“And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.”
Job 1:5 (ESV)
In times of uncertainty, many people turn to God in order to seek guidance and comfort. Job was a faithful man as described in his account within Scripture. As I read the beginning of his account in my devotions Job 1:5 struck me. Job was so faithful and concerned for his children and the possibility that during their celebrations they may have sinned that he would consecrate and offer sacrifices for them to cover the possibility of sin. As Christians, the age of offering animal sacrifices is something from which we are far removed. Yet the reality for each of us is that we have a God who offered Himself for us in order that all our sins, known or unknown would be covered.
We are washed and renewed in the Baptismal waters and God redeems us of all sin and shame. This is not something, however, we should take for granted. The sad reality of Job and his family is, though he was faithful, we don’t truly know how faithful his children were. The same is true for many parents and how great a tragedy it is for faithful parents to see their children and their grandchildren living outside of the faith of Jesus Christ. My prayer is this season of uncertainty not only creates and increase of prayer, but also an increase in faithful witness.
There are many that might feel that this is a punishment from God and are angry that God would allow this to happen. Now, God may or may not use plagues like Covid-19 as a source of judgment, to state otherwise would not be honest. Yet, one can not state that this is truly God’s judgment with full certainty, i.e. to say that this is caused by any specific or group of people, is neither helpful nor is it a faithful use of the Word. We are all fallen in sin and fall short of the glory of God. We all deserve God’s judgment. That is a fact, no matter how uncomfortable that makes some people. It would be better to see how God’s mercy is being extended. Yes, God’s mercy is here. It is now. In the midst of this time, we can see God’s mercy if we are willing to humble ourselves. In times of great strife and struggle, I have been carried through by my faith alone when there was little else which to cling. To follow God does not mean that we will not suffer, but in our suffering we are giving grace that carries us through.
One of the things that has been of greatest difficulty in this time is having to worship virtually instead of face to face. Unable to greet and to pray together in a single space is an adjustment and a loss. There are some congregations in our nation that are resisting this, but I think they miss the point. The Church is not limited to a building or one charismatic preacher, but it is the people believing in Christ. Our doors have been opened in a way that has not been seen in a great while and in a way that is unique to our period of history. Because of the stay-at-home orders that the majority of our nation is under we have more of the Word being sent out into the world by pastors from all corners of the United States that are broadcasting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. I have been so blessed by the writings of many pastors putting words of encouragement out there that they normally wouldn’t. I have also been inspired to step up in my own presence.
God uses such times as these for His Word to be carried out. Job cried out in his suffering. The friends of Job pressured him to confess a sin that he did not feel he had committed because the suffering must have been because of his actions. What we find through Job, however, is suffering happens. The devil is out there. He creates disease and war. He utilizes selfish desires in the hearts of human beings to perpetuate dissent and strife. So, it is in times like these it is an opportunity to pause and take a breath. As faithful followers of Christ, we can not offer a sacrifice for the sins of those whom we love but we are able to pray for them. We can pray for God’s mercy to fall upon them and the Holy Spirit to move in their hearts and draw them to Christ. We can pray for those suffering. We can witness in our prayers online, over the phone, or in our writings to those we know that are struggling. We can reconnect with those with whom we have lost touch. Christ is our covering and Christ is our Hope. Let that be what is reflected in you this season and may that shine out in your witness to others.
When I was in Seminary, I was bit by the charismatic bug and was attracted to a prayer movement that came about in 1999 called 24-7prayer.com. In entering ministry, I began with that still being an aspect of my regular life, but, as can happen in ministry, other worries began to overtake me and other aspects began to take precedent. Now don’t get me wrong, I still prayed, but not as often and not as deeply as I once had. There were moments that I were filled with fervent prayer in these times, but not as often as I had hoped.
It’s funny how life can become so full, that sometimes the hours that would once be spent in prayer become fewer and fewer. Visits, meetings, reports, sermons, family obligations, etc. all seem to fill the time and the prayers become quick morning prayers, meal prayers, prayers with people in times of need, prayers at meetings or events, evening/bedtime prayers, and prayers during worship services. The reality is that though all together these, though may come up to a chunk of time when put together, how little they truly add up to when thinking how they often lack the depth and cry to God as well as the praises to God that can be shared.
I write this in the midst of prayer because my heart feels driven to write these words. I am filled with a strong sense of prayer as I look to thinking of my children. I look to my oldest, who is now entering those difficult tween years and sooner than I am prepared for will become that teen. It is surprising how quickly the time ebbs and flows and my hope and prayers for him and each of my children. My next child, my creative young boy soon coming to the double digits and how his heart is so soft and sometimes easily wounded. His creative spirit that I pray the world will not crush as he is bombarded with those that try to label in ways that are not defining him in the image of the young man whose heart seeks after God’s own heart because of the softness of his heart and spirit. My beautiful third child, a young and vibrant young girl, shy and awkward but with such a heart. I think of my fourth child, a fun little boy with a playful (though sometimes annoying in his clowning) spirit that truly is a loving young boy that seeks the approval of me as a father and of others that he sees as his people and I think of some of the harsh judgments that have been placed against him. I think of sweet, little, spunky fifth child, such a little doll she is and her coy playfulness. Then I think of my sixth and last born boy, a fearless toddler growing into his boyhood. The fearlessness in this young boy is scary as a father, but I know that it will serve him well as he grows older and I seek as a father to protect him and all my children. I desire to protect them all from the harshness of this world, this age.
Then we have this new threat, this Covid-19, that is ravaging our globe and placing such fear and panic in our world. I fear for all those that do not know Jesus Christ and have sought after all those false gods that fill up our lives. Who needs church? Well, as the Church we have often have had little to offer so many as we are caught up in the world’s issues and forget to look to the Word. That is where all the promises lie.
“With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. When my spirit faints within me, you know my way! In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul. I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me! Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name! The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.”
Psalm 142 (ESV)
My the Word fill us and His promises guide us as we navigate these new waters. My prayer is that as we face this virus and come out the other side my prayer is that we, as followers of Christ and those that currently are not, will come out as better people. The Lord has already shown how quickly He can heal his creation from our sin that has so long damaged it as the birds can be heard singing in China that was once filled with dirty air and noise pollution, isn’t it amazing that we are in an age where the air clearing could be seen from space?!? To read about how the canals in Venice are clear and clean and the dolphins and swans were swimming in the waters is another sign of God’s miraculous design. Now let us be aware as we can watch as God heals the spirits of those that have been driven by fear and panic and let’s them see how little control that they have so their hearts are humbled and turn to one true Creator of Heaven and Earth. Lord, bind this disease and let your name be praise.
We are living in a new age. Watching the constant updates on the Covid-19 (novel coronavirus) it can be frightening. In fact, when faced with our mortality and the suffering that this causes to our most vulnerable. The questions arise on what we should do as the Church and as followers of Christ. This is not the first such season our church has confronted and it will not be the last.
We are not to be driven by fear, nor are we to be mocking of those who are weaker in the faith, but we are called to be careful and to care for those that are the most vulnerable and bring the hope of Jesus Christ to them. Luther faced a bout of the plague that hit Europe in 1527 and killed many. The plague had had many other periods in history and outbreaks occurred in the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. Luther wrote of this in a letter to his pastors in Breslau in his letter, “Whether One May Flee from Deadly Plague” (Luther’s Works, vol. 43). His exhortation is not from one who did not understand, in fact, he, against the urgings of his elector and other leaders, did not leave Wittenberg but he and his family took in patients and cared for them while they were sick until death. He didn’t do this out of pride and sought to do things in ways that were encouraged by those who practiced medicine in that time. He, also, did not judge those who, because they had no obligations requiring them to stay, that took the opportunity to leave. He just called those that were in places of leadership or who had responsibility over others to not abandon those who God had placed in his or her care. He urged that neighbors take care of one another and we should not abandon our neighbors, but urged those that were weaker in the faith to leave, so long as they made arrangements that their obligations would be fulfilled. Those that are in government should stay and not abandon their posts, as well as medical workers, and law enforcement. Those that had duties to protect should stay. He called pastors to stay and care for their flocks and urged the faith to be in the Lord’s providence. The reality of this, as with any epidemic, is for those of us in Christ to stand firm in the faith of Christ and know that we are saved through Him alone. In this season, let us, as Christians, take a moment to breath and know that God is still in control, not allowing panic to fill our hearts. Let us pray together for God’s protection and do those things that will help keep the most vulnerable from being placed in danger. To our Lord’s glory.