A Faith Response to the Coronavirus
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God , which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Do not panic
“Do not be anxious…” These are words coming from a man who was in a prison. His situation was restricted and uncomfortable. His future was uncertain. Despite his own suffering, he encourages his friends not to get distressed about their situation. To be anxious means to be distressed, uneasy, to have a foreboding sense of fear. Many people have reacted in this way to the growing problem of the Coronavirus. This virus, also known as COVID -19, is characterized my mild symptoms including runny nose, sore throat, cough, and fever. This illness can be more severe for some people than others, and can lead to pneumonia or breathing difficulties. In rare cases,it can be fatal. As of the date of this writing, it has reached pandemic proportions. It has understandably caused some people to be afraid. But there is another option besides fear or dread. It is important to note that not worrying or being afraid is not the same as being concerned. Genuine concern about personal well-being and the safety of others is appropriate and expected. Anxiety or panic is also not the same as being cautious. Some in the church are quick to warn against taking precautionary measures as a lack of faith. To those sometimes well-meaning, but often misguided critics, I would remind them of our everyday habits of locking our doors or activating our alarm systems at night, or washing our hands before we eat. These are normal precautionary measures that we do without much thought, because of the kind of world we live in. These are good habits that do not reflect negatively on our faith in God. Being more intentional about washing our hands, staying home if we are sick, or limiting our physical contact with others, in the wake of Covid-19 are practices of good stewardship. And we can do these things without giving in to worry, fear, or anxiety. When Jesus instructed his disciples to avoid given in to worry, he stated at least two reasons why this would not be the best response to suffering and uncertainty: 1) Worry adds nothing to your life. (Matthew 6:27); 2) Worry demonstrates a lack of trust in God. (Matthew 6:32). Both are very good reasons not to react to our current circumstances by allowing ourselves to be gripped by an emotional stranglehold that leaves us depleted, and frantic over things over which we have little control.
Prayer is the Christian response to the Coronavirus outbreak. It is the first line of defense in every season of suffering and uncertainty. The Apostle Paul, from his prison cell, says to be prayerful “…in every situation.” Prayer turns us to God. It tunes us into God and His heavenly resources. Prayer helps us to filter and counter those negative messages with which we are bombarded from 24 hour news cycles and Social Media. We are to pray specifically for our needs and those of others. We are to pray for the people who have been infected by the Coronavirus, and those who are uniquely positioned to help find a solution for curing it. As we pray, we are to express thanksgiving to God, because we know that whatever resources are marshalled, or solutions are found…ultimately they are another expression of His grace. Prayer is not a substitute for work. Prayer is work. It has benefits for the people and situations for which the prayer is offered and for the one from whom the prayer is being offered. An appropriate Christian response to the Coved -19, and any other crises, whether personal or otherwise, is to “ pray as if everything depended on God, and then work as if everything depended on us.” True Christian prayer leads to action. It also results in peace.
With the discomfort and uncertainty of his external circumstances, the imprisoned Apostle assures his audience that it is possible to live a life free from panic. He instructs them on how to counteract and overcome the tendency to overreact and give in to worry and anxiety. It is the peace of God that comes into the believer’s heart when he or she prays and releases all care to Him. The peace of God stands as a guard to block the negative impact of fear, anxiety, and dread—when we feel threaten by internal and external forces that may cause us harm. Jesus promised this peace: “My peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives. I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled. Neither let then be afraid.” (John 14:27). In many ways, we live in a world that is troubled and full of fear. The Coronavirus has exacerbated the situation. It provides a challenge for us all to either give in to panic and worry, or to look to God who sent His Son so that when troubling things or fearful circumstances come–we might experience peace.