Eyes On You: Church in the Age of a Pandemic
The story of King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20 gives us a blueprint for pursuing and trusting God right in the midst of a crisis. It’s a word we desperately need right now to reframe our moment in light of God’s power and providence over all things. The Crisis
“After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle. Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-Tamar” (2 Chronicles 20:1-2) The specific crisis in this context is a surprise attack from several incoming armies against the people of God. There is a “great multitude” coming up against. They are quickly approaching and their intention is to wipe out God’s people. Now this is obviously not the news Jehoshaphat thought was going to greet him when he woke up in the morning. I have no doubt he was caught off guard by this news and then had to totally shift his reality to confront the news that he had just been told. And this is true of all us. Life is disruptive. Despite our best efforts to plan, prepare, and control our lives things come into our lives which are beyond our control and expose how little control we actually have over anything in our lives. COVID-19 has become our “great multitude” of this moment and it is truly disrupting everything in our lives and sowing in fear, anxiety, and confusion. But how are we are to respond in a global pandemic? How are we to respond when anything comes into our lives that totally disrupts us? King Jehoshaphat is going show us 4 ways to respond in the midst of a crisis. 1) Seek the Lord’s Presence (2 Chronicles 20:3-4) “Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD, from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD.” Jehoshaphat was afraid, the writer notes, but he didn’t remain paralyzed by his fear, but pushed through his fear to seek the presence of the LORD. The exterior situation was scary, but the interior of Jehoshaphat’s heart was ready to respond with faith and trust. Why? Because Jehoshaphat’s interior life had been seeking the Lord regularly long before this crisis. The way that you naturally seek God in the midst of a crisis is because you have been regularly seeking God in the midst of ordinary life. 2 Chronicles 17:3-4, 6 states that “The Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the earlier ways of his father David. He did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father and walked in his commandments, and not according to the practices of Israel. His heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord.” There was a different spirit in Jehoshaphat, he was courages in the ways of the Lord and sought the Lord and not the false gods of the Baals. Disruptive events and suffering expose where we really are and show us how much peace is actually in our hearts. What have we truly been holding on to? What have we been truly trusting in? Our response as the people of Jesus must be to seek the Lord, to go to Him. How exactly do we seek Him? What does that look like? Jehoshaphat shows us. 2) Trust in the Sufficiency of the Lord (2 Chronicles 20:5-9) “And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, 6 and said, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. 7 Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8 And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying, 9 ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment,[c] or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.” We must go to the Lord in prayer, to cry out before Him. That is what Jehoshaphat does in these verses. This is what spiritual leadership looks like. He prays. But he doesn’t just pray randomly or haphazardly, he prays in response to who God is. Let us pray to God in a time of crisis by calling out to him with our fears and anxiety, but also remember who it is that we are praying to! We cannot only pray our circumstances, we must also pray God’s character over our circumstances. COVID-19 is a reality, but the greater reality is the God who rules and reigns of over COVID-19 and over everything, every place, and every moment. We must trust God to do what he will do no matter what. That’s the power in verse 9 where Jehoshaphat says “if disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, pestilence (which means a fatal disease or epidemic), or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save”. He is saying, even if we die, you are still our God and you are still our salvation. This is trusting in the sufficiency of the Lord in the midst of a crisis—asking him to deliver and save and rescue, but also saying that even he doesn’t he is still God and he is still good. That’s a prayer only someone who has truly been walking with the Lord could pray, not just for himself, but for his entire nation. That is the type of prayer we as God’s people must be praying now and the type of trust that God is trying to build into us right now. 3) Embrace Powerlessness (2 Chronicles 20:10-12) “And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy—behold, they reward us by coming to driver us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do but our eyes are on you.” COVID-19 has exposed the illusion of control and power that we (especially as Americans) have built our entire lives on. We are truly powerless in the face of it. But as the people of Jesus we can embrace powerlessness. We don’t have to be afraid of it. We know that we are powerless and God is the truly powerful one and in fact when we are weak then He is strong. “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” If there was ever a verse for our moment this is it. We do not truly know what to do, but where is our focus? What are we looking at? What are we hoping in? Disruption and suffering can be a time of clearing away all the other things in our life we thought were important or that we were obsessed with and help us focus in on what truly matters. 4) Remember the Lord is With You (2 Chronicles 20:13-17) 13 Meanwhile all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. 14 And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. 15 And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God's. 16 Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. 17 You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.” The Lord responds to desperation. The Lord responds to us. His words through Jehoshaphat are words of comfort. The battle is ultimately not their battle, but the Lord’s battle and he will fight it for them. Though they will literally go into the battle and fight it is the Lord’s presence that goes with them to assure them that they will not be overcome. God’s presence is not an invitation to passivity or fatalism, but an opportunity to pray, to fight, to battle, to act in light of Him being with us! The same God who was with the people of Judah that day is the God who is with us this day in the midst of COVID-19. He’s still on the throne, in control. He’s not anxious or fearful. He is working in the midst of all of this to call us back to himself, to help us focus on him again. We can know, somehow and someway, God is working all things together for good. The epidemiologist’s and experts tell us that to truly fight the battle against COVID-19 we need to be in a “war-time mindset” and need to do things which cause us great personal sacrifice so that others might live and not die. The church should not need reminding on this because this is meant to be our posture at all times. We are at war against a great enemy who seeks our destruction and we are called to love our neighbors at great expense to ourselves because that is the way of our true King—Jesus. COVID-19 is a remarkable opportunity for the church to be the church, to lead the way in a posture of fearlessness, Spirit-led powerlessness, love, generosity, and desperate prayer. Let’s not waste this moment. You may never have this much time on your hands again. Don’t spend it only binging Netflix, putting your head in the sand, or just waiting for things to “get back to normal”. Let’s examine where we are, let’s embrace this disruption, and let’s seek God’s presence like we haven’t in a long time. I truly believe this is a moment God is calling you, God is calling the church to something greater and for a watching world to wonder again how we can respond so differently than everyone else. The church has historically responded in truly incredible ways in the midst of crises, and epidemics particularly. The plague of Cyprian in the 3rd century tore through the region of Northern Africa and fear set in throughout the region causing people to abandoned the sick and the dying, but the church of Jesus stepped in instead of running away. Dionysus, the Bishop of Alexandria recorded this about the love the Christians had for the sick and the dying in the cities of North Africa and beyond. “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 in hopes they may not die.. 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.” The church in these ancient cities showed incredible love towards the sick. In fact, Dionysus says, they were unafraid of transferring the sickness of others onto themselves if it meant that others might live. They were literally substituting themselves in the place of others, dying, so that others might live. I wonder where on earth they ever got an idea like that from?