'Shall we pray?' 'Yes. Great idea.' <Silence> *Thinks*: 'I guess I'll start, then.' *Silently prays*: 'Lord, please help us to pray in line with your heart.'
How do you pray in a time of Coronavirus? I've found myself not quite knowing how! Have you?
I was sat in Oak Hill's Academic Office just last night, catching up on the day's events - as you do - with two dear sisters. Coronavirus isn't far from anyone's thoughts, even if it isn't always on our lips; and so, before they went home (or carried on working!) we decided to pray about the Coronavirus. And as we did, I suddenly thought, 'Huh, how do we pray?' For what do we give thanks? For what should we ask? Do we emotionally detach ourselves in prayer in a 'Keep calm and Coronavirus on' kinda way? How do we not give way to fatalistic determinations, while actively and tender heartedly beseeching the Lord for his loving kindness, mercy and power in and through this pandemic? Fear is a paralysis, which keeps us from praying. We don't need a pandemic to reveal that. So, how can we pray in faith, before a loving heavenly Father, as we continue to face an unknown future?
If you're anything like me, I'm only too aware of my seemingly insufficient words when chatting with God throughout the day. So I thought I'd pray and reflect, and share with you a few ways I'll be lifting current events before the throne over the weeks and months ahead. (If you're in a rush, why not have a brief skim over the subheadings?) So anyway, here we go:- 1. Teach us how to pray.
Not knowing what to pray for is a great place to start. Oh, how it reminds me that I am not the Lord! I do not possess any 'magic bullet' words, and there are no mystical phrases carrying an innate power to be uttered with which we can twist God's arm. There is one Word, however, who does hold the power over life and death; whose words are utterly effective; and whose life-giving death has brought us before the mercy seat, so that we can receive grace and mercy in our time of need. That Word has united us with the Father by the Spirit, and he has made our hearts his home. We can therefore pray from a position of verbal hesitancy with great assurance trusting that our words do not qualify (or disqualify) us - we are united with Christ - we are filled by his Spirit, and what we lack, he fills up, with words inexpressible (Roms 8:26). Let's ask him to teach us how to pray. We can pray the same prayer Jesus taught his disciples. We can ask that he would teach us how to best pray in line with his heart and will during this time. So let's do that: 'Lord, please teach us how to pray into the pandemic.'
2. Give thanks for God's care for all creation. We live in our Father's world. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10: 29-31.) As the philosopher, Craig Bartholomew, loves to say: 'this is our Father's world.' In this world, creation receives care from our Father. In this world, we receive our Father's care. This has not changed. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.
3. Deliver us from evil. It was over a surreal lunch while navigating the complexities of a tasty noodle dish (complete with chopsticks) and the company of an eminent psychologist sat in front of me, and an equally eminent doctor sat to my left, that we started talking about 'martyrdom complexes'. You know the ones. Those who say we should pray for suffering to 'shake things up' a bit in the West. Those who say the gospel is offensive, and so, if we aren't being offensive, something has gone wrong in our presentation of it . In response to this, as I was attempting to concentrate on the conversation as much as the noodle predicament, the gentleman sat in front of me said, ever so gently, 'And yet Jesus tells us to pray for deliverance from evil.' Those simple, true words really struck me once again. Our Father grants to us what we need when we suffer, but we shouldn't go looking for it. Nor is evil the de facto outcome in this fallen world. Fatalism is flawed. The incarnation has broken the darkness. The cross and Christ's resurrection is the established epicentre of God's activity. The resurrection has pierced the procedural march towards the grave. Hope is real. We can therefore pray: 'Deliver us from evil in all the many implications of this pandemic, Lord.' 4. Protection and practical help for the weak and vulnerable in society. Pray for those with underlying health conditions, the elderly, the isolated, the homeless, the vulnerable, those with mental health issues, those with limited mobility, the fearful, the downcast, the suffering, the recovering, the families of those who have died. Pray for those without access to medical care. Can we ourselves be an answer to some of those prayers?
5. Pray beyond our village.
Lift up the nations to the Lord: China, Italy, Spain, Iran, the US, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Malta, Israel, and many others.
Pray for friends and family in different countries as they navigate life in lockdown and disruption.
Pray for perseverance in following medical advice; that we won't grow weary and that we will remain diligent when it comes to self-isolating, hand washing, etc.
Pray for the global scientific community as they continue to chart the progress of the virus, issue medical advice, and conduct essential research.
6. Wisdom in discerning next steps for institutions and individuals.
Pray for wisdom, clarity, creativity, and strength for those making challenging decisions on behalf of academic and medical institutions, religious groups and places of worship, mass gatherings, businesses and public transportation.
Pray for individuals and families as we all wisely consider how to live well in light of emergency measures without withdrawing into 'isolationism', yet taking measured steps proportionate to need and ability, while we seek to love others as ourselves.
7. Growth in love and knowledge of our beautiful triune God. It seems as though the world is in lockdown. It feels like we are in standby mode. I'm sure most of us have received a barrage of cancellation emails and updates. Some of the trains are eerily silent and there are generally fewer people on the streets. We are each inhabiting a pregnant pause as we await further developments or news from loved ones.
And yet, as we look out on an uncertain horizon, we stand upon a sure and certain rock. A rock of refuge. Let's pray the Spirit will grow us in our devotion, love and understanding of Jesus during this time, as the Father continues to delight to reveal himself through the Son by the Spirit. God isn't hiding from us. Let's lose ourselves to him in the Scriptures and our worship.
8. Opportunities to share the hope that we have. The church isn't a stranger to suffering. We stand on the shoulders of those who haven't loved their lives so much as to fear losing them. Indeed, we are followers of The Way of The Crucified One. Suffering is a crucible for love. And hope. Peter points to this in his letter, 1 Peter. And now, when many are suffering in fear of potential suffering, let's pray for opportunities to share the reason for the hope that we have. 9. Global impact of the virus. Pray for the long-term well-being of the world; international relations, stock markets, businesses, to name a few. Pray for countries like China whose Coronavirus numbers are significantly decreasing, and yet will have difficult decisions to make re: life in a global context and environment increasingly dominated by it. Thank the Lord for their willingness to serve the international community in supplying medical assistance and machinery. Let's pray for wisdom, determination and practical outcomes in this ever evolving situation. 10. For those who have the virus. Let's pray it won't last longer than necessary; let's pray for those who develop serious medical complications in the latter stages of the virus; let's pray for those who are dying and fear death; let's pray we would generate a 'herd immunity' and that those with less extreme symptoms would nevertheless take their infection seriously by taking all necessary precautions so as not to put others at risk.
11. NHS and global national health providers. Pray for medical professionals and services in Italy, Spain and Iran, and across the world. Give thanks for those who have spent hours upon hours away from home and families in order to care for the sick. Let's pray for wise preparation of national health providers in the UK and overseas, and that, somehow, we could delay the peak in the number of cases and extend it over a longer period of time so as not to overwhelm hospitals and other sources of care. Let's ask for wisdom for chief medical advisors and officials and that we would be led thoughtfully and boldly. 12. Be a blessing. Let's ask the Lord to show us ways we can love and serve others. It might be a text, a Skype call, frozen meals, asking the next best question in a conversation. 13. Ask for at least one significant thing to give thanks for at the end of the day. I've been doing this for a little while now, and it's such a pleasure seeing how the Lord delights to lavish us with his goodness. Let's pray our eyes would be opened to see and to receive his loving care, humour and beauty. I'm sure you can think of loads of things to add to this list. When I began pondering, I soon realised that there's actually loads to bring before God's mercy seat! You've probably committed yourself to prayer in wiser ways than I, but I hope this small list may encourage you to keep going - you could choose one to focus on per day, or offer a quick sentence of a prayer in each. Just a few suggestions! Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40.) You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.