THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND PRAYER
Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve probably been swarmed with news of the COVID-19 pandemic. However with so many conflicting claims made by people, governments, the media, and even healthcare experts about how this pandemic will pan out (ha!), it’s easy to get lost in all the noise.
Social distancing involves people avoiding gatherings or large events to slow the spread of the disease. This means that people shouldn’t congregate, even if they are praying to eliminate the virus, so folks, keep distancing.
There is so much we don’t know about the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time like this, it’s easy to wonder if prayer does much good. We pray for our leaders, for our healthcare providers, for our friends and families and ourselves, but if you’re like most of us, there’s an unstated, perhaps unadmitted doubt in the back of your mind—will my prayers really make any difference? They can fall into the “why not” category: something that doesn’t cost us anything but a little time and might make a difference. Who really knows?
I’ m thinking now of how Jesus saved Peter from drowning on the stormy Sea of Galilee in response to the fisherman’s prayer, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30). The Greek is really just two words: “Lord, save!” It’s the shortest prayer in the Bible, and one we can pray any time in any storm.
What questions or doubts or struggles are most on your heart today?
They may be about the coronavirus pandemic, but they may be about something else. One tragedy about disease epidemics is that other diseases don’t stop being diseases. People don’t stop having heart attacks and cancer and strokes. People don’t stop having car accidents and marital problems and financial fears. So, name your fear, your doubt, your worry.
Now, let’s learn how to pray a prayer in response. Based on Mark’s Gospel Chapter 9- Imagine a man, with a son with coronavirus. He has brought him to the doctors, but they cannot help him. His son is getting sicker, and he is getting more desperate.
Jesus says to this grieving father, “Bring him to me” The spirit then convulsed the boy, so that he fell on the ground, foaming at the mouth (v. 20). Jesus asked his father how long this had been happening; the father said, “From childhood” (v. 21). He added, “It has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him” (v. 22a).
Now comes the part we will focus upon today. The father added, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (v. 22b). Jesus replied, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes” (v. 23). Notice that he did not say, “All things are guaranteed,” but “all things are possible.” Our faith does not obligate God, as we will see shortly.
Here is the prayer I am recommending to us today: “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!'” (v. 24).
Doubts are a normal and expected part of the human experience. It is natural to doubt anything we cannot know with certainty, and the more urgently we need to know what we do not, the more deeply we will feel our doubts.
I can doubt that the universe is ninety-three billion light-years in size as scientists currently estimate, but my doubts don’t affect my life unless I’m an astrophysicist. I can doubt that Brexit will move forward as planned in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but my doubts don’t affect me unless I live in the UK or Europe or work in a field directly affected by them. However, if I doubt that God can protect me and my family from coronavirus or heal us if we are infected, my doubts become very real and very personal.
Faith in God is like faith in anyone else in that it is a relationship rather than a scientific experiment. All relationships require a commitment that transcends the evidence and becomes self-validating. I cannot prove to you that I love my wife or that she loves me. You would have to experience our relationship to know its reality. You cannot prove you should take a job before you take it. You examine the evidence, of course, but then you step beyond the evidence into a commitment that validates itself.
It is the same with our Lord. There will always be dimensions of our relationship with him that transcend certainty and require faith. At such times, doubts are natural and normal.
What should we do with such doubts today?
One: Remember what we know about God.
When we face what we don’t know, let’s remember what we do.
Nothing about this boy’s suffering or the coronavirus pandemic changes anything about the nature of God. He is as powerful today as when he created the universe. He is as omniscient today as when he led his people into the Promised Land.
He hears our prayers as fully today as when he heard the Christians praying for Peter in prison and freed the apostle from Herod. He loves us as much today as when he sent his Son to die for us on Calvary.
What have you experienced about God in the past that is relevant today? What prayers has he answered? What needs has he met? What sins has he forgiven? In what way can you say, “I believe”?
Two: Trust God with what we don’t know.
The second part of the father’s prayer is one that may surprise many believers: “Help my unbelief!” (v. 24b). “Unbelief”. Just as an “atheist” is one who denies theism, so this man’s “unbelief” contradicted his belief.
When we have such doubts, we may think God won’t hear us or help us. But the opposite is true.
Remember Thomas, the disciple who did not meet the risen Christ along with the other apostles and said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). When the risen Christ met with them again the next week, Thomas was in their midst.
Did Jesus criticize Thomas for his doubts? Did he condemn or judge him? “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (v. 27). Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). According to early tradition, he proclaimed the Gospel, taking it as far east as India.
I do not promise that when we bring God our doubts, he will always meet them as we want him to. Our Lord healed this boy on this day, but he did not heal Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” as the apostle prayed he would (2 Corinthians 12:7–8). On the contrary, God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9a).
Paul could say as a result, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (v. 9b). And he could add, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).
It’s been said that God sometimes calms the storm, but he sometimes lets the storm rage and calms his child.
What’s important today is that we know we can bring God our doubts in these days and know that he hears us and loves us. We can trust that he will give us what we ask or whatever is best. We may not understand his answer on this side of heaven, but we will one day (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Three: We can know that we are loved.
One of my favourite movie lines of all time is in The Count of Monte Cristo. Edmond Dantes has been unfairly imprisoned. He meets a priest who is suffering the same. At one point the priest says to him, “Here is your final lesson—do not commit the crime for which you now serve the sentence.
God said, ‘Vengeance is mine.'”
Edmond responds, “I don’t believe in God.”
The priest replies, “It doesn’t matter. He believes in you.”