Brothers and sisters in the faith, panic ye not
Updated: May 18
It's amazing how much can change in a week. Since I wrote my last post, the Coronavirus situation seems to have exploded and suddenly it has affected every area of life - my university has closed, my housemates are leaving, I've lost my job, supermarkets have been half cleaned out, and almost all social contact is now virtual, including church. The foundations of our world are being well and truly shaken.
What has truly left me without words, though, has been the response of my Christian brothers and sisters at both extremes, and I have to say that I have been alternately inspired and led to despair. I don't want to rant, that isn't helpful, but as a result of what I've seen, I just want to share some Biblical do's and don'ts, which I hope will serve as an encouragement, not only under the current circumstances but during future times of uncertainty as well.
1. Please, please, please, don't panic
Whilst the world is panicking, we should not. Why? Because our God is more powerful!
In John 16:33b, Jesus says:
“In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
He. Has. OVERCOME. There are no exceptions to this, not even Coronavirus. This is the time to figure out where your security is. I heard a brilliant sermon at our last church service on Sunday from Paul Cooke (link below - give it a listen!), and he asked us to consider whose hand we are holding right now. If the hand you're holding belongs to anyone other than Jesus, it will let you go.
I want to challenge you to consider who your God is. Is your God the Almighty One; Prince of Peace; Wonderful Counsellor; the Everlasting Father; the one who knows your every need and provides for you? Or is he a God that can fit inside a box, be constrained by the world He created, or lose His ability to provide just because the supermarket has run out of loo roll? This is your time to choose.
2. Do keep giving thanks and praise
Find things to be grateful for and keep track of them. Even in the most mundane of days, there are always opportunities to give thanks for what you have.
Praise and worship are also really important. Even if you have the worst singing voice in the world, keep singing praises to God. Psalm 100 says this:
'Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.'
There are no conditions set on this. The psalmist doesn't tell us to give thanks only if we feel like it, we are commanded to do so regardless. We are even told why:
'It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.'
'For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.'
Even if it doesn't feel like He is being good and faithful right now, trust that He is! I do a weekly Bible study with a close friend, and today we looked at Genesis 17. In this chapter, we are told that Abraham is already 99 years old, and his wife Sarah is 90, yet it is here that God promises them a son, and not only this, but that He will give his descendants the land of Canaan. Sure enough, Sarah gives birth to a son the following year, and they name him Isaac as God commanded. The second promise, however, took years to fulfil and it didn't happen during Abraham's lifetime, but it was still fulfilled. Trust that God is working for your good, and keep giving thanks for every good gift He has given you.
3. Don't lose community
As I said in my last post, we are so super blessed to live in a time when it is possible to communicate from isolation so much more than during past plagues and pandemics. It is so easy during isolation to lose community entirely, but I really encourage you to take advantage of platforms like Skype, Zoom, Facebook and others that allow you to communicate with others. Last night, our church student group had our first meeting on Zoom, and it honestly flipped my mood upside-down and made me feel so much better for having done a group devotional and chatted and prayed with each other. Many churches will also be streaming sermons and worship sessions, and if your church isn't able to do this, then find one that is so that you can still get spiritually fed and stay in touch with a church community over the course of the next few weeks!
This also goes for those who are outside of your Christian circles. Do not let them feel forgotten. Check up on people, keep relationships going, and if you can, then serve them practically. This is a time to come together and feed community, and your witness as a Christian is so so essential right now! Although pre-occupied, those around you will still be looking to you to be an example, so even though looking after yourself and your family is important, try and look for ways to serve those around you with love. However much or little you are able to do, your witness will speak to those around you in a really powerful way!
Something I saw that really struck me recently was something that I saw about Julian the Apostate. Julian the Apostate was the last pagan emperor of the Roman empire, and he made it his mission to revive the pagan religion of the pre-Christian empire. Under his rule, the persecution of Christians increased, and many pagan temples were restored. He did not like the Christians, but even he had to recognise that they were different and that this was what was bringing people to Christ:
'For when it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by the priests, then I think the impious Galilaeans observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy. And they have gained ascendancy in the worst of their deeds through the credit they win for such practices. For just as those who entice children with a cake, and by throwing it to them two or three times induce them to follow them, and then, when they are far away from their friends cast them on board a ship and sell them as slaves, and that which for the moment seemed sweet, proves to be bitter for all the rest of their lives—by the same method, I say, the Galilaeans also begin with their so-called love-feast, or hospitality, or service of tables,—for they have many ways of carrying it out and hence call it by many names,—and the result is that they have led very many into atheism. . .'
Julian, Fragment of a Letter to a Priest 305b-d
What I also discovered recently is that Eusebius, an early church historian, writes about how Christians acted during the Plague of Cyprian (c.250-270AD), which many scholars now think was probably Ebola:
'Most of our brethren showed love and loyalty in not sparing themselves while helping one another, tending to the sick with no thought of danger and gladly departing this life with them after becoming infected with their disease. Many who nursed others to health died themselves, thus transferring their death to themselves. The best of our own brothers lost their lives in this way – some presbyters, deacons, and laymen – a form of death based on strong faith and piety that seems in every way equal to martyrdom. They would also take up the bodies of the saints, close their eyes, shut their mouths, and carry them on their shoulders. They would embrace them, wash and dress them in burial clothes, and soon receive the same services themselves.'
Eusebius, History of the Church 22.11
As Christians, our predecessors mentioned above should serve as role models. What a radical witness! May we be driven by the same selfless love and compassion for our neighbours as they were! I'm not saying that you should be careless with your own safety and wellbeing, but what I'm trying to say is that we need to be selfless: driven by love to serve those around us.
'Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.'
4. Do keep declaring the truth
My mum is excellent at this, and I am so grateful to her for teaching me the importance of it. There is much to be said for the power of words, and it is vital that we speak good ones over ourselves and others. Proverbs 18:20-21 is a helpful reminder of this:
If you need them (actually who am I kidding, we all do!), here are some truths to speak over yourself:
God is good: 'The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him.' - Nahum 1:7
God is loving: 'How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.' - Psalm 36:7
God has promised me good things: 'For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." ' - Jeremiah 29:11
God will not abandon me: 'The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.' - Deuteronomy 31:8
God is always faithful: 'Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.' - Deuteronomy 7:9
God is strong to deliver: 'He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.' - Psalm 18:17
God is my refuge: 'He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.' - Psalm 91:4-6
God is my provider: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" - Matthew 6:25-26
I do not need to fear anything: 'Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.' - Joshua 1:9
5. Don't post prophecies on social media
Friends, I cannot stress this enough. I won't point fingers at anybody in particular, and I certainly am not judging anybody, but I must ask you to be so so careful with this!
Recently, I have seen countless posts on Facebook containing Coronavirus-related prophecies, and to be honest, I really don't think it's a helpful thing to be doing. Not only will it probably freak out your non-Christian friends, but a lot of them stir fear amongst Christians and non-Christians alike. They have ranged from claiming that this is God's judgement on the world, to warning that it is a spiritual attack from Satan, to reassuring Christians that they won't be affected, to outright conspiracy theories with God thrown into the middle, and very few that I've seen are actually in agreement with each other.
Whether or not any of the above are true, we must remember the purpose of prophecy. In 1 Corinthians 14:3-5, Paul writes:
"But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified."
In verses 29-31, he goes on to say:
"Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged."
The purpose of prophecy is clear: to edify the church. I do not believe that prophecies should be shared with non-Christians unless God has expressly told you to do so, and you must be sure of this.
Prophecies also need to be weighed carefully. If you feel you need to share a prophecy with others, I would encourage you to ask yourself these questions:
Is this in line with the word of God?
Will it edify my brothers and sisters in the faith?
Can I trust the source of this prophecy?
If you decide to share it, then share it in a private message with those you think will be built up by it, and pray before you do!
6. Stay connected to God, and re-connect every single day
This point is the most important. Social distancing/isolation means that we have an amazing opportunity to spend more time with God. Read His word, spend time in worship, soak in His presence. This is a chance we cannot pass up on! It's also a great time to read Christian books and listen to sermons - use this time to press into God and strengthen your foundations so that when you find things more difficult, you have your security.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, it is he that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."
I sincerely hope that this has been of encouragement to you, it was not meant to be anything else! I'm by no means a theologian or Biblical scholar, but if you have any questions or want to chat further about this then please do message me.
As a friend always says when he signs off his radio programme (Chris Cole on CrossRhythms - 96.3FM for anyone in Plymouth!), stay close to the one who loves you the most!
Ciao, amici ✌
Sam Storms, 'What Does Scripture Teach About the Office of Prophet and Gift of Prophecy?', The Gospel Coalition: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/sam-storms-what-does-scripture-teach-about-office-prophet-gift-prophecy/