‘The effective prayer of a righteous man avails much’ (James 5:16).
Covid-19 and the response to it are profoundly impacting the lives of all, both rural and urban, and, more than ever, prayer must be our first resort. Below, I offer some ways to pray in the current crisis. As well as the points below, please take time to look up the scriptures referenced and use as the basis for prayer, and also pray the Psalms listed, in full.
‘Driven into the wilderness’
Like Jesus after His baptism, we find ourselves ‘driven into the wilderness’ (Mark 1:12). However, it was the Holy Spirit who ‘drove’ or ‘led’ Him there (Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:1). In the biblical understanding, the wilderness is, firstly, a place of encounter and intimacy with the Lord and of hearing His voice (Hosea 2:14-23; Exodus 34:27-28; Deuteronomy 29:5; 1 Kings 19:4-18). And, throughout Christian history, many divines have spoken of the significance of wilderness experiences in deepening their relationship with God.
- Pray for God to open our eyes to see the present lockdown as an opportunity to ‘come aside to a desolate place and rest awhile’ (Mark 6:31) and an invitation to go deeper into God.
- Pray that many will ‘be still and know that the Lord is God’ (Psalm 46:10) and be freed of anxiety for the ‘things the nations of the world seek after’ and ‘strive only for His Kingdom’ (Luke 12:22-31).
‘Tempted by the devil’
The wilderness is also a place of testing and trial, of refining and purifying, of confrontation with the devil (Mark 1:13). Throughout Scripture we see how the Lord uses adversity to discipline and purify us (Job 23:10; 1 Peter 1:6-7) so that we bear fruit (John 15:1-2; Hebrews 12:3-11).
- Pray for us to submit to God (James 4:7) and His discipline, knowing that He does so because He loves us (Hebrews 12:5-6).
- Pray for believers to be aware and not ‘ignorant of Satan’s devices’ (2 Corinthians 2:11), and to ‘resist the devil, and he will flee from us’ (James 4:7).
‘With the animals’
Jesus was not alone in the wilderness. In a recapitulation of Eden and an anticipation of the Age to come, He was ‘with the animals’ (Mark 1:13). Nature has not gone into lockdown, and in this time of privation many are waking up to its joy and beauty.
- As people turn to creation for comfort in adversity, pray that their eyes will be opened to the “Lord who made heaven and earth”, for whom “nothing is too difficult” (Jeremiah 32:17).
- Pray especially for those in towns and cities to find ways to connect with and enjoy God’s creation even in small ways.
‘In the power of the Spirit’
Jesus was ‘led by the Spirit’ into the wilderness and emerged in the ‘power of the Spirit’ (Luke 4:14). His forty days in the wilderness prepared Him for three years of ministry, culminating in His death, resurrection and ascension.
Even when the virus has run its course, things will never be the same – politically, socially and economically. Many are seeing Covid-19 as God’s ‘final notice’ to humanity, inaugurating the last stage of His end-time programme. We should be wary of attempting to set dates that only the Father knows (Matthew 24:36), but whether this is the eleventh hour or an eleventh hour, the imperatives are the same – understand the times (Luke 12:54-56), watch and pray (Luke 21:36) and be ready (Matthew 25:44).
- Pray that, as the wilderness prepared Jesus for the task before Him, so our present wilderness will be effective in preparing us for the task and challenges that face us when we emerge.
- Pray for understanding, for a new hunger among believers to search the Scriptures, and that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth.
‘The Lord reigns’
We are in uncharted territory and the future is even more uncertain. Many are gripped by fear – of catching the disease itself, of the loss of money, home, job or loved ones, of the kind of world that might emerge beyond the pandemic, and ultimately of death. Yet the Lord still reigns and rules – over human affairs and the entire cosmos (Psalms 93, 96, 97, 99).
- Pray for all who feel paralysed by fear to come to know that the Lord is ‘our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, therefore we will not fear’ (Psalm 46:1-2).
- Especially, pray that many will recognise their need of salvation and cry to the Lord to have mercy on them, for their eyes to be opened (Matthew 20:29-34), and come to know the power of His Resurrection (Philippians 3:10).
‘Deliver us from evil’
Our times are in His hands (Psalm 31:15) and we are all to trust ourselves to Him to judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). Yet, we can and should pray for the Lord to deliver us from evil and the evil one (Matthew 6:13).
- Affirm and pray that the Lord will hear us in this day of trouble, defend us and send us help (Psalm 20), and that, in His time, the pandemic will end (Psalm 103:2-4).
- Declare that the Lord ‘frustrates the plans of the nations’, but His plans stand forever (Psalm 33:10-11) and His purposes will prevail (Proverbs 19:21).
‘Pray for those in authority’
The Bible urges us to pray and give thanks for all in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2), in nation and Church.
- Pray for our Government, Prime Minister and First Ministers and for all seeking to lead us through the present crisis, that they will be given wisdom, act justly (Micah 6:8; Psalm 72:2) and fear God.
- Pray for church leaders to bring a strong prophetic voice and to understand and be unafraid to declare the word of the Lord.
- Pray for the Lord to raise up ‘Eliakims’, to be servants and fathers to God’s people in time of crisis, and deliver us from self-seeking ‘Shebnas’, who are concerned only to make a name for themselves (Isaiah 22:15-23).
‘Love your neighbour’
The crisis has prompted a heartening upsurge of neighbourliness (as evidenced, for example, by the huge response to the NHS’s volunteer scheme). Communities are linking up as never before via social media and offering help to those in self-isolation, and Christians are reaching out to and praying for their neighbours.
- Pray that, despite our inability to meet, Christians will continue to be able to love our neighbours in practical ways, to shine as lights in the darkness and to be and share the good news of Jesus Christ.
- Pray for all who feel particularly isolated and vulnerable, especially the rural elderly (many of whom may not have access to email or the internet).
Covid-19 has prompted an unprecedented closure of churches; something that two world wars, the plague of 1665 and the Black Death failed to do! But churches have been quick to ‘reinvent themselves’ in response. Electronic communications have enabled churches not only to continue to ‘meet’, but also to reach those who do not attend church or attend only infrequently, and support the needy, lonely and vulnerable. According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, ten times as many people are watching church online as attended services in church buildings.
- Give thanks for electronic communications, but pray that churches will use them wisely and not be too anxious to carry on ‘business as usual’ using social media, but rather embrace the opportunity for ‘time out’ with the Lord..
Faced with a shortfall of seasonal workers from overseas, due to Brexit and Coronavirus, the produce sector has been recruiting British labour and thousands have already applied.
- Pray that this, and other developments, will inaugurate a new coming together of rural and urban people, a new mutual understanding, and a new recognition of the importance of farming and the land.
‘If my people’
The oft-quoted (and often mis-applied) 1 Chronicles 7:14 sets out how God’s people were to respond to adversities, including pestilence (vs 13). Critically, they were not only to pray, but also to repent. While this was a word to ancient Israel and needs to applied carefully, the Bible makes clear that in every plague and adversity there is a call to God’s people to contrition and repentance.
- Pray that God’s people in our time and nation will respond similarly not only with prayer, but ‘humbling ourselves, seeking His face and turning from our wicked ways’.
- Ask the Lord to pour out a Spirit of grace supplication on His people, as He will upon Israel in the last days (Zechariah 12:10).
- Especially, pray that the Lord will reveal how and of what we are to repent and resolve to do so.
Lord, your word calls us to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. So we will not fear, for you are with us; we will not be dismayed, for you are a God. You will strengthen us and help us; You will uphold us with your righteous right hand. Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, and your faithfulness to the skies (Romans 12:12; Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 36:5).
Father, hear your servants’ prayer
Lifted voices everywhere,
One request to raise on high,
Lord, have mercy, is our cry.
O God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: grant to us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.