Why the seeming reluctance to pray more boldly?
O God, stop the spreading of Covid-19!
Written on the Eve of the World Day of Prayer – March 29
During the past days and weeks, many believers (and many not-yet believers!) have been praying over the alarming, disarming, disorienting, and for many folks, frightening phenomenon of the Coronavirus, Covid-19. I have been deeply moved by the prayers I have heard and read. Prayed with sensitivity to all the dimensions of the crisis. Asking God to heal those who have contracted the disease. Asking God to comfort those who cannot be near loved ones suffering from the disease. Asking God to protect critical health servants. Asking God to protect truck-drivers who are keeping the supply line going. Asking God to watch over Day-Care workers watching over little ones. Asking God to give wisdom to government leaders needing to help masses of people navigate uncharted waters. Asking God to hold those who have lost loved ones in His heart.
But I have not heard passionate pleading for the Living God to do what only He can do: stop the spreading of the virus! Oh, there have been a few voices crying out for what would have to be a massive miracle. But not as many as I would have expected, especially given the near helplessness of the situation. Instead I have sensed a seeming reluctance to boldly ask the Creator and Savior of the world to simply stretch out His hand and put an end to the “pestilence.”
Why is this?
We are talking about … and to (!) … the One Who, by simply speaking, called the universe into being. We are talking about … and to (!) … the One Who, by simply speaking, holds the universe together moment-by-moment. The One Who parted the waters of the Red Sea. The One Who caused water – and honey! – to flow from a rock in the desert. The One Who provided “bread from heaven” every morning for forty years in the wilderness. On it goes. We are talking about … and to … the One Who incarnated Himself in our flesh, born into our world through the womb of a virgin. The One Who healed leprosy and epilepsy. Who made the lame to walk and the blind to see and the deaf to hear. Who, simply by speaking, freed people long held in the grip of the demonic. Who after giving Himself for the life of the world on a Roman cross, was raised from the dead! From the dead! Is there any greater enemy? Raised from the dead! Can this One not enter the crisis and stop the destroying plague?
Ah, maybe therein lies the reluctance. Maybe we do not believe He can. I hope that is not the case. I understand that it can be hard to believe. But given all that He has revealed about Himself through salvation history, I hope our reluctance to pray boldly is not due to lack of faith in His goodness and power.
So, why then the reluctance?
As I was walking the other day – appropriately socially distancing myself from other walkers – I thought of seven possible explanations for our holding back. See if you agree with them. See if any are true of you.
- We are reluctant because we think it presumptuous to be so bold. Fact is, we say, this is a broken world. And will be until Jesus comes again, bringing with Him His new heavens and new earth. And we say to ourselves that we simply have to accept the fact of brokenness for now, and ask for grace to endure and persevere. Why should we in our time think that we should not “just face the facts” and press on?
- Related to the above, why should we in our time ask for such a miracle when people, God’s people, have suffered even worse crisis in the past? Why should we in our time be exempted from such suffering? Are we that “spoiled” by the blessings of modern technological wonders that we think we can ask to be spared?
- Or, going deeper, maybe our reluctance is actually nurtured by an addiction to latest “Breaking News.” Oh, I hope not! But I think you know what I mean. There is a kind of “rush” that comes with being bombarded by the latest sensational development. I am not here dissing the media. Most in the media are sincerely wanting to help us by keeping us informed, “in the loop,” as it were. But many in the media are hooked on the hype and we catch the infection. So, is it possible that deep down in our soul, we secretly want the crisis to go on for a while? And so we do not pray for it all to end. No, Lord, let not be so for us!
- Or maybe it is that we so hope for Jesus to come and bring about the new creation, that we are content to “hold out” until He comes. He could come at any time. “The time is near,” says the apostle John in The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Every passing day makes the Great Day of the Lord one day sooner. So we, rightly, live alive in that hope, and then, wrongly, just accept the way things are in the meantime.
- Or maybe – and here I am going to press into painful parts of our soul – maybe we prayed boldly about something else in the past and God did not come through as we had expected. We prayed for a loved one to be healed and it did not happen. We prayed to be protected from some harm and it came anyway. The earth-quake destroyed our house. The fire swept through our neighborhood. The flood waters just kept rising. And we had to live with the consequences. So we are afraid to pray so boldly lest we be disappointed again. I understand this possibility. Unresolved disappointment in the secret place, keeping the heart from daring to try again to implore the Almighty to act in miraculous ways.
- Or maybe we are concerned about God’s reputation in the world if we pray so boldly. We do not want in any way for His name to be shamed. So we say to ourselves, secretly, “what if we pray boldly before the watching world and God does not act as boldly as we boldly ask Him to act?” God looses face. Or so we fear. And thus we hold back.
- There is one more possible reason for the reluctance. Maybe we see in the fact that God is, apparently, allowing the virus to spread, a form of His righteous judgment. The world is broken because we broke it. In the persons of Adam and Eve, we disobeyed God’s one good command to not try to live on our own, apart from dependence upon Him. God had warned our parents that to strike out on our own, to try to make life work on our terms and in our own ways, would result in disintegration, decay, death. Throughout the story of God with the world, there have been times when God has let peoples “have their way,” resulting in wars and destruction and disease. Doing so in the hope that allowing the consequences of sin would cause people to wake up from the illusion and turn back to Him. So we think that maybe God is allowing the Coronavirus to happen unto that end. And if this is the case, then to ask God to stop its spread would, or could, prematurely curtail the good to be achieved by the supposed judgment. So we hold back, waiting until it is clear that God has achieved the redemptive end. But how will we know when that time comes? How long might it take? We wrestle, grapple, muse, but not pray.
Is any of the above making sense? And does any of it account for any reluctance in you to pray boldly?
So, where do we go?
I can only speak for myself. I think we acknowledge any or all of the above, and still pray! We go back to the basics of the Gospel of Jesus: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” Why? So that the world might know His life, eternal life. God loves the world. This world. A rebel world. An ignoring-the-ways-of-God world. A broken-because-of-the-ignoring-and-rebelling world. In incomprehensible mercy, God loves this world!
And so we, I, ask this God to do a miracle. Not in an arrogant way. Not in any entitled way. Not in a flamboyant way. But in humility and repentance. Coming with nothing to claim, throwing ourselves on the mercy manifested on Good Friday – “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” And crying out: “Oh God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Oh God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Your great mercy, please stop the spread of this virus. In the name of Him Who died for the life of the world.”
And as I rise from my knees, I pray that He would the get the credit for the miracle.
About the Author
Darrell Johnson is a retired pastor and professor, speaker, author and mentor of young pastors. He is a grandfather married to Sharon. In these COVID-19 days, Darrel is unexpectedly completing his Introduction to Preaching course at Regent College in Vancouver. For many years he pastored the famous Union Church in Manila during the People Power Revolution.