In the midst of all this, of no one really knowing which way is up, Paul's advice to the church is this:
"Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." (Philippians 4:9)
Paul taught and said and did a lot of things so, in some ways, this verse is an impossible feat to accomplish. But there is something so important in the simple instruction to "put into practice" what we are learning.
As all of life is rearranged around social distancing and self isolation many of us (though not all of us - thinking especially of those on the front line in health and education) find that we have a unique opportunity to do life differently, to start up some new habits, to rethink our priorities.
This is a moment unlike any other to re-assess what is really important.
In many of his letters to younger Christians, Paul uses the metaphor of physical exercise to explain what following Jesus is like. He compares being a disciple of Jesus to being in "training" for an athletic event. (1 Timothy 4:7-8) There are not many of us who could get up this morning and run a marathon. We would need to train. We would need to establish regular habits of exercise, and we would need to run each day, to make sure that when the day came we were ready to run the race.
I think this is what Paul means by trying to "put into practice" the advice he has already given. We cannot give up being anxious over night. We cannot always muster up joy and gratitude on demand. Often we forget to pray in the midst of a situation when prayer would really have helped us out. We do not always have the patience necessary to avoid shouting at our children.
But Sarah told me that her teachers at school always say "practice makes perfect" and there is truth in that. In this strange, surreal season of everything we thought we knew changing, there is a moment to practice some new things: to write a daily list of things to be thankful for, to establish a regular time in the day to read the bible, to spend certain times of the day exclusively being family together without digital distraction, to commit to praying daily for those in worse positions that us.
These are habits that we often intend to get into but we do not have the time. For many of us, now we do. It is not the time that we would have wished for and we are, all of us, trying to figure this out, but this is a moment that we can choose to make use of instead of simply waiting for it to pass.
Paul ends with a promise: God is with us as we do these things. One of my favourite Christian thinkers is a guy called Dallas Willard. He once said that "grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action." Starting new practices is difficult. It requires effort on our part. It doesn't come automatically. That's why they are called "practices."
In this uncharted territory for our nation and our communities, let us practice the things we always suspected were important but made a whole bunch of excuses for why we didn't do them.
And the God of peace will be with us as we do.