexible and spontaneous as we seek to lead people to the Lord.  Maybe it’s time for our churches and agencies to be led not by those who are good organisers or planners but by contemplatives and reflectives who are comfortable spending time listening to God, people who may have little knowledge of how to manage processes but great knowledge of what God is doing in this world.

Could the Age of Martha finally be ending, and the Age of Mary dawning?