National Day of Prayer. March 15, 2020

In modern America most of us live with the illusion of control over our earthly lives. Constant improvements in medicine, health and safety standards, along with peace and prosperity at home – these things together have allowed us to minimize risk. (Those living in poverty anywhere or deployed to war zones abroad have no such illusions.) So it is that most of us are disrupted by occasional weather tragedies, untimely celebrity deaths, airplane crashes, or the cancer diagnosis of a friend or family member – we are briefly jarred out of the illusion of safety. But how quickly and easily we return to that false comfort.

A worldwide pandemic has laid bare these illusions. The resulting panic has also laid bare the effect of a nation’s retreat from a biblical worldview. Quite simply – as a people, we are fearful of the wrong thing.

The Bible teaches us that life is a vapor, a mere breath (James 4:14). The Bible teaches us that it is appointed to man once to die, and then judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

Jesus Himself tells us what to fear, and what not to fear: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Luke 12:4-5).

And this is why we are in a panic – we fear a virus that can kill our body, but so many of us in our nation today no longer fear the God who will determine our fate for eternity.

Throughout history, from the time of the Apostles, Christians have faced danger and death with confidence due to the promises of God. The death rate of Mayflower passengers was more than 40 percent during their first winter of 1620-21, but by virtue of their Christian faith they are known for starting our tradition of giving Thanksgiving to God for his goodness as they formed what would become a new nation.

During the Civil War, 2.5 percent of all Americans lost their lives – the equivalent of more than 8 million Americans today, far beyond even the worst-case scenarios for this pandemic from the scariest Drudge headlines. In March of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a “Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day” – and while of course he asked American to fast and pray for an end to the “awful calamity” of the Civil War, he also wrote that we had become proud and powerful and “forgotten God” – “Intoxicated with our unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!”

Lincoln specifically called Americans to return to God and to repent of our individual and national sins – especially the horrific moral evil of slavery.

On this National Day of Prayer, I hope we are praying for much more than an end to this crisis. I hope we are praying for more than protection and provision for our time on earth. As Lincoln asked — I hope we are also repenting of our individual and national sins, and praying that the people of our nation would return to the faith of their fathers.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

It’s pretty simple, actually. Death entered the world through sin, which is rebellion against God. Given free will, we chose to go our own way in defiance of our Creator and the rules He gave us for our good. Unable to achieve perfect holiness on our own, we had no way to reconnect with a holy God – until He sent His son Jesus to live a perfect, holy life. Jesus loved people, spoke truth, healed the sick – and challenged the religious and secular authorities of His day, who put Him to death. He went willingly, even though He could have commanded thousands of angels to intervene (Matthew 26:53). He did so to give us an opportunity – through faith in Jesus – to reconnect with God and live forever in His presence in the perfect world to come. When Jesus rose from the dead, He showed us what will happen when we die on earth – if we believe in Him. As Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

That is the central question today. Do you believe this?

If you do, there is no reason to fear a virus. If not, there is plenty of reason to be fearful – and because we live in a nation where fewer and fewer believe in Jesus, we can understand why there is palpable panic and fear all around us. What an opportunity to be vessels of calmness, peace, and service to those around us, while pointing the world to the truth of the Gospel.

And yet there is opportunity — “Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’.” 2 Corinthians 6:2.

On this National Day of Prayer, let’s pray for the sick and the grieving. Let’s pray for our health care workers and government leaders. Let’s pray for God to supernaturally intervene and stop this virus.

But let’s also pray that many around the world, and in our nation, will come to know the one true God, will understand the sacrifice He made to save us and draw us to Him, and that nothing can separate us from His love.

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God longs for us to spend eternity with Him in a place where all wrongs are made right, where all sickness is healed, and where there is no more pain, tears or death. (Revelation 21:4) If you have any doubts about your future, turn to Jesus Christ today.

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