Our hearts go out to those suffering from Covid 19 and we pray for their healing. We also need to pray for and care for our neighbours facing the effects of the crisis. We need, where possible, to help them as they face anxiety, loneliness, job loss, financial crisis, frustration and boredom. We need to pray for the government and NHS as they face huge demands and inadequate resources. I don’t for one moment minimise this suffering and self-sacrifice in what I am going to say now.
But we also need to ask about God’s perspective on the crisis. What is he saying? What is he doing? This may not become the worst pandemic in terms of the number of deaths. Some 200 million died in the Black Death and 40-50 million in the Spanish Flu epidemic following the terrible losses in World War 2. But it is having a very dramatic effect on society. Sky News referred to a week in mid-March as “frightening and bewildering.” The Chancellor of the Exchequer said “We have never in peace time had such an economic fight as this one.” One commentator said “The world will never be the same despite all technology because a very tiny invisible object can bring us down.”
This huge worldwide crisis comes at a time when there is also profound concern about the environment – and some scientists believe the spread of Coronavirus resulted from abuse of one aspect of the environment. It is also a time when persecution of Christians is worse than ever; when the Western world has largely turned away from its Christian heritage and when, as we noted recently, the church is officially abandoning important teaching of God’s Word. It is likely to result in the global economic system being under very serious threat (it doesn’t take much imagination to think it could at some stage collapse in a day as the Book of Revelation describes in chapter 18). It also comes at a time when there are significant events happening with respect to Israel. All of these things are matters which Jesus said were signs of the End. Although some of them are early recurring signs, the coinciding of them all is surely intended to make us prepare for his Return, as Jesus taught his disciples.
The serious effect and the context of Coronavirus show that it is an act of redemptive judgment, i.e. it is one of God’s warnings intended to lead us to repentance. It is making people think about their mortality and the meaning of life. Doubtless many outside the church will turn to prayer. People are likely to be more open to God than they have been. We trust also that leading Christians will use the media for evangelistic purposes.
The Coronavirus crisis is also God calling the church back to him. We now cannot even worship together! Yet we have seen the church develop endless, largely prayerless, committees, synods, reorganisations, regulations, administrative procedures, etc over recent decades. But God is calling the church back to himself – which primarily means extensive individual and, where feasible, corporate prayer. Jesus felt the need to major on prayer. How can we soft-pedal it? How many churches have prayer meetings? During this crisis many Christians will have time on their hands. We need to use that to major on prayer. It is vital to do so, not least because the Book of Revelation teaches that redemptive judgment, if unheeded, is followed by eternal judgment.
God is also calling the church back to his Word – not just renouncing liberalism but living biblically i.e. being radically biblical in the power of the Spirit. How many modern disciples match up to the standards Jesus taught “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple … In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Lk 14:26, 33). Obviously the word “hate” is not literal but it is Jesus’ dramatic call to put God way before all loved ones. How many churches correct persistently sinful members as Jesus said they should? How many churches proclaim the sternness of God as well as his kindness, as Jesus did?
I have no delusions of grandeur – I am a tiny piece in God’s jigsaw picture. But I know that, out of the blue, in November 2015 he gave me a strong sense of call to major on prayer and preparation for Revival. He called me initially to invite people local to us to join in, then, to my surprise, to create a national mailing list, which he has blessed (see http://networkforrevival.co.uk/. The four years since then have been probably the most spiritually rewarding I’ve ever known. Now almost 600 people, mainly clergy, ministers and church leaders in the UK, are members of Network for Revival. This is significant and now we are confronted with this Coronavirus mega-crisis. I believe it is not a coincidence but a God-incidence.
Coronavirus is a call to redouble our prayer and preparation for revival. I believe God is calling us to pray that many, many people who feel vulnerable and therefore more open spiritually will turn to the Lord. The Coronavirus crisis is not just a difficult event. It is a powerful divine call to pray for Revival now. It is intended to give us a sense of urgency as we see remarkable events and trends in the world. I am very sympathetic to those affected by Coronavirus and, as a family, we are seeking to reach out to neighbours pastorally and evangelistically. But the fact that people feel vulnerable, sense their mortality and therefore are more open spiritually is, I believe, an answer to prayer. We need to pray they will concentrate on eternal realities and the need to be ready to meet God and that this will be a permanent change, not just whilst the crisis rules
We need to pray for revival to happen now. The way it comes about may be different from earlier revivals. Pray that this crisis will turn into revival. We must not miss this opportunity – for the sake of humanity – and for God’s sake. God is calling us – the matter is urgent!
NOTE: N T Wright has written an article entitled “Christianity offers no answers about the Coronavirus. It’s not supposed to.” I have a real respect for him as a theologian but believe he is mistaken in this article. I have written my response at https://christianteaching.org.uk/uncategorized/recognising-the-significance-of-major-events/