Last Sunday night we lit a candle in our front window and joined hundreds of thousands of other Christians up and down the country and throughout the world to pray about the Coronavirus pandemic.
We followed the #Praytoendcovid19 prayer points as follows.
- For God to intervene to stop the spread of the coronavirus from this day forward
- For those who are sick, that they will have access to the care and treatment they need
- For protection and stamina for the health workers who are caring for those with the virus
- For grieving families who have lost loved ones to know God’s nearness and comfort
- For pastors serving their communities and nations to have the right words and actions
- For Christ’s body worldwide to support those suffering in prayer and in sacrifice
- For government officials and decision-makers to mobilise resources quickly and effectively
- For those waking up to societal and economic fallout from COVID-19 to reach out to God
- For mission workers worldwide especially those impacted by COVID-19 to continue their work
- For those who live and die without the knowledge of Jesus to hear about him and respond
Over the last week, we have seen these prayers answered in wonderful ways but most of all in the extraordinary mobilisation of people and resources.
About 12,000 former staff in the UK have come forward, including 2,600 doctors and more than 6,000 nurses.
More than 18,700 student nurses and 5,500 final year medics will also join the NHS workforce.
A call for 250,000 NHS volunteers to deliver food and medicines to 1.5 million vulnerable people was answered within 24 hours by more than 500,000 people coming forward to offer their services.
Work is also well underway to set up the 4,000 bed ‘Nightingale Hospital’ in London’s Excel Centre and the number of ventilators in the country has been doubled from 4,000 to 8,000.
A nation is willingly complying with measures on social distancing and quarantine and applauding health workers. And those of all political parties are standing united to counter the threat.
This has all been accompanied by the most extraordinary financial package in peacetime to help businesses survive the lockdown and workers to make it through the crisis.
Britain is preparing for a literal tsunami of need on the near horizon and through it all the government has opened itself up to media and public scrutiny to keep people informed and to build confidence and unity. Our country is rising to the challenge.
Tonight a new report from Imperial College urges countries around the world to act quickly to save 30 million lives, stressing that those most vulnerable are the elderly in developing countries which do not have the resources we do.
Everyone has a different story to tell – for me as CEO of ICMDA, with my next ten trips in March, April and May cancelled, I am asking how best to use these weeks (and maybe months) to serve our 80 national associations of Christian doctors and dentists around the world as they respond to this crisis.
My son and daughter in law, both doctors, are back at work now that their one year old has tested negative for the virus (saving them 14 days of quarantine and underlining how important testing is) and my wife is doing virtual paediatric clinics from home.
At ICMDA, we are laying other plans aside to support the thousands of Christian doctors on the frontline.
I have been amazed at how quickly resources have been produced (see some linked here) to establish treatment protocols for diagnosis and treatment, not just in the West but in resource poor settings all over the world – ensuring that everyone is working in a way that is led by the very best scientific evidence.
Our social media groups – especially WhatsApp and Facebook – are buzzing with suggestions and advice as doctors and dentists from all over the world share their expertise.
E-books, on-line courses, protocols, manuals – even a handbook for Christian healthcare workers – are being rushed out at breakneck speed. A manual for emergency care of COVID-19 patients in low-resource settings from Africa, a 68-page handbook of COVID-19 prevention and treatment from China, resources on palliative care for COVID-19 patients from Asia-Pacific.
All this activity from governments, NGOs and ordinary people is a massive answer to prayer and great cause for rejoicing.
It is right both to come to God on our knees and then to act as best we can to do what each of us can with the gifts, skills and influence that God has given us. All this is essential.
But one little thing still nags me – something still seems lacking.
My wife and I have been reading through some of the great prayers of Scripture over the past week – and were struck particularly by those of Nehemiah and Daniel – two of the most skilled and gifted leaders and administrators in Jewish history. These men were great activists who got things done – but they were also great men of prayer.
Can I encourage you to read (or reread) their prayers in Nehemiah 1:5-11 and Daniel 9:4-19?
When Nehemiah heard of the plight of Jerusalem we are told that he ‘sat down and wept’ then ‘mourned and fasted and prayed’ (Nehemiah 1:4). His prayer was one of confession and repentance:
‘I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house. have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly towards you. We have not obeyed the commands, decreases and laws you gave your servant Moses.’ (Nehemiah 1:6,7)
When Daniel learned from the Scriptures that Judah’s 70-year captivity in Babylon was coming to an end he ‘turned to the Lord and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting and in sackcloth and ashes’. (Daniel 9:3)
Again his prayer was one of prayer and repentance:
‘Lord you are righteous but this day we are covered with shame… because of our unfaithfulness to you… we have not obeyed the Lord or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets…’ (Daniel 9:7-10).
The one prayer in the list above that God has not yet shown signs of answering is to stop the spread of the coronavirus ‘from this day forward’. The numbers of those affected and dying grow daily before our eyes and all the data indicates that the worst is yet to come.
The apostle Peter tells us that repentance starts with us Christians. It is up to us to lead the way.
‘For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?’ (1 Peter 4:17)
I have in a previous post looked at what the Bible says about plagues. There is not the space to recount those lessons here but the bottom line is that plagues happen under the sovereign will of God and they are a warning to us, a sign of judgment, a call to repentance. (1 Kings 8:37-40)
When Joshua fell before God to plead for his help after the Israelites had been routed by the men of Ai God asked him what he was doing and ordered him to ‘stand up’. (Joshua 7:10-12)
Israel had sinned. It was no good asking for God’s help. They needed first to repent.
I wonder if that is the fundamental problem here – we live in a world that has turned its back upon God the Father and its Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. But we also, as God’s people, are seriously compromised. To a large extent, the nation’s sins are also our own.
We are asking for his help in this crisis and he is answering our prayers in many ways as outlined above. But he has not stopped the plague. In fact, if anything it is accelerating. Perhaps it is because as a nation, and first as God’s people in this nation – alongside all our other prayers and actions – we need to repent.
‘If I close the sky so there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send a plague among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.’ (2 Chronicles 7:13,14)