It’s a memory I’m not going to get over any time soon. Starting out as an early Saturday morning grocery run, it soon turned into something else. Pulling into the parking lot, full-to-overflowing, my stomach started to sink. So much for getting in and out in a hurry . . .
The pallet of shrink-wrapped toilet paper was the first thing I saw, right there in the middle of the aisle—like a Black Friday sale gone wrong. Then there was the line of people swarming near the registers, a line that kept going on and on all the way to the back of the store. Then there were the empty shelves, the announcements saying rice, water, and toilet paper were being rationed.
Welcome to the end of the world, I thought. Oh, humanity, good job staying calm, read my first text of the day. This early in the morning, my inner cynic was working overtime.
But then I started seeing the nervous looks, a woman’s face covered with a bandanna, the way the store clerks kept wheeling out more and more pallets. The man behind me in line shared how his son’s boarding school closed and that he wasn’t budgeting on having another mouth to feed right now, especially a ravenous teenager.
By the time I got up to the checkout line, my snarkiness had deserted me. People were seriously scared, badly shaken up—so was I. We were all feeling it, the desperation to control something, to feel safe. We may have all gone to the store to stock up on groceries for the week (or the next few), but what we were really looking for was something the store could never offer, no matter how well-stocked it was.
Defining Real Hope
Two years earlier during InterVarsity’s rebranding, we began using the term “real hope.” It’s something we’ve reflected on, prayed about, and sought to cultivate in our lives:
The core of the experience we offer people—the core of our brand—is hope . . .
But we also believe true change and peace are possible through Jesus, because we ourselves have been transformed by the real hope we’ve found through his death for our sin, his resurrection from the grave, and his ongoing work redeeming all things . . .
Simply put, any time someone encounters an InterVarsity person, event, or resource, we want them to see a deeper glimpse of the hope available in Jesus. Communicating and living out that hope is central to what we do and who we are. [taken from InterVarsity’s latest brand book]
Given all that’s happened—even in the last few days—are those words still true? As InterVarsity and more importantly as followers of Jesus, do we still long for and strive to embody real hope? Yes, I believe we have to, now more than ever.
God’s Timing for Revival
In this new season, real hope isn’t a cliché. No, God, in his wisdom and sovereignty, guided us to this theme two years before COVID-19. He knew how people would crave tangible hope right now. They’re desperate for something real, for someone to cling to . . . not just “Good luck” or “Take care” or a sympathetic text. They need the hope that only Jesus offers.
Out of our passion to see and be real hope, InterVarsity as a movement has begun longing for revival to spark across our families, churches, cities, schools, nation, and world. Once again, it’s no accident that Jesus planted this longing in us, knowing that the coronavirus was coming. This virus isn’t just a speed bump, hiccup, or mistake in God’s plan for revival. No, this is part of the story.
It’s easy to overlook and minimize the struggles we face as Christians. Why be so negative? Why dwell on suffering when we can think of joy and peace? But how often do the deepest roots of peace and joy and all the other fruits of the Spirit embed themselves in our souls when everything is going just fine?
In some ways, hope seems most evident, most “real” in moments like right now. Paul writes, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor 4:8–10). His hope seems so vivid in this moment because of the tension between earthly struggle and heavenly endurance.
In all this, I can’t help but wonder about past revivals, thinking through the connections between struggles, upheaval, and explosive growth in the Church. What if right now, we’re living through one of those moments? It’s not how we planned or strategized, but what if it’s the way revival is going to happen? Maybe only something this drastic would be enough to shake our society out of its apathy toward God.
Jesus has invited us into this moment, to be his real, tangible hands and feet. Will we answer this call? Will we love our neighbors well? Will we reach out to others, especially now in a season where isolation and loneliness is beyond rampant, its own kind of pandemic?
Even thinking about saying yes to this call can feel hard, scary, and uncomfortable, let alone actually doing it. But people are going to turn somewhere looking for hope. . . . The question is are they going to get caught up chasing distractions (like hoarding toilet paper), or are they going to meet someone like you or me who can share the source of real hope—a hope that will endure and flourish long after COVID-19 is just a blip in the history books?
Nathan Peterson is a writer on InterVarsity's Communications Team in Madison, Wisconsin. He formerly was the Urbana 18 writer. When he’s not at work, you can find him working on his book, at the gym, or watching movies at home.
What if we decided to give Jesus our pain and anxiety rather than trying to carry it ourselves? What if we stopped to listen to others around us who are broken and hurt? What if we stood to advocate for justice when we saw injustice happening? What if we chose to love our neighbors, even when loving looks sacrificial?
James Choung and Ryan Pfeiffer describe what revival looks like, how Christians can anticipate it, and how they can experience it, providing a model of revival leadership for all who want to facilitate and spread revival in their contexts. Revival begins with God, but it's lived out through us!