We are all affected by this turbulent moment in our world's history, but the Bible does provide solid choices in unstable times. All these points are also available in a sermon I just delivered. It can be heard here.
1. Obey the authorities. Unless the authorities are blatantly going against God's Word, the Bible commands (not encourages) us to submit to their leadership. Titus 3 and Romans 13 immediately come to mind. If ordinances are passed to help contain the virus, we would be wise to heed those instructions. Granted, there are many variables and scenarios, but the primary principle is to obey those in authority. Christians don't send the right message when we come across with a renegade spirit of rebellion in gray areas.
2. We run into battle, not away from it. It's crucial that we use wisdom, but we cannot let fear control us. John Piper argues that "the overwhelming thrust of the New Testament is that the disciples of Jesus incline from the heart toward meeting needs at the risk of loss more regularly—at least we ought to—than we incline toward staying safe and comfortable by neglecting risky helpfulness." Again, just so I'm not misunderstood, we are called to use wisdom, to guard our families and prevent the spread of any disease. Wisdom tells us that our current health care system cannot facilitate a massive outbreak.
Jesus said that even if we are bitten by a snake or drink poison (Mark 16:18), He would protect us if it's according to God's sovereign will. But that definitely does not mean you or I should grab a rattlesnake or drink poison. The point is to trust God, not challenge Him. But we also cannot forget the last half of the verse in Mark 16:18 that those serving Christ "lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." There is a fine line between faith and presumption. We need much prayer, repentance and time in His Word to truly get direction. We need orders from headquarters before marching into battle.
3. Be very gracious—not everyone sees things the same way. Some want to run right into battle; others want to self-isolate. Anti-vaxxers understand that a vaccine is ultimately not our hope, but those promoting vaccines see it differently. Health experts who understand how the body really works will be at odds with doctors and nurses trained to treat the symptom and not the cause. I've had to delete a few posts on social media because they didn't edify. How about you? We should run everything through the Philippians 4:8 filter before posting:
"Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think on these things."
As pastors, we also need a lot more grace. Not unlike governing authorities, we have to make decisions related to both spiritual and physical health that affect others—from newborns to the elderly. We have to look at the big picture and make corporate decisions that may not make sense at the individual level. We are living day to day. Decisions that seemed right a few days ago may not seem right today. We all need a lot more grace, patience and understanding.
4. Understand the spiritual significance. Because of sin and a fallen world, we have to deal with these issues. God will allow sickness and disease because it often turns people back to Him—it gets our attention. Scripture is also clear that these types of events can be a judgment. While this pandemic may or may not be one, when judgment does fall, it affects the just and the unjust, the righteous and the wayward. Instead of focusing on whether this is a judgment from God, use this opportunity to repent and realign your life with Christ. Those who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved—not saved from death, but from judgment. This truth is not popular, but it is powerful. Please read more here.
5. Get information from reliable sources that don't have an agenda. The Bible reveals that the devil is the prince of this world; therefore, we must pay close attention to what we watch and listen to—the influence controlling the majority of the media is ultimately attempting to control us. Romans 8:6 (ESV) states, "For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace." Many media outlets are using this for political gain. A recent headline stated, "The NY Times exposes real reason behind coronavirus hype: Crash the market to harm Trump's reelection chances," and Bill Maher recently said to "bring on the recession," that he was hoping for a crashing economy so we can "get rid of Trump." This is unacceptable. Where is the outcry? There isn't one because many people will do whatever it takes (lie, cheat and steal) to remove President Trump and push their own agendas. Wake up, America. Yes, get to the voting booth, but more importantly, get to the prayer closet.
6. Be informed but not overwhelmed. Respond spiritually. I'm so thankful that the president ordered a national day of prayer. There is a God who governs the affairs of men, and we must seek Him. Churches can promote online prayer and worship services as well as corporate fasting. God's call of repentance is not to Hollywood, Washington or the media (though that would be great to see); His call is to us: "If My people turn back to Me, I will heal and restore" (2 Chr. 7:14, my paraphrase). The silent majority needs to wake from their spiritual slumber. Revival does not come without pain and travail. It's good to stay informed and to understand what is happening around us, but we need to spend way more time praying, reading and worshipPing. Watch healthy entertainment that encourages your family. Kids need to be built up and strengthened, not drained and discouraged.
7. Do what you can physically. The downside to being at home and isolated is that many will look to food for comfort. As a result, I'm predicting that we will see a big rise in obesity and health-related illnesses. (Aren't we trying to prevent that?) God does care about what we eat, and nutrition is an important part of keeping our bodies strong and free of disease. I also strongly encourage you to consider fasting during this season for spiritual and physical benefits. In our churches, we teach about stewarding our finances, our marriages and our giftings, but why not our health? Granted, the physical benefits of fasting are secondary—the spiritual benefits are the priority. (For those needing help in this area, links are available here where you can download my books on health, fitness and fasting. Free download links are available for each e-book.)
8. Saturate your mind with the truth. These may be familiar passages, but His Word is an ever-present help in times of trouble (Ps. 46:1), and His promises are a source of great comfort. Proverbs 3:5 reminds us to trust in the Lord with all our heart and not to lean on our own understanding. When we forget this principle, it leads to increased fear and anxiety. Psalm 28:7 reminds us that the Lord is our strength and our shield, and Jesus told us in Matthew 6:25 not to worry about anything because He is in control. Philippians 4:6-7 adds: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with gratitude, make your requests known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will protect your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
Do you have this peace that Jesus talks about? If not, take time now to repent and commit your life to Him. "There is no peace until we can look back and see the cross of Christ between us and our sins" (D.L. Moody).
Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Southern California. More can be found at ShaneIdleman.com, and free downloads of his books are available at WCFAV.org. Visit him on Facebook and subscribe to his new podcast.
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