(Prayer in the Midst of the Coronavirus)
Ever have a bad day when nothing seemed to be going right? If you have, maybe you’ll be able to relate to this story.
A group of army soldiers were being trained to parachute. After receiving instructions on how to operate their chutes, they were given one last word by the sergeant:
“Now, in the one in a million case that your main parachute will not open, just bear in mind, you have a reserve parachute. Just pull the hook on the right side and it will open gradually. Relax when you hit the ground. There will be no pain. We will have truck ready to pick you up and take you back to your barracks.”
One soldier still wasn’t convinced about parachuting. But the sergeant got him to the door of the plane and pushed him out. The soldier immediately pulled his main parachute cord. Nothing happened. Then he yanked on the reserve hook and looked up, but again nothing happened. Then as he was plummeting to the ground, he said to himself, “I’ll bet you that truck won’t even be there.”
I would say that guy qualified for having a bad day wouldn’t you? It reminds me a little of a story I read about General Dwight D. Eisenhower during a hectic field campaign in Europe. It is said he asked one of his intelligence officers for a brief assessment of the enemy situation. The young officer quickly replied, “Sir, picture a donut. We’re the hole!”
Right now, I’m guessing many of us feel like we are in a hole. We have never dealt with something like this before, where a pandemic, is threating people’s lives and livelihood around the world. It seems crazy that something that started in China with a bunch of bats is now causing us to skip church and self-quarantine. But that’s our present reality, until we hear otherwise from our government leaders. In the meantime, our family of six and one dog, who have been living together since 2018, are celebrating the birthday of granddaughter Layla Zimmerman, who today turns one.
I think all of you know in the church that I am scheduled to retire from full-time service on September 1st. (We’ll see what the Lord has for me next.) During my 40 years of service, I have been investing in my personal retirement account. Last month, in February, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit an all-time high with well over 29,000 points. Nineteen days later that number was decimated, reminding us of Black Monday back in 1987. In 19 days, I lost roughly $140,000 earmarked toward my retirement. The partial good news is – that on Friday the 13th, of all days, we jumped back up to over 23,000 points. What a crazy time to retire with all of these ups and downs! The thing is, I have no control over what the market does. But I do believe in a special Someone who ultimately controls all things and has my back and has never let me down.
Now for those of you who have lived longer than I have, you have experienced other times when life felt crazy and you were in a hole. But I’m guessing many of us remember quite well what life was like just 12 years ago in 2008. If you recall, the Big Three automakers were talking about getting a $25 billion loan from the government. Gas had finally dropped to the low price of $3.45 a gallon. The largest savings and loan bank, Washington Mutual, was seized and then later sold to JP Morgan Chase. Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch. The largest insurance company in the world AIG, would have to borrow $85 billion from the Federal Reserve to avoid bankruptcy. While forty percent of the homes that were on the market for sale were either in foreclosure or being sold at a loss.
Those were crazy times dear friends and we were in a big hole. Yet, somehow, we survived the worst did we not? And I believe God was our anchor then, and I believe God will be our anchor now.
Let me try to encourage you from God’s Word.
One of the things that I love about the Bible is the fact, it shows us how regular people back then, were much like you and me today. Every one of us has dealt with the challenges and crises of their day. And we have many examples in the Bible of those who turned to the Lord during a time of great difficulty and trial and God raised them up in the nick of time and provided for their greatest need.
In 2 Kings 19, we read when King Hezekiah, the king of Judah was surrounded by the Assyrians, an unstoppable army which had triumphed over every people group they attacked, Hezekiah prayed to God and that very night, an angel of the Lord struck down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers (2 Kgs.19:15,35).
When Queen Esther received the news about the edict against her people (the Jews) by Haman and others who hated them, to be annihilated and plundered on the 13th day of the 12th month, issued as a law throughout the land, she asked the Jewish people to pray and fast for three days for her as she would speak to the king. And God heard the prayers of Esther and her people. While Haman, who devised this sinister plot against the Jews, was hanged and the Jews reversed their situation and gained mastery over those who hated them.
When Daniel was thrown down into the lion’s den, God honored Daniel as a man of prayer who faithfully would not bow the knee, and God saved him from the lions. But to the men who plotted against Daniel – the lions tore them to shreds.
We read in Acts 12:5, when Peter was arrested and sent to prison, chained between two guards, the church was fervently in prayer and he was miraculously released.
In Acts 16:25, when Paul and Silas were placed deep in the inner prison and their feet were in the stocks, they prayed and sang hymns of praise unto God and through an earthquake their prison cell was opened and their chains fell off.
On the very night before Jesus was to be crucified, we find our Lord in the garden of Gethsemane praying to His Father in heaven. And to comfort Jesus, Luke’s gospel tells us an angel was sent to minister to Jesus to strengthen Him for what He was about to face.
All of the people I just described, from Hezekiah to Esther to Daniel to Peter, Paul & Silas, even Jesus Himself, were dealing with some type of crisis in their lives. These were things that were well beyond their ability to control, or in the Jesus’ case, voluntarily gave up control when He became a man. And yet, all of these individuals turned to God for help, and God answered in God’s own way and in God’s own time.
Let me ask you, do you think God is aware of what is happening around the world with this virus known as Covid-19? Do you think God is aware of the financial crisis our nation is facing? Do you think God knows about what is happening in your family situation or with you personally?
I wonder if it is possible, instead of politicians bickering and fighting and competing against one another, if somehow, they might be brought together to deal with the crises on hand and actually get on their knees in humility and pray to God for wisdom and an answer to heal our nation? Maybe God is waiting for all of us to pray together as I believe the Lord is always ready to hear and answer prayer.
And speaking of prayer – I want to mention one last name of someone who believed in the power of prayer and would not give up. His name was Elijah. Elijah, the prophet of God in the Old Testament, was a man with a nature like our own, yet, he sincerely believed God would answer his prayers.
Elijah, at this time in his life, was dealing with two crises. One is the fact his people and country have been without rain for 3 ½ years and they desperately need water for themselves, their animals, and their crops so they and their children can survive. And the second crisis is a personal one, where Elijah’s life is threatened and he feels alone. Let’s focus on the first crisis as we listen to his story from 1 Kings 18:42-45.
But Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he crouched down on the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 He said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” So, he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go back” seven times. 44 It came about at the seventh time, that he said, “Behold, a cloud as small as a man’s hand is coming up from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, so that the heavy shower does not stop you.’” 45 In a little while the sky grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy shower.
I found it interesting in verse 42 how Elijah crouches down low and places his face between his knees when he prays. I have tried both sitting and kneeling and placing my head low to see what feels the most comfortable and how Elijah may have prayed. Because it seems to me Elijah is placing himself in a physical position of prayer where he can wait on God for however long it takes to get an answer. Elijah has decided he is in this thing for the long haul; whatever it takes. He knows his task is to pray and leave the timing up to God.
Now, whether you and I pray on our knees, or sitting, or standing, or walking, or lying face down before God is not the critical component, one position over another does not make God hear us more or answer our prayers any faster. However, I do believe sometimes how we position ourselves in prayer displays the attitude of our hearts; having a humble spirit, where the one praying is truly seeking an audience with God.
What I like about Elijah, when he prays, we clearly see in verse 43. He does not give up! He is persistent to pray until he sees the hand of God move. He earnestly is seeking God to answer and will not stop calling out to his heavenly Father. Seven times he asks his servant to go look for any signs of rain while he remains constant in his petition before God. (I’m guessing I may have become discouraged and stopped after the third time.) However, when Elijah prays, he always expects something to happen. He’s not trying to control the prayer, or how God has to answer the prayer, or when it needs to come about. Instead, Elijah, simply expects that God will answer. Because you see, if you expect nothing, you will seldom be disappointed. So, Elijah sees his job is to faithfully pray. Where God’s job is to bring the best answer at exactly the right moment.
President Trump has declared March 15th, 2020, as a National Day of Prayer. And I believe that we should honor that declaration by being a people who choose to pray at all times and in all places. We need to humbly get on our knees, or sit in our chairs, or crouch down like Elijah, but however we do pray, we need to seek the Lord in all matters, big or small, never giving up, persisting until we see the hand of God move and bring the best answer at exactly the right time. I encourage you to set aside a time each day when you can be alone seeking the Lord in prayer. For when the days are crazy and you feel like you are in a hole, God is our hope and our ever-present constant Who will never leave us nor forsake us. Amen.