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Covid-19. Deeper into the desert and the priority of mission

This article is a supplement to the earlier prayer guide by introducing what I believe are some important additional directions for prayer in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. The central burden here is for us to know God’s will and timing for the ending of the pandemic and lockdown, and to pray accordingly.

Deeper into the desert
In the first prayer guide, I likened our experience of lockdown to Jesus’ experience in the wilderness (Mark 1:12). Reflecting this and other biblical wilderness experiences, I framed prayers around an understanding of wilderness as a place of: intimacy with the Lord, hearing His voice, closeness to nature, testing and purifying, encounter with the devil, and preparation for ministry.

All the indications are that lockdown will not be lifted any time soon. Even when it is we have been warned that social distancing measures will be in place until at least the end of the year. The priority is to re-open schools and businesses; social venues are likely to be last in line and this could include churches.

At the same time, the novelty of ‘cyber-church’ and the earlier ’holiday atmosphere’ evident among some may start to wear off. Those working in essential services will become increasingly weary under the increased workload and straitened working conditions. As we are already seeing in other countries, the stress of being confined could lead to protests and civil disobedience. Experience and awareness of the global present and future phenomenal human, social and economic costs of the pandemic and lockdown will increase. Even if we are not affected personally, our solidarity with those who are means we also suffer with them (Romans 12:15). In other words, the ‘testing and refining’ and ‘spiritual warfare’ aspects of the wilderness experience could be intensifying.

  • Pray that the Lord will equip and strengthen us to face whatever trials and temptations are yet to come (Psalm 27:1-3; 2 Timothy 1:7), that we will “be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might”, and know how to “put on the armour of God, that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-20), and that the patience that comes from the testing of our will “have its perfect work” (James 1:2-4).
  • Remember all in the ‘front line’, especially those known to you. Pray for families in poorer countries, for whom being in lockdown means no longer being able to earn enough to feed your children, and for whom malnutrition is already a problem. Pray for organisations like Tear Fund, seeking to provide food and supplies to the most vulnerable communities.
  • Pray that many will hear the Lord speaking to them in the wilderness and that they will be sustained by His word (Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3). Pray for a greater thirst among believers and ‘seekers’ to know, search and understand the scriptures. Pray that the Lord will raise up bible teachers to “equip the saints for the work of ministry and for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12).
  • Jesus’ time in the wilderness was for a fixed time, a season, for no longer than was necessary for God’s purposes. Pray that we will co-operate with the Lord and His purposes for us in our season in the wilderness, so that He is able to bring it to an end sooner rather than later.

The priority of mission
As I wrote in the first prayer guide, many see Covid-19 as a sign of the end times. Certainly, Jesus listed “pestilences” as one of the several signs of the “beginning of birth pains”, along with wars, famine, earthquakes, persecution, deception, and lawlessness (Matthew 24:4-13; Luke 21:8-19). But in the same discourse, He also said that the time leading up to his return would be marked by the preaching of the “gospel of the kingdom in all the world as a witness to all the nations” (Matt 24:14). Only then will the end come. We should be wary of attempting to set dates that only the Father knows (Matt 24:36), but whether this is the eleventh hour or an eleventh hour, the imperatives are the same – preach the gospel (Matt 24:14), understand the times (Luke 12:54-56), watch and pray (Luke 21:36), and be ready (Matt 25:44).

In reflecting on this, I was reminded of the story of the prayers of Rees Howells and the Bible College of Wales. As Norman Grubb wrote in his biography of Howells, their priority was to intercede “on a national and international level concerning anything that affected world evangelisation. Every creature must hear; therefore, the doors must be kept open. Their prayers became strategic. They must face and fight the enemy wherever he was opposing freedom to evangelise.” This understanding was a foundation of their prayers during WW2.

The pandemic and lockdown have prompted many to face their own finitude and to ask fundamental questions about God, eternity and salvation. Many pastors and leaders report that many more people watch live-streamed church than attended church services. It may well be that Covid-19 has helped ‘cast the net on the other side’ and created a new ‘catch’ of those seeking to know the Lord. But this can only go so far, and there will come a time when the crisis stands in the way of the Gospel. And the preaching of the Gospel must, of course, lead to ‘making disciples’ (Matthew 28:19), from whom Jesus builds His Church (Matthew 16:18).

  • Following Howells’ example, pray that the Lord will use Covid-19 only to the extent that it advances work of the Gospel, the making of disciples and the building up of His Church, but that as soon and as much as it stands in the way, He will bring the pandemic and lockdown to an end.

Finally, I try my best to ensure that the prayers I advocate are guided by, and in line with, scripture. One way of keeping our prayers biblical is to ‘pray with Paul’, to make his prayers ours, especially when we are praying about mission and church (his over-riding concerns). Here is a useful compilation of all Paul’s prayers in the Bible.

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