From the very beginnings of the biblical story in Genesis, the Bible envisions God’s people as a means of blessing to the world. This theological principle gives us a good framework to consider what faithfulness looks like on the frontline. We are a means of blessing when we do good work and employ our gifts for the good of others. We are a blessing as we model the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We bless others when we pray for them and when we show them undeserved grace. And we bless them by telling them the story of God’s great blessing poured out for them in Jesus.
The community of the church reminds us of the blessing of God, and it also commissions us to be a source of blessing to those around us. This is one way the Gospel story we rehearse together as we gather for worship equips and encourages us for the frontline. As we grow deeper roots in the Story of God’s blessing and experience it for ourselves, we pour out that blessing on others as we encounter them in everyday life.
Funwayo Mafuleka talked with us for our Co-Missioned Church Course about the idea of blessing, and I checked in with him to see how he has seen the pandemic impact this aspect of discipleship. As with so many other things, he has seen the pandemic force his community to reenvision what faithfulness looks like practically.
One significant challenge lies in the ways COVID inhibits our normal means of being a blessing to others. He says, “COVID has caused our lives to be withdrawn from one another and be apart physically as we have responded to the calls of social distancing so as not to spread or catch the virus. Being a conduit of God’s blessing onto others is mostly conveyed through the very things that have been disrupted by COVID. Conveying God’s blessing is all about being faithfully present, and the guidelines have affected that, at least psychologically. The long period of isolation has brought about discouragement and varying issues of mental and emotional health.”
None of these factors removes us from our ability to bless those around us, but it does force us to reexamine what that might look like in our current context. The church community can provide a place to brainstorm how to bless others in the midst of our current limitations and what needs may be present within our local communities.
As Funwayo has experienced, the reality of discouragement and the mental and emotional toll of the pandemic is another challenge and opportunity for our church communities. There is a great need for encouragement in this season—both to those within and outside of our faith community. Equipping disciples who can be good listeners who can support those facing mental health struggles could be a great source of blessing and an opportunity to show grace in a time of need.
Funwayo says that responding to these challenges has been “a learning process.” As his church community has prayerfully thought about how to respond, they have focused on a few key principles. He shared them with me:
- We have encouraged one another to embrace this time as a time God will shape us in a new way. We can respond to His call on our lives in and beyond the current challenges.
- We have reminded each other that it is a physical distancing that we are observing not social-distancing.
- We have reminded one another that although we have lost the usual ways of doing life, we still have electronic means to help. There are things that can be done very well through this medium, but we have to accept that there are things that this medium will not be able to do well.
- We have encouraged deep and thoughtful encouragement towards one another and to people who need to hear the Gospel. We are encouraged to reach out to different people that are in our new way of life that we probably did not think of, like the mailman.
Through seasons of plenty and want, through seasons of success and struggle, we stand in the blessing of God and as a means of blessing to the world. Sometimes we simply need a reminder of this reality. This is a role the church can play. Aware of and honest about the challenges and limitations. But also hopeful and creative in the ways we look for God to work as we live as a means of blessing on the frontline, no matter what shape it may take.
Diana Gruver (MA, Gordon-Conwell) writes about discipleship and spiritual formation in the every day. She is the author of Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints who Struggled with Depression and Doubt. You can find her online at www.dianagruver.com or on Facebook or Twitter. Diana originally published this work with the Vere Institute (Oct 2014 – May 2021), which was founded to empower Christians to integrate their faith into everyday life. The Vere Institute’s legacy lives on through our Vere Library.