A global pandemic calls God’s church to prayer. On Sunday, March 15, a National Day of Prayer was held regarding the ongoing pandemic that we currently face in our nation. As we face uncertainty about health, jobs, and the immediate future, large numbers of believers in communities and on social media are choosing prayer over paranoia, prudence over panic.
As the spread of the coronavirus touches more lives, shuts down more events, shelters more people in their homes, and awakens more people to the fact that this is real, churches have been challenged to consider both the issues facing corporate worship and how best to minister to the vulnerable. This is indeed a time to remember that prayer serves as the unceasing and appropriate response of believers.
S.D. Gordon observed, "You can do more than pray after you pray, but you cannot do more than pray until you pray." We should be listening to healthcare experts. We should be practicing recommended sanitizing practices, social distancing, and quarantine when necessary. But as God’s children, we do all these practices on the solid foundation of prayer.
In uncertain times, we remember that prayer is far more than a contemplative religious practice. God truly hears our prayers! We aren’t the first to face times like these. We can look to the church in the book of Acts for wisdom; they faced intense persecution, famine, and a litany of ministry issues, all of which they met on their knees.
Prayer serves as the natural foundation of the Spirit's work in Acts. Over the next four articles I want to highlight features about prayer that we see in the Acts. The first thing I want you to see is that the church was birthed in prayer. Acts 1:14 tells us “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer.” Following the Lord’s instruction after his resurrection to his followers, these believers gathered for prayer. Before anything else took place, they were praying together.
Judas has betrayed Jesus and has died. What did the leaders do? They begin to pray for wisdom for Judas' successor. And in his summary of the life of the church in Acts 2, Luke says this: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers." In fact, both Acts 3:1 and Acts 16:16 shows how daily prayer marked their routine. Our first recourse is prayer.
My wife Donna and I got married in college between our junior and senior year. We then felt the Lord calling us to plant a church somewhere. We begin to pray about where and the Lord began to guide us to Buffalo, New York.
We moved there in the time when Buffalo was the fastest shrinking city in America. You read that right. We moved there in the middle of the crack epidemic of the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s. When we arrived, there were drive-by shootings on our street. But we felt the Lord call us there.
How did we know? We began to say, "Lord, what is your plan for our lives?" I was graduating from college. I started seminary when I got to Buffalo, so I had a lot to learn. But we knew enough to know that prayer was vital, and we began to pray. I remember hearing a pastor say, "Don't go somewhere, don't do something until you are sure God called you to do it." We began to pray and say, "Lord, how would you make us sure?"
I went to visit Buffalo. Donna was working at the time and couldn't go. I went and prayed, and I prayed at a certain intersection on Prospect Avenue where it crosses right in the inner city of Buffalo, New York. I , "Lord, is this what you have in mind for us?" And the Lord, led us clearly, prompting into my heart said, "Come and plant my church." Not Ed's church, but Jesus' Church.
Back then we didn't have cell phones, so I got into the car and began to drive back home.
We had been praying and fasting for over a week at that time saying, "Lord, we can't do anything without the clarity that you give us. We look to what you did in the Book of Acts. And we look for you to do it in our hearts today."
I came back home and Donna said, right away, "I've been praying. God wants us to go to Buffalo." And I said, "Yes, God wants us to go to Buffalo." I called my dad. We were from the other side of the state. I grew up on Long Island, outside of New York city. My dad said, "That's the worst city in the whole Northeast." And it was tough. Someone had a sign on the outside of the town that said, "Would the last worker in Western New York, please turn off the lights?"
But God called us. He called us as we prayed.
We moved to a city in economic distress in a post-steel and post-industrial manufacturing age. But when you know the Lord has led you to do something, you step out in obedience to what the Lord has in mind for you. Just as in the early church in the Book of Acts, we went to the Lord in prayer. He gave us his direction. Two thousand years ago, they went to the Lord in prayer. They then got God's direction.
The decisions we make regarding the coronavirus should be informed by the best in medical wisdom we have today. It is not a mark of faith to ignore fact. But we have hope beyond the immediate and dire circumstances we face. We remember that we are ultimately dependent upon him for guidance now and in the days to come.
Prayer becomes alive when we see the privilege and the joy it is to come before God to bring our needs. To simply worship him and give him thanks. To confess our sin. To be reminded of our one mediator between God and man, Jesus. They could go to God the Father and sing and pray and praise, and the Church was birthed because of those prayers.
We can draw near to God while we maintain social distance from others. Let’s be wise and let’s worship. Let’s use the technology available to pray with others safely. Let’s be servants and be surrendered. Let’s praise and thank God while we love and serve others.
Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange Team contributed to this article.