Outbreaks & the Church

I know that the outbreak of Covid19 (Coronavirus) has been on everyone’s minds.  If you go to the stores, there’s been a run on some of the staples (and toilet paper for some reason), and many of the non-essential activities in the community have been canceled to encourage “social-distancing” to slow the speed of the virus.

How should the Church respond? This has been the pressing question your elders have been asking, but it’s not a new question. We face this question every time there is severe weather making travel to the church unsafe. We’ve faced this question when there has been an outbreak of the flu or other community crises.

This is an interesting and unique situation.  The virus spread quickly and easily, and it affects the elderly and immunity-compromised more than any other group. We are reminded to wash our hands well and often, to avoid touching our faces, and to limit interaction with others so as to not be exposed to the virus or pass it along.

Still, there are few standard responses that apply to every situation that we should remember. Like washing your hands, these are always applicable:

  1. Pray – If you are healthy, take the time to pray and give God thanks for keeping you healthy and strong.  But also remember to pray for those who are affected by the virus, those who are sick, full of anxiety, or facing financial difficulties because of loss of work.
  2. Love – Pandemics and social crises tend to bring out the worst in people. We’ve seen how this current issue has been politicized, only adding to deep divisions in our nation. We’ve also seen how there has been a run on essential needs in the stores, as people race to make themselves secure.  Let us not forget that, even in times of crisis, we are to love one another and care for each other.  Remember to put the needs of those around you before yourself, and as we’ll hear in the sermon on Sunday, to be willing to lay down your life for the sake of your brothers and sisters.
  3. Be-Sober Minded – This is one of my favorites instructions in Paul’s letter.  Basically, in today’s vernacular, Paul is saying, “Don’t lose your head.”  Don’t panic. Don’t freak out. Remember that death has no power over the Christian, and that no pandemic, no virus, no sickness, can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Trust in the Gospel truths, and let them stand as your bedrock when the rest of the world is shifting sand.
  4. Remember Who Is In Control – When the government, the press, the scientific community, and even social media get’s everything wrong and can’t seem to get their act together, this is a reminder that those who put their faith in the strength of man will be ultimately disappointed. Put your hope and truth in God, for He is still on His throne, and even this is part of His good and glorious design.

Here are some links to a couple of things I’ve read/watched, that may be encouraging for you as well:

Should Christians Be Anxious About the Coronavirus? From Todd Wagner writing for The Gospel Coalition – With the increasing coronavirus cases outside of China, many believers across the United States wonder how to respond to the increasing alarm. What would God have us do in the face of a growing international health crisis? Should our churches close their doors for fear of spreading illness? Should I take my kids out of school? Cancel travel plans? How should we help a panicked world?

How did John Calvin and the early Reformers Respond to the Plague?  This is a video from a PCA Pastor Matthew Everhard on how Calvin and the company of pastors in Geneva cared, at great cost, for those affected by the plague.

Why We Struggle to Pray

I don’t think I speak out of turn when I say that each of us struggles to pray. 

You may be a saint in Christ who has journeyed long through the life of faith, or you may be new to following after Jesus, but each of us knows that we don’t pray as we should. Even the mightiest of prayer warriors today, when reading through the old prayers of the Puritans of old, knows we stand in the shadows of the giants of faith.

All who have been brought to life by the saving work of Christ are new creations, made for communion with the Triune God; the old life is gone, a new life has begun! And yet the vestiges of the old life cling to us so closely that the means of grace given to strengthen our faith become burdens that are found difficult and left untried.

Why do we struggle so with prayer? The simple answer is this: Sin. It is sin that keeps us from God, sin that keeps those who are made for glory wallowing in the mire, sin that drowns out the quiet voice of prayer with the clamor of the world.

In order to combat this sin which keeps us from prayer, let us examine, briefly, some of the ways sin affects our praying.

5 Reasons we don’t pray

  1. We think too little of God

    This may be our greatest sin.  We simply think too little of God. That can mean we either don’t think of God as often as we ought, or we think God too little, or both.  We don’t desire God, we don’t seek Him out, we aren’t captivated by His glory. 
    I’ve seen people scour their house and spend days in advance of a friend or family member coming to visit, and their schedules are reworked entirely so that they can spend time with the one they love. We’ll spend hundreds of dollars to go watch a game to see our favorite athlete, or go to hear someone in concert, coming back wearing their merchandise. But to spend 5 minutes in prayer with their Heavenly Father, with the creator of the universe, with their Lord and Savior is just too much to ask.
    Thomas Watson, one of those old Puritans, nails us perfectly, when he wrote, “Jesus went more willingly to the cross than we do to the throne of grace.”
    Let that sink in for a minute.
    How small our affections for are toward God, how little we esteem the one who came to save us from our sins, that we do not turn to Him in prayer.
    If you want to grow in prayer, think highly of God.  Look upon Him in glory, think of His steadfast love for you in Christ Jesus, and praise Him in prayer!

  2. We disobey his commands

    We are like our first father, like Adam, disobeying the very command of God. God told Adam that he was not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Adam ate, falling into disobedience and rebellion.  Throughout scripture, we are commanded to pray:
    “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;” Isaiah 55:6
    “Pray without ceasing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:17
    “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:6
    “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,” Ephesians 6:18
    “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6
    “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;” 1 Timothy 2:8
    We don’t pray because in our sin, we disobey God.
    If you want to grow in prayer, see prayer as an act of joyful obedience to God’s command.

  3. We don’t trust God or His Word

    Not only do we struggle with obedience, we also struggle with doubts. Our doubts, our faithlessness, keeps us from turning to God in prayer.  God has has promised to hear us in prayer,
    2 Chronicles 7:14 If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
    Psalm 10:17 O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear
    1 John 5:14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.
    God also promises that when we ask in Christ name, he will give to us all that we ask:
    Matthew 18:19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.
    John 16:23-24 “In that day you will not question Me about anything Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.
    To not seek the provision of God in prayer is simply faithlessness.  We do not trust God, and so we do not turn to God in prayer.
    If you want to grow in prayer, then look to the ways that the Lord has proven Himself good, gracious, and faithful in the past.  Every promise of God is Yes and Amen in Jesus. He has shown you that as almighty God he is able, and He has proven that as your heavenly Father he is willing.  Faithfully turn to Him in prayer.

  4. We trust too much in ourselves

    In connection to the previous point, we don’t seek God’s provision in prayer because we think we can do without prayer, that we can provide for what we need on our own.  Again, this is an echo of the fall, Adam thought he could become like God, determining Good and Evil, right and wrong, and so he took the fruit.  We see the paycheck or the awards and accolades of man, and we boast in our accomplishments, and think we have the power to provide for ourselves.  What need do we have that we have not met? Why do we need to pray?
    Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread.  Everything we need, life, breath, food, shelter; all is from the hand of God. Our wisdom, our strength, our ability to accomplish the work set before us, it must come from God. Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.  Marin Luther is noted for saying, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
    If you want to grow in prayer, think less of yourself, and see God as the source of your every need.  There is no concern so great, no care so small, that we should not take it to the Lord in prayer.  McCheyne, another Puritan, once taught, “for every one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” That’s a good place to start.

  5. Our hearts are in the wrong place

    So often we get frustrated because our prayers are not answered the way we want them to be, so we give up praying.  We think we know better than God what we need, and when prayer doesn’t get us what we want, we leave it behind. James 4:3-4 teaches, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
    Prayer does have great power, but the power does not lie in changing God, or even necessarily in changing the world around us.  The greatest power in prayer is that it brings us to rest in and trust the sovereign God to whom we pray.  We put all things into His hands. He is able to heal, and He is also able to work His good purposes in the midst of sickness and loss. He is able to deliver, even though His deliverance leads us through the valley of the shadow of death.
    If you want to grow in prayer, set your affections upon the Lord, delight yourself in the Him, yearn for His glory. When your greatest delight is to see God glorified in your life, to see the name of Christ exalted, He will be sure to answer that prayer!

Beloved, may you grow in prayer, delighting in the sweet fellowship with God for which you were created!

SDG