By Jackie Matthews | July 22, 2020
“Father, how in the world are we going to do this?” This was my brief, but fervent, prayer to God this morning while standing in our kitchen pouring my first cup of coffee. In our state, the decision has been made for schools to reopen to on-campus learning…next month…about 6 weeks from today. Can you hear the not-so-subtle panic in my prayer?
Since that announcement, my mind has been reeling with problems like: how do teachers best address the “Covid Slide” gaps in learning? How do we address the trauma that some of our students, their families and even members of our own faculty and staff have experienced in recent months? How do we get students to social distance? (Spoiler alert- as a mom for 30+ years and as an elementary and high school teacher, the answer is- it’s impossible). How will we safely handle food service, bus service, the library, sports, music, wearing masks, sick kids who come to school (even though we have clear guidelines against that)? How do we get students on board with all the new guidelines we will have to institute for safety protocol? How do we get their parents and guardians on board? How do we support our teachers when we will be forced to ask them to do significantly more than ever before with little or no additional money, little or no help from extra para- professionals or time for personal professional development? How do we protect our students and our faculty and staff while creating an environment that is conducive to learning? Remember, a stressed brain has a hard time learning and a stressed teacher brain has a hard time teaching effectively.
The answer is obvious. We can’t. This is an impossible situation and it is destined to fail. (Wait! What??? Stay with me…it gets better.)
While researching for my latest book, I came across a statistic that blew my mind, “9 out of 10 school age children on the planet were out of school this winter/spring due to Covid-19.” Have you ever seen something like this pandemic? Something that has literally impacted the entire world, from the homeless to the Hollywood millionaire, from the farmer in Venezuela to the brain surgeon in Manhattan, and from the tech giants in Silicon Valley to the mom and pop business down the street? Me neither! Ok Lord, you have our attention.
During the early weeks of March, I naively thought, “Ok, we’ll stay home for a few weeks, slow the virus down and then go back to our regular lives.” Did you think that, too? What started out looking like a straightforward sprint to the finish line quickly morphed into a marathon and now feels more like the insane, endurance ultra – marathon, the Marathon Des Sables; “the toughest footrace on Earth,” a 155-mile expedition stage race across the Moroccan Sahara. Yes, there are days I feel like I am trying to run through sand; I’m working so hard but not making much progress. Do you ever feel this way?
In those areas hardest hit by Covid-19, everyone from the medical teams to the business owners to the politicians to the education leaders has been pushed to the limit. Everyone is now trying to plan for the future while still in the midst of a world crisis that is truly unprecedented. The $64,000 question is this: how do school leaders make strategic decisions for the future when the information we are receiving is changing by the moment? The answer is in your bible: the only way to successfully move through this crisis is to see with eyes of faith rather than eyes of flesh because the only One who knows what is going to happen next is Almighty God Himself.
Five Biblical Truths to Consider When Planning for the Future
1. The Lord Knows.
That simple fact, that God knows, brings me great comfort in the midst of the craziness. This pandemic came on the world with great speed, changing all of our lives suddenly. One Sunday morning we were discussing with our choir mates how we didn’t understand the big fuss over Covid-19. Five short days later churches in the US (and around the world) closed their doors and we have been worshiping online ever since. Schools here in North Texas dismissed their students for their regularly scheduled spring break in early March, then extended the spring break for an extra week, then closed the doors and decided to distance learn for the rest of the school year. Some teachers were given only 20 minutes to enter their classroom and take whatever they thought they would need to teach. No one knew how long they would be distance learning, or, for that matter, how to effectively teach young students online. Three months ago, few teachers had even heard the name Zoom much less tried to teach a group of first graders by using it.
When surprising (or shocking) events occur in my life, my first thought is, “I didn’t see this coming, but God knew ,” and that thought brings me comfort and confidence. As I was preparing for this academic year and thinking of all I needed to do to be successful this year, it never occurred to me to prepare for a world-wide pandemic.
While it may feel like things are spinning out of control right now with Wall Street melting down and researchers racing to find a vaccine for a virus that keeps morphing and changing, God is still very much on His throne. The bible says, “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure” (Isaiah 46:9-10). “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power, His understanding is beyond measure” (Psalm 147:5). The God of the bible is Elohim, Lord God Creator. He is also The Perfect Planner. Therefore, if He knew this pandemic was going to happen, He also has a plan for how He wants His children to proceed.
2. The Lord Guides.
How do we make strategic plans for the fall, including crucial decisions regarding personnel, academic schedules, facilities management, food service, class offerings, fundraising events, assessments and accreditation when the facts are changing as fast as the weather in Texas? We don’t have a case study or historical records to use as our guide. But then again, neither did Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Joseph or Paul. Welcome to Christianity 101. When we read Hebrews chapter 11, fondly called the “Faith Hall of Fame chapter”, we sit in our comfy chair and think, “Of course Abraham should get up, confidently take his family and go off into an unknown future simply because God asked him to go.” Now, it’s our turn to walk in complete faith…not knowing where we are going, but being supremely confident in the One who calls us to go.
I love Corrie Ten Boom. She was the gentle, quiet, middle aged daughter of a watch maker in Holland during WW2 who risked her life every day to help countless Jews escape the Nazis death camps. I love her faith walk and I love the fact that she was just an ordinary gal, like me, but one who knew her God and trusted Him. Corrie said,
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. It is not my ability, but my response to God’s ability, that counts.”
It’s God’s ability that is crucial here…not ours. It is God’s infinite power, God’s infinite love and God’s infinite wisdom that will lead us forward. But we must be brave enough to stop, listen and then obey.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).
Dear Christian school leader, I believe we are in a storm very similar to the one the first disciples faced as recorded in the gospels (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25). We are in a small boat (most Christian schools operate on a razor-thin budget compared to their public school counterparts), we are in the middle of the sea by ourselves (most of us don’t have a million supporters) and suddenly, the wind has picked up and the waves are crashing over the side of the boat; death in now a real possibility, unless the Lord Himself shows up.
Now is when our faith in God, His character and His word, not in our own ability, talent, education, connection, or gifting, is put to the test. Will God Himself guide us if we ask?
Yes! I can say that with complete confidence because I am an eye witness to His power (and I bet you are, too.) My husband John and I have been relying on God’s faithfulness all our lives. We have raised 4 children to adulthood, buried one son, faced potential bankruptcy 3 times, had 2 children with serious, life threatening illnesses (praise God, they are both healthy young adults now, one is a doctor and one is a nurse, who are right now battling to save Covid-19 patients), and buried all of our parents and a sister. Through it all, the Lord has navigated us safely through each painful life storm as we leaned into Him for wisdom, guidance and strength. Therefore, I am absolutely confident that the Lord will guide us through this current storm.
“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the seas, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” James 1:6-7
James reminds us that, once we receive God’s wisdom, we must believe and take action.
So, what guidance do you need from God? Pray and ask Him; don’t stop praying until you get your answer. Then, have the courage to do what you have been told to do. He will guide. But we must follow.
3. The Lord provides.
Our God is called, Jehovah-Jireh, “God will provide.” This holy name for God was first mentioned in Genesis 22:14 when God provided the ram to Abraham to be sacrificed instead of his son, Isaac. Whenever we have faced our own financial crisis, whether it was the stock market tanking or John’s company being sold and everyone was laid off, we have reminded ourselves, “God is our Provider. Not a company. Not the government. Not the stock market. God is our Provider.”
Does this mean every Christian school is going to survive this pandemic and be able to open their doors in the fall? Only God knows. But every school that God desires to stay open will, because He is the sovereign Lord and His plans will be established! “My purpose will be established and I will accomplish all my good pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10). Perhaps you are deeply concerned that, since your school was not able to hold its annual fundraiser this Spring, you won’t have the financial resources to pay your teachers next year. Are you worried because the stock market is down and, as many of your families pay their tuition using stocks, they may not be able to re-enroll their students in the fall? Does your school’s financial condition keep you up at night?
Let us all be encouraged by these truths from the bible: God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10) and it is the Lord Himself who gives us the ability to prosper (Deuteronomy 8:18). God’s plans will be established and the price tag is irrelevant because He has ultimate control over all financial resources! How do I know this? Because, once again, I am an eye witness to His financial provision:
For 20 years, a group of Christian parents in a small African village 90 miles from Nairobi prayed for the Lord to bring a Christian school to their village. This was an outrageous prayer since the average income level in this village was (and still is) about $2/day. Obviously, they had no money to build a school and, even if a school could be miraculously built, no one had the money to pay for their children’s tuition! But these parents knew something about the power of God and had faith in His infinite ability to answer prayer. For 20 years they prayed. Finally, one day God moved on their behalf. He chose to use a group of school children in Tacoma, WA and their teacher to be the answer to that prayer. Jehovah Jireh enabled them to raise enough money to build a K-8 school in Eldoret, Kenya and fill it with a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of text books and bibles, enough to share with 5 area schools. Years later, He allowed them to add an orphanage onsite to give children orphaned by disease and violence a home and a future. Over 2,000 students have now graduated from this school. You can read more about this school and orphanage at: www.thejames1-27project.com.
The only thing that matters is God’s will and our willingness to follow Him, no matter what. So, lean in, listen carefully and follow orders.
4. The Lord will give us His grace.
“When you are weak, I am strong. My grace is sufficient.” I don’t know about you, but during these past 2 months, I have had moments where I felt weak and hopeless. I read the news, a neighbor tells me the heartbreaking story about their elderly mother in a nursing home that they can no longer visit, or I write yet another sympathy card and I feel fear creeping in to my heart. Death, dying, fear of getting the virus, job loss, fear of job loss, fear of the unknown, fear, fear, fear…its everywhere and it can be contagious. The news media survives by selling fear.
Thankfully, our God offers His children hope, strength and grace. When Paul begged Jesus, in prayer, to take the painful thorn out of his side, the Lord refused. But what He did do for Paul was give him the ability to rise above the pain, to rise about the circumstances and live in victory.
But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
(2 Corinthians 12:9)
God’s grace, new each morning and given just for that day, is the key to rising above the storm we are currently experiencing. God’s grace allowed Paul, after having been brutally beaten, to sing joyful, sincere praise to God while being chained in a dark, filthy prison. God’s grace allowed Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor, to stand up to the Nazis and preach the gospel with boldness and courage, knowing that he could be executed at any moment.
God will give us the grace to boldly and confidently move forward, one day at a time, as we lean into Him.
5. The Lord’s Mission for us has not changed.
It’s about Jesus Christ; it always has been and it always will be. The Christian school has been commissioned by God to do much more than teach the academic subjects. The Christian school is called to raise up the next generation of leaders to advance the cause of Christ. We train young people to know the truth of God’s Word and to be prepared to take His gospel wherever He calls us to go: into the boardroom, the hospital, the science lab, the court room, the university, the halls of government, the mission field and the church. The Christian school is holy ground and each student is a divine appointment.
Do you ever spend time thinking about why God had you be born during this time in history? Do you ponder why God has put you in your leadership role in Christian education at this moment? Could it be, perhaps that this is the hour of another Great Awakening where humanity stops, turns their eyes up to God, repents of their sin and acknowledges the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Perhaps the Lord has educated you, guided you and trained you so that you would be ready to lead your Christian school during one of the most spiritually significant moments in world history!
Throughout the new testament, every time those brand-new Christians were squeezed by persecution, God’s gospel spread into new territories so people could hear the Good News and be saved. Today, during this horrific pandemic, we know that there is a powerful growing interest in all things Christian. Pastor David Jeremiah, senior pastor at Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego, recently spoke about the huge increase in the number of people watching church online, people who previously would not step foot in a church. He noted in a recent podcast that their usual Easter Sunday service draws 13,000-14,000 people. This year, with the church being closed, they had 100,000 people view their Easter service online and thousands accepted Christ as their Savior! The Christian Post reported that, this Easter season saw a 54% increase in bible reading, about 40.6 million people read the Bible on the You Version bible app!
People are scared. People are worried. People a trying to figure out what is going on and are turning to Christians and to God for answers. Young people are looking for authentic faith; they can smell hypocrisy a mile away. Right now, in the middle of this world crisis, God is giving us a powerful opportunity to witness to our own students and families, our communities and the world, as never before. Think about this: if the Lord could massively increase church attendance and bible reading during a time when the church doors are locked due to Coronavirus…couldn’t He do the same thing with His schools?
Now that we are distance learning and this may continue into the fall, could God expand the territory of your school? Could God bring students from all over the nation and the world to be a part of your online classroom? Perhaps it is time to pray something like this, “Father, you have our attention. What do you want us to do now? We will go where you tell us to go. We will do what you want us to do. We will say what you want us to say. Speak Father, for your servant is listening.”
When we each stand before Christ, I don’t think He is going to ask us about pedagogy or test scores. But He may very well ask us about what we did with His gospel and with the people He sent to us. Let’s make sure that we put first things first. As we plan for the fall, let’s lean into Christ for His wisdom, turn to Him for His provision and rely on His grace and His strength so that we make sure we are being Christ revealed to a lost and broken world.
Speak Father, for your servants are listening.
Jackie is an award-winning classroom teacher who is now an author, speaker, and professional development trainer. She is the host of the podcast “The Positive Teacher” available on iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Buzz sprout. She is dedicated to helping teachers and students succeed. Visit her website at: www.jackie-matthews.com. Or email her at email@example.com.