At the beginning of the last century, the Spanish flu decimated the global population. More than 50 million people are estimated to have died. Other epidemics, of varying scope, have occurred in different parts of the world in recent times – Sars, Mers, Ebola, etc. Today the world is witnessing a massive spread of a virus, the coronavirus, on a global scale. We are in the throes of a pandemic. Nations are closing their borders in a bid to contain it, citizens are in lockdown to stem the spread. Religious services are suspended in many countries, the Pope had to officiate via video link, unthinkable. My 78-year-old mother said that in all her 78 years on the face of the earth, she has never seen such a thing. As the world panics, what should the Christian do?
Our church was in the middle of a series on Hosea, but as I spent the week in prayer I felt I had to teach on how the Christian should respond to the current epidemic in order to encourage, reassure and give direction to our members and those who follow us. That very weekend, things unexpectedly took a most dramatic turn in our nation of France and in just a matter of days, we were housebound, under lockdown. Since, other countries have followed suit, over 3 billion worldwide. What does the Word of God say about such situations of plague or biological aggression? It behoves us to be very clear in our minds as to what we should think and do right now
Here are ten important things we need to know and do.
1. Position yourself clearly in the Lord.
Psalm 91.1 ” The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty.”
Position yourself in the secret place, the place of intimacy and harmony with God. This is a unique opportunity for every believer to examine their life, repent if need be and commit to a life that pleases the Father. It’s time to put our lives in order, that is the place of rest and protection. Psalm 27 evokes a situation of potential danger, persecution, enemy attack. Yet, the psalmist remains fearless and has but one cry, to know the Lord and be intimate with Him. So before screaming ‘help Lord’, let us shout ‘forgive Lord’. Prostrate yourself, submit your life to Him, turn your back on all evil. And then, confidently take hold of His promises.
2. Exercise radical and audacious faith
In dealing with the novel coronavirus or any other potential danger, we choose to fully trust in God and exercise radical faith. Psalm 91 continues with the psalmist boldly declaring his total confidence in God. This statement is particularly striking because he is expressing his trust in God in the midst of terrible torments and difficulties. And he takes care to list them. So this is no empty boast or show of recklessness. As Europe struggled to contain the plague some people interviewed on the streets of Lagos were perfectly serene, recklessly despising the potential havoc a pandemic would wreak in such a huge metropolis.
According to one of them, “We wiped out Ebola, we will do the same with the coronavirus.” Things have changed somewhat since the government has now taken measures to restrict movements and large gatherings. Not so the psalmist. He speaks of the terrors of the night, the arrow that flies during the day, the devastating plague, the plague that strikes at noontime. In other words, a place of omnipresent evil and danger, where death lurks on every corner. It’s a time when something is always amiss, and when there is no respite, by day or the night. Yet in this climate of danger and uncertainty, he declares his trust in God. This means that the Christian must continue to trust God in moments of affliction and terrible difficulties, when the mountains stagger, the earth trembles, and there is no refuge anywhere.
When the news is gloomy, with announcements of escalating numbers of infections, of the critically ill, increased mortality or dire predictions, there is only one thing to do; trust in God. How? Why? Because of His promises.
Because you have made the Lord—my refuge, the Most High—your dwelling place, 10 no harm will come to you; no plague will come near your tent.
So as you face this threat, respond with radical and audacious faith. What God is requiring in this passage is that you believe that even if people fall massively around you, you will be preserved.
Though a thousand fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, the pestilence will not reach you.
Faith does not mean ignoring safety instructions, on the contrary, they must be scrupulously followed. Martin Luther, who had experienced a devastating plague in his town of Wittenberg, in a letter detailing his position on the conduct of a Christian in such a situation, writes that it is the Christian’s duty to respect safety instructions because otherwise, it is as if he were tempting God. And that if something were to happen to a Christian who flouted such instructions, it was tantamount to committing suicide. I tend to agree with him.
3. Say no to coronavirus related fear and panic.
You must wage war on fear, anxiety and panic, hence the first two points. In other words, settle before God the question of your safety and protection. That will free you from fear. Fear is a natural human reaction to danger. However, the psalmist, referring to serious dangers, declares that he fears nothing, neither the terrors of the night nor the arrow that flies during the day. If the Word of God tells me that when there is a plague I will not be afraid, it means that it is possible.
It means that today, it is possible not to panic, be terrified, or wake up drenched in perspiration because of the coronavirus. So there is a supernatural ability that God gives His children not to be afraid in moments that would naturally cause fear. So dig into the Word of God and let the Holy Spirit saturate you in the thoughts of God such that fear will vanish and make way for assurance and trust. And the psalmist is clear as to why we can have this kind of assurance, because of the ministry of angels. So how do you respond to the coronavirus scare? Ask for angelic ministry.
4. Actively engage the ministry of angels to protect you from COVID-19
For He will give His angels orders concerning you, to protect you in all your ways. 12 They will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
We must step into the supernatural. We are spirit beings who operate in a supernatural world. There is a real activity of angels around God’s children in moments of distress, of plague and pestilence. They intervene to protect us. And we have no idea how many times they have done so in the past without our knowledge!
Confidence in angelic intervention is a major component of faith. Step out of the panic and intermediate zones and step into the faith zone. Angels obey the voice of God’s word and the psalmist has boldly spoken the word of God, He is my refuge. Many believe until they hear that someone they respect spiritually has been infected, and out goes their faith. Some are already trading stories of different persons who died and are wondering how on earth they will escape.
The early Church clearly had a different perspective. James had been killed, which pleased the people and then Peter was jailed. Despite the death of James, they dared to believe that God would intervene to get Peter released so they prayed. And God sent his angel to get Peter out of prison. Had they thought like many today, they would have said, “Oh! He’s going to die, that’s for sure.” But they decided to intercede. Don’t let bad news dampen or diminish your faith. What more should you do?
5. Hold on to the promise of long life and refuse to consider dying from COVID-19.
Ps 91 contains a promise of longevity. Invoke the promise of longevity and don’t even consider the possibility of dying of COVID-19. Let it be far from your mind. There is a promise of longevity in Psalm 91 and elsewhere in the Word of God for all who will believe it.
14 Since he is attached to me, I shall deliver him; I will protect him, since he knows my name. 15 He will call upon me and I will answer him. I will be with him in distress, I will deliver him and honor him. 16 I will fill him with long days and I will make him see my salvation.
Remember this Scripture is a promise for those who dwell in the secret place of the Most High, so it is available to us all. It is not a promise exclusive to the greats, Moses, David, or Paul, etc. King Hezekiah wanted long life. So when the prophet informed him that he was going to die, he turned to God and begged that he not die. He pleaded his case emphasising his usefulness to God. Whereupon God dispatched the same prophet to let him know he would live. His insistence on living and serving God in the land of the living paid off; Insist you must live.
If you were not useful to Him before, decide to become useful to him. Pray, and say “Lord, now I want to be useful. I have not yet fulfilled my destiny. I have not yet finished my course”. Take it by faith. Say, “ Lord, I must finish my course, I cannot die before my time. I must accomplish what God put me on the earth to do. My mission is yet to be fulfilled. There is still a generation to be touched by the gospel. There is still a nation, even nations to be reached with the gospel. There are still people who need to know that Jesus is Lord. So how can I die? No, I cannot die. “
6. Be committed to living as the salt and the light of the world
Having established our position in God, reassured our hearts and taken the decision to live, we then turn to help others. Every period of crisis is an opportunity for Christians, and the church to serve God by serving people who are weak, terrified and lost. You are God’s agent on the earth. And according to Jesus, you are the light of the world. In dark times, such as this, you must ask the Lord how you can contribute positively.
Matthew 5:13-16 (HCSB)
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Function as the light of the world. We receive assurance of our protection in the Lord, and we turn our attention to others, to the society, to our friends and our neighbours. We encourage them and we pray for them. We do not focus only on ourselves. We did not wallow in excessive introspection. Do what we said earlier, let the Lord, comfort, encourage and strengthen you. Then go and look for someone to encourage.
There is a powerful lesson to learn from the experience of Martin Luther when his city of Wittenberg was ravaged by the plague. He resisted calls to leave the city and flee to safety somewhere else, even though his wife was pregnant. He felt that he had work to do to help the suffering people in his own city. And he opened up his home to take in many people. This was before the modern era of public hospitals and modern medicine.
According to him, the Christian has a duty to love and to help. The Christian cannot ignore people in need and focus exclusively on his own safety. In the current situation of the coronavirus epidemic, you are not allowed to visit people. So we must respect the law. However, you can take care of people at a distance.
The truth is that throughout the history of Christianity. Christians have always been present in moments of difficulty in society. The church has always assisted those in difficulty. It is only in our generation with our “Bless me Jesus, Bless me Jesus” mindset where we are fully anchored in a culture of personal blessings that we neglect the service we are meant to render to our society.
We are supposed to be very attentive to the needs of others, be an example of wisdom, be a light, a light which shines before men. So they see your good conduct and thus glorify your heavenly Father. So how are we supposed to react in this situation?
7. Pray and fast against COVID-19
There is a picture of the Vice President of the United States surrounded by his team members, head bowed in prayer that has gone round the internet criticized by some ignorant and arrogant individuals. But I personally love this picture. It was taken when he asked his team to pray for wisdom from God, as they were preparing a response to the epidemic. Needless to say, it is imperative that all Christians commit to pray. It is time to pray, to fast, and to consecrate ourselves.
Our talk, comments, and opinions, will not change the situation. They will only increase the sadness of people who are already weakened, or destabilize those who feel lost. We need to pray because we believe in a God who intervenes. The Word of God tells us in Psalm 65.
Psalm 65:2-3 (HCSB)
2 All humanity will come to You, the One who hears prayer. 3 Iniquities overwhelm me; only You can atone for our rebellions.
What do we pray for?
a) Wisdom for the leaders of nations.
They have many difficult decisions to take in order to stop the spread of the epidemic. And no, we do not believe that it is appropriate to make fun of a political leader who asks God for wisdom. Quite the contrary. We must pray for the leaders of all nations, and ask God to give them the wisdom to take the appropriate decisions.
Proverbs 28:26 (HCSB)
26 The one who trusts in himself is a fool, but one who walks in wisdom will be safe…
b) Scientific breakthrough – vaccines and the right treatment for COVID-19
So we also pray that God will release his breath of wisdom and show the way forward to all those who are working on finding a natural solution. We pray that God will speed up scientific research so that there will be natural, biological and scientific solutions found, that vaccines and treatments will be developed quickly.
c) Miraculous divine intervention to stop the COVID-19 plague.
We pray that God would, not only act indirectly through the leaders but also intervene miraculously to end the plague. Often in the course of human history, when, faced with threats and disasters. God’s people seemed at a loss as to what to do, God intervened miraculously in answer to their prayer. To not pray is to lack understanding.
There is a striking biblical example in the spectacular rout of the army of the powerful Kingdom of Assyria. Sennacherib had demonstrated his power by previously crushing the northern kingdom of Israel. Then he turned his attention to Judah and devastated its fortified cities. He laid siege to Jerusalem and threatened king Hezekiah as well as the entire city. The kingdom had been reduced to next to nothing. Hezekiah’s previous efforts at appeasement had been fruitless. Rabshakeh claimed to be there by divine mandate. Hezekiah desperately sought out prophet Isaiah, who, inspired by the Spirit declared that not one arrow would be fired, and the invader would return the way he came. And indeed he did.
However, his king did send a threatening letter to Hezekiah informing him that so far, no god had been able to deliver their people from his hands and Hezekiah’s would not be able to do so either. Hezekiah ran to the temple and implored Yahweh to intervene. Isaiah sent him a message to let him know that God had answered his prayers. The enemy was at the gate but he would not succeed. Indeed God humbled him. The angel of the Lord went into the enemy camp and smote 185000 Assyrian soldiers. Early the next morning, Sennacherib saw the scene and returned home in shame. He was later killed by two of his sons in the temple of his god. The unthinkable had occurred, God had delivered His people from an enemy stronger than they.
We pray that God in His mercy will stretch out His hand over the sick in hospitals and in their homes. We ask for a tsunami of healing. We ask that God touch people’s immune systems so they would have greater resistance to infection.
8. Renew your reverence for the Lord, reject intimidation by the world.
This global epidemic is a clear demonstration of our humanity and the superiority of God. This situation reveals our humanity and the superiority of God over us. One finds that in many places the church is losing steam, not because of an outside force, but because of its internal weakness. Our low spiritual level coupled with our high conflict level has weakened us. Consequently many in the church are renegotiating their convictions. They are disoriented and cave in to pressure from critics and sundry attacks. Sometimes these are within the church; anti-charismatics intimidate charismatics, theological warfare is everywhere.
Equally and possibly more pernicious is intimidation from outside. The people of our generation act strong, sure of themselves and disdainful towards those who do not want to follow their amoral values. Many Christians and church leaders have capitulated. Yet where we stand in the world today, one cannot but wonder, ‘where are those intimidating us now?’ They are all panicking, scurrying for cover and exposing their inadequacies. This novel coronavirus and its biological aggression is cause for great humility, compels us to acknowledge that we are but humans, we are not God. We have vastly overestimated ourselves and underestimated our weaknesses.
One of my friends shared an experience he had on a canoe in the middle of a major river in the Amazon rainforest. As he looked around, he became conscious of how very small he was, it was a humbling experience. And his concluding comment to me was ‘we really are not very much, are we?’ The church must recover its boldness, the boldness born of the assurance that her God is God.
9. Recover your passion for souls and the original mandate of the church.
We are today, possibly more than ever before confronted with the ephemeral nature of human existence and the fragility of human beings. Since the beginning of this pandemic, thousands of people have died who never thought that they would have such an early appointment with death. It happened suddenly. Where are these people today? It’s hard to say, but the question must be of concern to us.
There is an urgent need to evangelize. And it is our responsibility. There is a colossal difference between the evangelical church of today and that of some thirty-plus years ago when we came to faith in Christ. The church is losing ground not because of declining membership per se, but because of declining commitment to soul winning and to the Lord Himself. Even older Christians are obsessed with self and personal blessing.
We must be sensitive to the questions that people around us are asking as they become conscious of their humanity and their need for God. We must be careful not to miss this open door to share the gospel. Even in confinement, we can still use social media, not for chatting only nor for endless theological debates, squabbles or witch-hunting; rather to answer the questions of seekers.
And when all this is over, I pray that the church globally would have not only returned to prayer and fasting, but that it would have recovered the zeal for soul-winning.
10. Follow safety instructions
We will give Martin Luther the honour of having the final word. Although Luther chose to remain in his plague swamped city when he had the choice to leave, he in no way advocated reckless behaviour. He enjoined everyone to follow the safety instructions to the letter. He wrote that if anyone flouted the instructions and infected others, they had become a murderer. And if they were to themselves become infected due to carelessness, it would be tantamount to committing suicide.
He wrote that some people believed that because they had faith, they should do nothing. For him it was like seeing a house burning, doing nothing and saying that God would intervene. He enjoined people to disinfect their homes and streets, to act like someone who wanted to help a burning city.
Here are ten very simple pointers to responding adequately to the COVID-19 situation. Above all, let us ask for and expect divine intervention. It can be gradual, it can also be overnight as in the story of the three desperate kings who went to battle, walked for 7 days without water and ended up consulting the prophet Elisha. The prophet spoke up and said they would see neither rain nor wind but the valley would be filled with water. They woke up the next day to an abundance of water. May the Lord grant His answer and His help speedily and abundantly.
And may we have the grace to trust Him.