The coronavirus crisis certainly galvanizes us to pray.
Firstly, as Paul wrote to Timothy, we are to pray for all those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-3). There are rulers of all kinds – kings and presidents, prime ministers and premiers. But they are simply the government office bearers. Behind them, as Yes Minister fans know, is a whole body of public servants, who make decisions and take actions on behalf of others. But we are not to limit Paul’s injunction to government, for there are any number of people in authority whose decisions affect our lives, personally and communally: from police to magistrates and judges; from school teachers and principals to university professors and vice-chancellors; from employers to executive officers, directors and board members. Our society is a complex web of people in authority and people under authority. And it is not only in society at large for within the family we have husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, older siblings and grandparents whose responsibility and authority need our prayerful support.
Authority at this time is important because we are seeking to fight this disease communally. As a society and culture, we have been promoting individualism for several generations. There is a great truth in individualism. It is important that people take responsibility for their own actions. However, it is a partial truth pushed too far into an outright lie. For “no man is an island entire of itself”. We are brought into this world not by an individual but by a couple. We are born not into isolation but into a family. We are dependent upon the family for years of our life. And that family does not, and cannot, exist in social isolation either. It is part of a wider family, and of a society, which creates for it wealth and culture. And in a complex modern society such as ours, it provides so much more.
The coronavirus has reminded our society of our communal experience of life. Our governments have been elected to exercise justice in taking charge of our protection and safety. They have enacted quite extreme measures for our welfare. We, as citizens, have to learn the meaning of the word ‘submission’ once again. Without our submission to their rulings their task is impossible. Even using coercive force will not defeat a rebellious population.
As Christians, we know of the importance of submission, for we have submitted our lives to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. And it was Jesus Christ who took the lead in submitting to his parents and teaching submission in his instruction to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Christ’s apostles, following his lead, have taught us that we must submit to governing authorities, for no authority exists other than by God’s appointment (Romans 13:1-2, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-17). Remember, that these commands were written not under a democratically elected government, given to protecting minority rights, but under the tyranny of Roman oppression.
And so, we Christians are to pray for those to whom God has given such authority and responsibility. And if ever there was a time when our leaders needed the wisdom of young Solomon, this is surely the time. To balance the health and economic needs of our society, and implement plans and policies that will achieve the desired outcome, is a massively difficult task. Our prayers must not be limited to the prime minister or premier – for the task falls to police and life-guards, local councils and school teachers, business leaders and bankers, mothers and fathers. These office bearers don’t have all the answers, they will make mistakes, they are not above criticism – but they have to make decisions for our welfare and we need to support them in prayer.
Flowing from our prayer for our leaders will be a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified. For the decisions of our society’s leaders affect the proclamation of the gospel by facilitating or inhibiting it. At the moment we cannot legally gather in church to hear God’s word, fellowshipping with each other in prayer. What are we to pray about church life now?
So far, our Christian leaders have done a great job in quickly embracing the available technology to continue congregational life, while in social isolation. Churches are proclaiming God’s word through all manner of electronic platforms. It’s not the same as meeting together in body. But more people are attending because life is slower and more are at home on weekends. We need to pray for the opportunity that this form of church life provides, while also praying for the time when we can meet together again.
More importantly, we need to pray for the opportunity that this crisis provides to reach the wider community with the gospel. Society has slowed down. People are rediscovering the simpler pleasures, and sometimes difficulties, of home life. The subject of death has once again become part of our conversation as we hear the dreadful statistics reported daily. How can we reach out to neighbours and friends? How can we bring public debate back to God and salvation? How can we prepare to bring people back to church, when the restrictions are lifted? How do we prepare for evangelism in the post-crisis period? These are real matters for prayer and action.