Redeeming the Doldrums
Sailors call a strip around the earth approximately five degrees north and south of the equator the doldrums. Because of all kinds of weather factors I don’t understand, this strip doesn’t get much wind. Sailors could be stuck weeks in the doldrums, with no wind to move them anywhere.
Using that metaphor, a little over a month ago we set sail into the new adventure of the quarantined life. We didn’t choose this adventure, but we were thrust into it, and as we set sail, faced challenges, and struggled to adapt to the new life at sea, we felt optimistic that God was doing something great -- perhaps preparing us for a revival, perhaps teaching us a lesson, perhaps giving us needed time of rest and reflection. With the wind of these hopes in our faces, we embraced the journey, even with a measure of joy.
It’s now been over a month. From what I can tell, we’ve hit the doldrums. The winds of optimism have subsided. Progress has slowed to a discouraging pace. Some of us have had an adrenaline crash. No one seems to know what’s next, or how to proceed. Marriages are being tested. Parents are wondering if the kids are trying to stage a mutiny. We’re low on food. And what happens if the toilet paper runs out?
We’re in the doldrums. So what do we do when we’re in the doldrums?
It’s a blessing to know that as unique as this season is, we ought to remember that our temptations are not entirely unique. Paul says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). This season is highlighting the reality of common temptations - to irritability, impatience, anger, anxiety, fear, self-centeredness, lethargy - you name it.
So when life feels mundane and we feel discouraged - by our circumstances and our sin - what do we do?
I don’t think we should sit around and wait for things to get back to normal. Christians are redeemed to be “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Postponing our good works until after the quarantine will only increase our vulnerability to sin’s temptations. What should we do?
I think we get to work. We pull out the oars. We row -- we row in the strength that God supplies.
We were made to live with a purpose, with goals to accomplish. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Cor. 9:27). While life has been disrupted, Paul’s injunction to run to win has not been made null and void. You may not be able to leave the house, but you must run.
The Christian who isn’t running not only limits his own effectiveness, he is also making himself vulnerable to a thousand other sins, like David who stayed home when he was supposed to go to battle (2 Sam. 11:1).
We can’t gather, take communion, meet in homes, share meals. Okay, we’ve got that. But how can we move forward?
Double down on your intake of God’s Word. Now is the time to dive headlong into a study of Scripture. Some ladies are memorizing Philippians - what an amazing use of time!
Commitment to regular, systematic prayer for your church. Are you praying for your church family? Can I recommend that you pray regularly and systematically through the membership directory? In addition to that, would you write down names of non Christian friends and pray for them as well?
Text, make phone calls, send emails, write letters. If you aren’t doing all of this, now is the time. Who are you caring for? Who are you walking with? Who are you moving toward? Are you bearing anyone’s burdens?
As you regularly pray through the membership, check in with people. Hear their prayer requests. Follow up in a week. This stuff seems small - even insignificant - but it provides immense benefit to the church.
Lastly, stay focused on the mission. Now is not the time to drift. This is a unique moment with unique opportunities for the gospel and we want to be zealous to pursue them, innovating as necessary. We’ll be starting our virtual growth groups studying, strategizing, and praying for evangelism. I often reflect on the reality that I need the mission more than the mission needs me. In other words, in God’s great plan of redemption, I am highly insignificant. God does not need Eric Durso to accomplish his purposes.
However, God has invited me into his plan of redemption not because he needs me, but because he loves me. It is for my own good that God allows me to serve him. I am helped in helping, I am encouraged by encouraging, I am blessed by blessing. Proverbs puts it this way “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered” (Prov. 11:25). If you’ve felt discouraged, fearful, anxious, bored, depressed, or on edge, those are probably good indications that you need to pull out the oars and start rowing.
Every moment of meaningful meditation on Scripture, every moment of prayer for others, every love-driven contact with a friend, every faith-filled move to advance the mission -- are pushing and pulling the oars, redeeming our days in the doldrums.