Lord, Increase The R Number!

Last week on my day off my daughter Amie asked me to make her a castle out of some cardboard. I had something simple in mind, except it wasn’t so easy to construct because Amie was helping, and so what would have taken me a few minutes by myself took much longer! But it wasn’t wasted time – it was nice to do something together.

If you are caring for children at the moment you will probably understand the challenge it is to come up with different activities everyday. And we will have to continue to do so until this lockdown ends, which at the moment we don’t really know when that will be.

One big factor in determining the timing and pace of the ease of measures is something that we seem to be hearing a lot about recently; I thought R was a letter, but evidently it’s a number now – the R Number – or Reproduction Number, as it’s also known as. It refers to the average amount of people each infected person goes on to infect. So an R Number of 2 would mean that the numbers of those with Covid-19 is consistently doubling. To begin with, the R Number was actually 3, but because of us all being shut away that number has dropped to below 1, which means that the virus is now in decline, and that is good news. But the challenge is to keep it lower than 1 otherwise there will be a second wave.

All this talk of the R-Number has gotten me thinking about the spiritual concept of reproduction. Part of our calling as Christians is to share our faith and lead others to know the Lord.

As Jesus put it:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19).

Christ also spoke of the multiplication of the Kingdom of Heaven, comparing it to a tiny mustard seed that becomes a huge tree, and to a little yeast that makes the whole loaf rise.

So in terms of our faith in Jesus, we should want the R Number to be as high as possible. But do we? Are our lives marked by the desire to not only grow in our own relationship with Christ, but to also see God’s Kingdom expanding and others coming to worship Jesus?

Sadly, the R Number within the church in the UK is much lower than 1 and has been steadily falling for some time.

In 1851 a nationwide census was undertaken, and out of the 17 million Brits at that time, 8 million went to church – that’s almost half the population.

Fast forward to today, and the majority of people in this country now identify as having no faith in God, and only 3% of the population regularly attend church (that is, when there’s no lockdown)!

There was a mini renaissance during and immediately after World War II, but in peacetime numbers soon dipped again and have done ever since.

As we’ve heard though, during this crisis there has been something of an increase in those now connecting with church online. And Google recently commented on the huge number of searches on the word ‘prayer’.

This suggests that one reason for the demise of Christianity may be that people don’t see their need for Christ when life is comfortable.

Another is that just as we are encouraged to keep our social distance and to wash our hands in supressing the coronavirus, perhaps as a whole God’s church in the UK has washed it’s hands of the world around us; we have kept our spiritual distance rather than touching people’s lives and being infectious (so to speak) as Jesus calls us to be.

We could make other assumptions too in trying to explain the downward trend of Christianity in this country, but ultimately there will always be a sense of mystery, for, as Scripture tells us several times,

Salvation belongs to the Lord (Psalm 3:8).

Only God can change people’s hearts; it is a miracle when anyone comes to trust in Him, for,

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Jesus said,

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them” (John 6:44).

And He is,

The Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

If salvation is God’s work therefore, we may wonder why we need to do anything. Why not just put our feet up and sit back! After all, Jesus declared,

“I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).

He didn’t say, ‘I will build my church if you do your part’. No! Christ will build His church, with or without us.

God doesn’t need anyone to fulfil His purposes. I’ve heard stories of people having dreams of Jesus and coming to faith without anyone preaching to them. In Scripture we read of Paul and his road to Damascus conversion.

Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth (Psalm 135:6).

And yet what makes God all the more amazing is that though He can do anything He wants to do, He chooses to invite us, His people, in all our weakness, to participate with Him in His work and purpose of salvation here on earth.

In many ways, it’s a bit like Amie helping me to make her castle. I didn’t need her assistance; in fact, involving her made the process slower, and she made lots of mistakes! But the end result wasn’t my only interest – I also wanted us to enjoy the experience of spending time working together.

God is concerned with far more than just making converts – He is deeply interested and invested in journeying and partnering with His children, and us growing in our enjoyment of, and our dependence upon, Him. Because at the heart of the Gospel is relationship with God.

Ultimately, the R Number of Jesus’ church is His business, and this should free us – not to procrastination or indifference, but to be empowered in our witness and drawn deeper into fellowship with Him.

Believing that salvation belongs to the Lord emboldens our prayer and dispels our fear of rejection, for He loves us – He died to save us!

And when people we reach out to don’t want to know Christ, it’s not personal. For He has said,

“The one who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16).

Even when we mess up and feel like we haven’t done a good job in sharing the Gospel with someone, their salvation doesn’t depend upon our performance, but upon God’s grace. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. That’s not an excuse for carelessness, but how people respond is between them and Jesus.

So equally, when people do believe, they do so to God’s glory alone; we can’t (and aren’t to) congratulate ourselves.

We should therefore neither be afraid nor boastful in seeking to witness to others; rather, we are liberated and spurred on to do so by our Saviour’s love. Who is it that we can share Him with, in word and deed, in the days and weeks to come?

As we pray for them and for the R Number of Jesus’ church to rise in this land, and as we seek to make disciples, may Christ’s closing words in commissioning us be of comfort and a reminder that ultimately, He calls us to walk and to work with Him:

“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).