There was a time when people turned to God in disasters. “How can God allow this?” they asked, sometimes in anger. Now technology lets us recognize the wave before it hits, so people place their trust in medicine and governments to save us. Technology is useful, but it isn’t our security.
Let’s encourage each other to look higher:
Philippians 4 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Maybe people are praying more at present. Maybe they’d appreciate suggestions on how to present our global struggle to God? This is the time to write, teach, and sing lament songs.
Laments permeate the Psalms. They have a warm, familiar fabric — weaving together the uncertainly and anguish of our present pain with the certainty and hope that God is leading the world to the future he intends. For example, the dark patches of Psalm 22 are verses 1-2, 6-8, and 12-18, with bright patches in verses 3-5, 9-11 and 11-31.
This patchwork of dark uncertainty comingled with threads of bright hope forms a protective garment for a shivering community. Could patchwork be a literal fashion statement for our online worship teams in this season?
In addition to praying for ourselves and our loved ones, remember our leaders. God gave us human governments to limit violence and save vulnerable lives. Our federal, state, and local governments are taking that responsibility seriously. Hospitals and Medicare help us through sickness. Centrelink helps us through hard times. We’re seeing unprecedented emergency funding to help us through the shutdowns. Some people are critical of their finite capacity, don’t expect governments to be God. This is a time for gratitude and thanksgiving, a time to pray for divine wisdom for our leaders.
Remember Joseph helping Pharaoh to prepare for the bad years? God’s insight through Joseph (Genesis 41:38) resulted in “the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). God has many “Josephs” in place today. He has people in government departments, in hospitals, in councils and communities and essential services. Let’s pray for them, with thanksgiving for the significant work they’re doing, while keeping our faith expectations anchored in the one who can save:
1 Timothy 2 1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Saviour …
8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.
Interesting how prayer and contentiousness are contrasted. Right now, we know the lockdowns are necessary to save lives, but in the months to come I fear this will wear thin. Suffering people can become angry people. Praying people deal with their anger before God.
Right now, the church has a crucial role in lifting up people’s eyes beyond the present pain, beyond the limitations of what human governments can do, to the God who reigns.
Each time you wash your hands, use the Lord’s Prayer instead of Happy Birthday. Lifting cleansed hands to God on behalf of a suffering world is a fitting liturgy. Not only are we keeping coronavirus at bay but impatience as well.
What others are saying
Jeanet Sinding Bentzen, In Crisis, We Pray: Religiosity and the COVID-19 Pandemic (University of Copenhagen, 30 March 2020):
In times of crisis, humans have a tendency to turn to religion for stress relief and explanation. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is no exception: The demand for religion has risen dramatically since the onset of the pandemic with political leaders and self-organizedgroups urging their fellow citizens to pray. I document that Google searches on prayer has skyrocketed during the month of March 2020 when the COVID-19 went global.
Figure 1: Worldwide Google searches for “prayer” during the first three months of 2020