I’m a pastor, not an infectious disease expert. I find my hope in the words that Jesus spoke to His disciples in the upper room on the night of His crucifixion. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
We can respond to this pandemic with faith and wisdom instead of fear and panic. I’d like to give you six things we can all do as followers of Christ in the midst of this pandemic.
1. Concentrate on prayer
In the middle of all the uncertainty that surrounds us, it is difficult to think of a better thing to do than to pray, and it is difficult to think of a better prayer than the one spoken by a desperate but confident Judean king whose name was Jehoshaphat.
A dangerous delegation from Edom was closing in on Jehoshaphat’s nation, but his faith was all-encompassing. And when you read the passage, it sounds almost like it could have been in the paper yesterday:
If disaster comes upon us—sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine—we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save” (2 Chronicles 20:9).
In other words, we’re in the midst of this thing that’s overwhelming to us, and we’re going to cry out to You in the midst of it.
The conclusion of the prayer, in 2 Chronicles 20:12, says, “We have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”
Like Jehoshaphat, we stand in the midst of uncertainty, but it’s really not uncertain if we know the certain God—if we can say, as Jehoshaphat did, “Lord, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” In a situation like this, we can either pray or we can worry.
Worrying is not going to change any of this. It won’t help us fight off illness. It won’t move us to action. Worrying about COVID-19 or anything else will only increase the trouble. Rather than worrying and being anxious, Jesus calls us to respond with prayer. The Bible says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication … let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Pray for those who are infected, that the Lord would touch them. Pray for everyone who is on the front lines of this pandemic, from medical professionals who are caring for patients, to Vice President Mike Pence, HUD Secretary Ben Carson and others who have been tasked with responding to this crisis.
2. Control our minds
Oswald Sanders once said: “Your mind is the greatest gift God has given you, and it ought to be devoted entirely to Him. You should seek to be ‘bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5). This will be one of the greatest assets of your faith when a trial comes along because then your faith and the Spirit of God will work together.”
I love this verse: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
The human imagination is a powerful force. It can create a beautiful vision of a desirable future, or it can conjure up the worst-case scenario. These dark products of the imagination can put us in the grip of fear—a place God would never have us go.
The power that banishes fear is a sound mind, and we maintain a sound mind by bringing every thought into captivity. Paul was being attacked by the Corinthians. He dealt with it by taking every thought into control in his mind. Does this thought have any basis in reality? he asked himself. If it doesn’t, I take it captive. If it’s not true, I’m not going to let it run free in my imagination and keep me from the goodness of God.
Maybe you have been overwhelmed by the anxiety that comes when something like this happens. You have the opportunity—and yes, the responsibility—not to let this destroy your peace. You can control your mind. If you couldn’t, God wouldn’t command you to do it. Gaining a sound and centered mind is not as difficult as you think. It just means filling your mind with Scripture. A mind centered on the truth of God is the key to being sustained and not losing heart.
3. Count your blessings
When you go through something like this, it may seem counterintuitive to count your blessings, but it’s not.
The Bible says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).
My wife, Donna, and I went to the store recently, and there was nothing on any of the shelves, yet there were hordes of people there, and they had their little baskets full.
A man from our church works at the store. He said something I’ll never forget: “I have worked in the grocery business for 45 years, and I have never, ever seen anything like this.”
I agreed with him, and I walked away. And all of a sudden, I thought, Thank You, Lord, that for 45 years we’ve never had anything like this in our lives. Most of us have lived lives that haven’t been touched by anything like this, and we ought to stop and thank God for all of the blessings we’ve had all these years, and that we’ve never had to experience this before.
4. Claim your promises
The Bible is filled with all kinds of promises that we can take to heart.
Ed Dobson used to be the dean of students at Liberty University, and then he ministered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for several years before discovering that he had ALS. In 2015, Ed passed away. He left behind a little book called “Prayers and Promises,” in which he described what he went through during his illness. He said that eventually he couldn’t even read the Bible or pray. He said, “I could take spiritual truth only in small bites.”
But God gave him a few verses that kept him calm and strong. One passage, Hebrews 13:5-6, helped him more than any other: “He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’”
“Soon after my diagnosis,” Ed wrote, “I learned to take five-minute timeouts. Whenever fear would begin taking over my life, I would take a timeout, and I would repeat Hebrews 13:5-6. I would say these words over and over for the entire five minutes. I wrote them on cards. They were the first words I looked at every morning, and they were the last words I looked at before I went to bed. They were God’s special portion for me.”
Maybe you need some verses like that. The Word of God is full of them. Let those promises give you the strength and the courage and the faith, and when everything else around you doesn’t make sense, God still does. He still makes sense.
5. Consider your responsibility
Most of us, when we face a crisis like this, worry about ourselves, and we should worry about our families. We want to make sure that we’re all OK.
But throughout history, Christians have often stood out because they were willing to help the sick even during plagues, pandemics and persecutions. The history books are filled with people who loved others and weren’t afraid to die because they understood that to live is Christ and to die is gain.
By stepping into the mess of sickness and disease, they were able to demonstrate their faith to a watching world. So I just want to make this point: Let’s take care of ourselves, but let’s not forget that there are other people who need to be cared for, too. Let’s care for them. Let’s walk in God’s strength, and let’s be on the lookout for others whom we can encourage.
You know, they’re telling us that we have to distance ourselves socially from each other. That means physical contact should be very limited. But while we’re distancing ourselves from each other socially, why don’t we try to get closer spiritually? Here’s what I’d like to suggest: Use your phone.
When God puts a person in your heart, just pick up the phone. Call them, and say, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about you. Would it be all right if I pray with you?”
I’m going to spend five minutes every day calling somebody to encourage them and pray with them and maybe give them a verse. If everybody does that, and we can become spiritually close, it would be a great thing.
6. Continue your work
A lot of things have been shut down, and your routine is different. But you can still do your work.
I can still study at home if I can’t study at church. I can still pray at home. I can still write letters where I am. So figure out what it is that you do, and keep doing it. Do it the best you can do it, to make things better for you and for others.
Our world has been changed, and our routines are gone. And if we’re not careful, we will just sit and do nothing. I think God is saying to us, “If you ask Me, I will show you what the next thing is. Do the next thing.”
So do the next thing, and do it with all your heart.
The battle is the Lord’s. It is His voice that we listen for. It is the voice of absolute certainty and power and strength. He speaks peace. He gives us encouragement. He raises our morale. He fills us with the strength we need. He says, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). ©2020 David Jeremiah
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
This article is adapted from the message “Facing Coronavirus,” preached March 15 at Shadow Mountain Community Church. The video of this message can be found at davidjeremiah.org/news/facing-coronavirus.
David Jeremiah is founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, in San Diego County, California.