Preparing for Something Far Better than the New Normal
We hear a lot these days about the “new normal.” It can be very difficult to measure “normality,” but in general it refers to life as we are accustomed to it. However, times of great upheaval and cultural shifts can bring radical changes to our everyday lives. We are told, for example, that life will not be the same after COVID as it was before, and therefore what is considered “normal” will not be the same. In other words, we must prepare ourselves for a “new normal.”
From a Christian perspective, what is striking about this is that most of the things we use to measure the normality of life belong to this present, earthly level of existence. What are we talking about? We’re talking about how we shop, how we do business, how we travel, how we engage in sports, how we conduct gatherings, and many other such things. If we’re honest, we have to confess that this is the stuff we usually have in mind when we talk about “life as we know it.” It’s not that these are bad things in themselves. But they don’t belong to the essence of what it means to be a Christian.
Consider a few examples of what is “normal life” for a follower of Jesus:
- It’s normal for a Christian to focus on what is eternal, not what is temporal. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1-2). Paul also spoke of looking “not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). This perspective isn’t strange; it’s entirely normal for a believer.
- It’s normal for a Christian to take up the cross and follow Jesus. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The mindset of a Christian is not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of the mind (Rom. 12:2). That kind of thinking is normal for a follower of Jesus; it’s what the Lord expects of all his followers.
- It’s normal for a Christian to be misunderstood and mistreated by the unbelieving culture. “If the world hates you,” Jesus told his disciples, “know that it has hated me before it hated you. . . . If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18, 20). “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). There’s nothing strange at all about suffering persecution; it’s normal life for a Christ-follower.
Examples could be multiplied, but these are enough to make the point: “normality” for the Christian has always looked very different.
“Normality” for the Christian has always looked very different.
We’ve always known this, but we haven’t always accepted it or lived like it. Ask yourself this: do you find yourself longing, like everybody else, for things to get back to “normal”? And if so, what does that mean? I’m not talking here about the suffering inflicted on people who have lost jobs or been separated from loved ones or experienced other tragic loss as a result of difficult circumstances. We grieve those things, and we should. But I am talking about our propensity to want to enjoy a “normal life” when normality is being defined by the values and priorities of this world.
We should have been living a “normal Christian life” all along! Instead, too often we got caught up in what is considered normal life for a twenty-first century American.
But alas, those two things are not the same. The normal Christian life and the normal life of this world have never been the same. If the upheavals all around us have served to remind us of that fact, that will be a good thing.
Consider: is there anything central to a disciple’s way of thinking that cannot be lived out under the most challenging of earthly circumstances? Has the pandemic, for example, caused us not to be able to focus on what is eternal? Do natural disasters prevent us from taking up the cross and following Jesus? Do cultural changes keep us from being persecuted by the unbelieving world?
Merely to ask such questions causes us to see immediately that precisely the opposite is more likely. The difficulties of this life actually have a way of refocusing our attention on what we should have prioritized all along, but may have forgotten.
Yes, societal changes may make it harder to live life as we have become accustomed to it. But–and this is important–they do not have the ability to prevent us from living the “normal” life of a follower of Jesus!
So what about the “new normal”?
Well, no doubt we will have to adjust the way we do some things just to function in the everyday, practical world. But as believers, we must be occupied first, as always, with what it looks like to follow Jesus in the context of our circumstances, whatever they are. Let’s remember that no matter what the “new normal” looks like, it will not ultimately define our standard of “normality.” What is normal for us is found in the Word of God, and that is unchanging.
In truth, I can’t wait for things to get back to normal, which has nothing to do with wearing masks or not wearing them. It has everything to do with the church living out the Christian life: all the time, everywhere, under all circumstances. We are not called to the “new” normal. We are called to the “old” normal of Christian discipleship.
As believers, we must be occupied first, as always, with what it looks like to follow Jesus in the context of our circumstances, whatever they are.