Author’s Note: Since this article was originally published, authorities have increased their concern and the author agrees that our vigilance in preventing the spread of COVID-19 should appropriately increase as well. The heightened concern, however, only makes the truths below more important. Respect for others who are more susceptible to illness (including the elderly and immune-deficient) should cause us to operate with prudence and compassionate care, all the while modeling the strength and hope characteristic of those who know Christ (Prov. 24:10). Christ followers should also model compassion for those who choose to respond differently or react more strongly to circumstances and events (Prov. 18:2). Be gracious toward others. Continue to lead and minister in ways that express your God-given gifts. Recognize there is some subjectivity in responding to this crisis, even among those listening to and seeking God’s wisdom. Because Christians are citizens of heaven, filled with the strength and peace of Christ, we should be the best citizens on earth. I pray the principles below will help you do that.
With the increasing coronavirus cases outside of China, many believers across the United States wonder how to respond to the increasing alarm. What would God have us do in the face of a growing international health crisis? Should our churches close their doors for fear of spreading illness? Should I take my kids out of school? Cancel travel plans?
How should we help a panicked world?
First, it’s important to be reminded about what we already know. Worry is not our friend, and panic is not our way. Solomon reminds us, “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small” (Prov. 24:10). May it never be said that God’s people are governed more by fear than faith.
Corrie ten Boom, along with other faithful from among the nations, led courageously in the face of the Nazi fascism—a different form of deadly virus. And she reminds us, “Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrows, it empties today of its strength.”
In times of crisis, the world needs steady people who are strengthened by God’s grace and selfless by God’s power. Worry accomplishes nothing except weakness of heart and head. It’s been said that 90 percent of the things we worry or become panicked about never happen, and the other 10 percent are outside our control.
While we remain on alert against viruses of doctrine or disease, worrying won’t change our circumstances or lower our chance of infection. It won’t help us fight off illness or move us to action. Worrying about COVID-19 (or anything else) will only increase trouble. Rather than worrying and being anxious, Jesus calls us to respond with prayer and faith in him (Matt. 6:33–34; Phil. 4:6). We need not worry ultimately because we know the One who has defeated sin and death (1 Cor. 15:55–57).
Remind yourself continually: it takes the same amount of energy to worry as to pray. One leads to peace, the other to panic. Choose wisely.
If God calls us to worry about anything, it’s how to love people well. The psalmist encourages us, “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness” (Ps. 37:3). Peter reminds us to press on in the midst of every evil. Whether persecutions or pandemics, we can trust in the Lord, knowing, “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Pet. 3:17).
Worry is common to man. But God has called us to face troubles and threats with courage, leaning our weight on him.
Throughout history, Christians have often stood out because they were willing to help the sick even during plagues, pandemics, and persecutions. They loved people and weren’t afraid of death because they understood that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). By stepping into the mess of sickness and disease, they were able to demonstrate their faith to a watching world. So, rather than just asking “How do I stay healthy?” perhaps we should be also ask “How can I help the sick?” Let’s be quick to help and slow to hide in basements.
Prayer-infused confidence, compassion, and selflessness should mark how we talk about the coronavirus. Why? Because our Savior put on flesh (John 1:14) and stepped into our sickness, sin, and death. He healed the sick and cared for the hurting. We must do likewise.
None of this means we should be reckless. Neither Christ’s love nor God’s Word encourages careless risks, but both promote obedience. Loving the sick doesn’t mean we intentionally infect ourselves (Prov. 22:3). If infection becomes a legitimate risk (at the moment, the Center for Disease Control says the virus isn’t communally spreading in the United States, and the health risk is low), responding to the coronavirus likely means taking small practical steps like washing our hands and staying home if we’re sick.
Before you think of canceling church services, ask, “How can we care for those at risk?” As others get sick, care for them. Are most of you still healthy? That’s a great reason to gather for thanksgiving and prayer. Seek appropriate medical care as symptoms arise and don’t forsake caring for one another.
Follow the example of those who’ve acted faithfully in the past. In 19th-century England, when thousands were dying of cholera, Charles Spurgeon visited homes to care for people. The church of Jesus in Wuhan China, the virus’s epicenter, is faithfully leading even today.
Finally, as you watch the world react to this crisis—itself a stark reminder of our mortality—don’t neglect to share the hope you have in Jesus (1 Pet. 3:15). Share how he rescued you from the universal epidemic of sin and the penalty of death. Share that your hope is not found in remaining healthy this side of heaven.
We’ll all face death eventually. Thanks to our risen Lord Jesus, we can come to that day with confidence. The Bible teaches we are “united” or “connected” eternally to Christ, lock, stock and barrel. God has infused the life of Christ in us. We are “one” with Him in a spiritually eternal, mystical, yet very real way beyond our human comprehension. Like Paul, we can remember that to live is Christ, but to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). We truly have nothing ultimate to fear—not from the coronavirus, the Ebola virus, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, 9/11, hurricanes, wildfires, random acts of violence or anything else.
Press on, friends. Pray for the sick. Walk in God’s strength. Love the brotherhood. Do good to all men. Use your health to serve, not to hide. Jesus Christ our Lord is sovereign over it all. And we are immortal until God’s work for us to do is finished.
This post is from Todd Wagner, Senior Pastor at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas.
A Friend Loves at All Times
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
[Recommended Reading: Job 2:11-13]
How many ‘true’ friends do you have? I’m not talking about social media connections on Twitter or Facebook. I’m talking about real friends. Friends who truly care about you. Friends who are compassionate and careful to level criticism at you. Friends you can count on when the ‘tide goes out.’ Friends who love you at ‘all times.’ If you are like most people, especially with social media, you may have hundreds or thousands of ‘followers’ but very few real friends who hurt when you hurt and would do anything to help you if you needed any help. I have noticed quite a few people today ‘pose as friends’ ‘act like they may be for real,’ but only do so to ‘keep up with you’ because they are nosy. That’s not a real friend.
What about Job’s ‘friends?’
When Job lost everything (Job 1–2), his three friends came to commiserate with him. Their intent was to be loving: to “mourn with him, and to comfort him” (Job 2:11). They wept, mourned, and sat in silence with Job for seven days, seemingly loving him as best they could. But then, after a week, they couldn’t help themselves. They had to explain to Job that his suffering was his fault, that he was being punished by God. They had no proof beyond their judgments and opinions. Their support turned to legalism and discouragement—exactly what Job (in the midst of great suffering) didn’t need.
If Job’s friends had stuck with their original efforts, things would have been better: consolation, love, shared sorrow. No words of advice, just acts that demonstrated, “We know you are hurting. We don’t know the answers. We are here to go through this with you.” That’s what friends are for—love in times of adversity. Unfortunately, they decided to become “Job’s Theologians” and explain to him that all his troubles from God was his fault. Doesn’t sound very loving does it?
Sometimes, when a friend is suffering, the best talking we can do is none. Just be there for them. You don’t have to have an answer for the riddles of life; especially suffering. For goodness sake, showing compassion and kindness is the bare minimal we can do for anyone hurting.
If you know someone who is suffering, someone who is going through adversity or hardship, take the love-leap. Sit with them, pray with them, write to them, take a meal to them, babysit their kids. A friend loves at all times.
“There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 24:24)
Who would that be? Jesus. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” like the hymn goes.
Do you believe that? He knows all about you, good and bad, yet loves you anyway. His love for you never changes. He wants to help you experience life with a capital “L” — but for you to know Him better—you must start showing Him you want to be HIS friend.
Spending time with Him, in His Word, in prayer, in the fellowship of His people in church, during the week in your thoughts. Friends of God, friends of Jesus always make room for Him in their lives. Don’t expect God to be your friend when you are not willing or wanting to be His. He desires to be closer to you than you realize. Give God a chance and He will show you just what friendship is all about because He can help you be a better friend to others who need your friendship. Life is not all about us. If we treated our friends like some of us do God, we would have none. God is a Person, not a thing or the Star Wars ‘Force.’ He created you in His image.
I challenge you, start spending time with Him, get to know Him, love Him, respect Him, like Him, be His friend and watch your life be totally transformed.
“Our job is to love people we don’t have to love. If we won’t do that, then we can’t call ourselves true believers in a God who does.”
Worry is “Practical Atheism”
There is an important distinction we need to make between good worry and bad worry. There are matters that ought to concern us, things that deserve our immediate attention and action. Being carefree is not the same as being careless.
Good Worry, Bad Worry
The Greek word for “worry” in Matthew 6 is sometimes used elsewhere to convey legitimate concern for something or someone. In fact, this word is used by the apostle Paul to describe the mental and pastoral weight he carried daily, his “deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). He also used the word to describe Timothy’s sincere “care” for the spiritual growth of believers in the city of Philippi (Philippians 2:20). We should, therefore, sometimes express intense care and concern for the advancement of the Lord’s work and the welfare of his people. There is such a thing as good worry and appropriate anxiety. We should be concerned about the welfare of our nation, the state of our own souls, the health of the church, the peril of the lost, the future of our children, and the care of our aged parents. The Christian is not a happy-go-lucky kind of character who breezes through life with a thoughtless attitude and naïve approach to living for God. So what does Jesus prohibit?
Jesus gives the command abruptly to his followers: “Therefore I say to you, do not worry.” There are no “ifs” or “buts”: this is a command to immediately refrain from worrying. The construction of the Greek here carries the idea that those listening to the sermon had already given themselves over to worry and that Jesus is therefore telling them to immediately stop being anxious. This is a blanket ban on “bad worry.” Bad worry is inappropriate in light of God’s promises, providence, and power. The apostle Paul repeats this imperative in Philippians 4:6: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.
Anxious care, or illegitimate concern, is out of place in the company of Christians and certainly in the presence of God. Anxiety is not a personality trait or culturally accepted norm, but a violation of God’s will for which we need forgiveness. However, too often we treat worry as a “respectable sin.” When you and I worry, we are being disobedient. We are sinning. I believe it was John Wesley who said, “I can no more worry than I can curse or swear.”
Anxiety takes God out of the picture, causing us to respond to a situation as if he were not present. That’s what I mean by practical atheism: we are thinking and living as if God has vacated the throne of heaven. Clearly, then, anxiety is no small sin. But not only that, it is not a solitary sin; it spawns others. Worry is a sin that gives birth to ugly offspring.
Let me give one example. Let’s say you worry about your financial security. If you’re not careful, worrying about your finances will trigger other sins, such as covetousness of others and discontentment regarding God’s providence in your life. But Jesus wants us to be worry-free. He tells us to stop worrying about whatever is worrying us.
Remember, with Jesus’ commands comes his enablement to grow in grace. He doesn’t command us to do something that he is not willing to strengthen us to do. You see that principle at work in the story of the man with the withered hand being asked by Jesus to stretch it forth (Mark 3:1–6). Humanly speaking, that would have been impossible, but with any divine commandment comes divine enablement. Therefore, don’t say, “I can’t stop worrying.” You can, and you must. And by God’s grace, you will.
“We also have the prophetic message [Scripture] as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the Day dawns and the Morning Star rises in your hearts.”
—- 2 Peter 1:19
For Peter, the Word of God shone like a Light in a “dark” place (some translate the word dark as “squalid,” “dirty,” as well). That’s why he’s so clear that we need to take “heed” to that light, to follow it until “the day dawns and the Morning Star rises in [our] hearts.” We are fallen beings, living in a fallen and dark world. We need the supernatural power of God to lead us out of this darkness and to the Light, and that Light is Jesus.
“For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light of knowledge shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.”
—-2 Cor. 4:6
Peter is pointing his readers to a goal. Some believe that the expression “until the day dawns” refers to the second coming of Jesus. Though that’s certainly our ultimate hope, the idea of the “Morning Star” rising in your hearts sounds more immediate and more personal.
The “Morning Star” refers to Jesus (Rev. 2:28, Rev. 22:16). His rising in their hearts seems to be about knowing Jesus, fully taking hold of Him and experiencing the reality of the living Christ in their own individual lives. Jesus shouldn’t be just a doctrinal truth; He should be the center of our existence and source of our hope and faith. So Peter is establishing a clear link between studying the Word of God and having a saving relationship with Jesus, the “Morning Star.”
And of course, with the light shining in us, we will spread it to others. “The whole earth is to be illuminated with the glory of God’s truth. The light is to shine to all lands and all peoples. And it is from those who have received the light that it is to shine forth. The Day-Star has risen upon us, and we are to reflect His Light upon the pathway of those in darkness through our good deeds of kindness and compassion, our demonstration of His love toward the lost and our unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Whenever others can see and sense the Light of the love of Christ in us, in our words and our works, then they encounter the cosmic illumination that can make them desire the same warmth and glow of God that fills our souls today.