With the country in virtual lock down, social contact discouraged, non-food shops closed, along with leisure places such as pubs, clubs, hotels, gyms and restaurants, even caravan parks, society as we know it has almost ceased to exist. Even our churches and religious activities have been closed down, at least when and where they involve people coming together. People are having to stay at home, working there if they can, or perhaps sitting in front of mind-numbing daytime television riddled with doom and gloom news broadcasts. Jigsaws have been dusted off. Table games have emerged from the bottom drawer. Social media is being overworked, belching forth a plethora of comments and posts good and bad. The news reports are, as usual, skewed towards the most negative accounts of life. If one supermarket experiences a food riot, all of a sudden they all have them. If one person dies from catching the virus, all of a sudden we are all going to die as well. Through it all, those people who don’t know God are gripped by an underlying fear. Questions such as, “How am I going to cope if I lose my job?” or “Will Mum get sick?” or “If I get it will I die?” and many more are foremost in their minds. People have lost control of their destinies. Their mortality suddenly rises up before them. But God’s people have a secret weapon – faith.
There are some rays of light shining in the darkness. A leader columnist in a broadsheet a few days ago concluded that if science is unable to resolve this virus problem soon it will most likely drive him towards going to church again. And an on-line prayer meeting in London yesterday saw a big increase in people dialling in, over and above the numbers they would normally expect. Because of the media bias against anything Christian, there must be many more such tales that fail to reach the news outlets. As people generally come face to face with the reality of our times, God’s common grace becomes evident. Communities are coming together to help their most vulnerable. Random acts of kindness are happening in every street, every workplace, supermarkets, anywhere where there are people.
There have been parallels drawn between now and the war time years, with society fragmented and under attack then as now. But at least in the war, people could get together and pray, and there were well-documented occasions when the prayers of God’s people changed the progress of the war. In today’s viral mayhem, people are discouraged – may soon even be banned – from meeting together. In some ways the enemy’s scheme, if that is what it is, seems to be very effective. The enemy doesn’t want God’s people to meet together and pray, because he knows how effective it is. But God likes nothing more than to interact with His children through prayer. And prayer changes things. Thankfully we have technology that can work instead. Livestreamed prayer sessions and services, group chats on a variety of platforms, even low-tech phone calls all fill the gap. And we also have the benefit of communicating with our loving Heavenly Father individually from our homes (and out walking the dog – I think that is still allowed!).
So what is God doing in this season? I know what I would like Him to do. I would like Him to stop this virus in its tracks, at a stroke. And in some way communicate this to the secular society in which we live so that He gets all the glory and a revival breaks out in response. However, God’s agenda is not the same as mine. He sees the end from the beginning. He may still answer my prayers (I’m sure I’m not the only person praying this way), but He has a higher, eternal purpose at heart which may yet surprise us all. And in times of fear – we all experience it at times – we have the privilege of being able to turn to our Heavenly Father and feel His comfort flood over us. We have something precious that the world does not have. Let’s not despise it but instead use these times to reach out to anyone we can, to introduce them to the love of Jesus.