We sometimes sing the old, comforting song, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” It creates a soothing picture of a God Who is bigger than anything we face, and Who can and is protecting us from whatever we may be threatened by. Admittedly, this is a good time to cling to such a thought. As many are suffering through the Coronavirus fallout, we need to know that there is a God Who cares and a God Who is able to put a stop to it.
Indeed, God cares.
But He has not done what He is able to do. He has not stopped it, and this puts a devastating hole in the canvas of that picture of a God Who is always at work to ensure our comfort and safety.
It also tempts those like me, who have weapons of control in the closets of our hearts, to rise up and take charge! As a recovering control freak, I confess that, when I don’t see God moving fast enough, I have often made the foolish mistake of believing I can take the whole world up in my hands. “I’ve got it, God, no problem. I’ll take it from here. Just let me assess the situation and give you a full report, tack on my professional opinion, and sign it with Your Word, and it should be all good.” I am not embarrassed to say this (neither am I proud) because I’ve confessed it, and because I know I’m not the only one who has told God, through my prayers, how I think He should be handling our affairs.
If we’re praying in line with God’s will, and He answers quickly and efficiently, it’s easy to hide this problem. It’s when we’re praying in line with God’s will (healing, deliverance, help) and he tarries that the holes in our theories and the wrinkles in our gowns become exposed.
We are standing in just such a time. As multitudes continue to not only survive, but also struggle to understand our current situation with the Coronavirus, a question has been rising in my heart:
In light of the Bible’s clear prophesies that we would, in the last days before Jesus returns, face devastations on the earth,
in light of the reality that all Scripture must be fulfilled:
How should we deal with what we cannot control, and how, then, should we pray?
Many, including myself, have been and are continuing to pray for an end to this very awful virus. There is nothing wrong with such prayer – I do believe, knowing God’s heart for humanity (Jeremiah 29:11-13; John 3:16-17; 2 Peter 3:9) that it is the right place to start. However, I also believe that it is just that – a place to start.
In 2 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul tells of his experience with a painful and difficult affliction. We don’t know, because he does not tell, exactly what it was, but he did make it clear that it was something evil in nature, and also that it was something he had been “given.” He described it as tormenting, and told of his pleadings with the Lord (his prayers), the several times He begged God to please just take it away. Opting out always seems to be the best route when we meet with hardships, doesn’t it?
I can relate to Paul’s experience because there have been a few things I’ve been “given” which I really wanted to give back. Outside of a personal relationship with God through which His heart for me and His plans through hardship became very clear, I never would have been able to stay the course of enduring through them. I would have opted instead to walk away and choose some other, easier path.
Some of the things I’ve been “given” include things that I absolutely know, beyond the shadow of all doubt, that God did not send. I know because they are incongruent with His nature. However, because we are fallen people in relationships with other fallen people, sometimes we are “given” hardships that crush our hearts and threaten to destroy our dreams. God is not a dream-killer (unless our dreams will lead us away from Him, and then it is His mercy to tear them down and build new ones – of this I am a personal witness). God is also not vending maching, offering our choice of options in every situation.
In my own journey with God, I, like Paul, have asked God to take away some things that, in His divine wisdom, He actually allowed to be an important part of my story. It isn’t always – okay it’s almost never easy to understand how or why God can appoint painful and even terrible things to bring about good beyond our wildest imaginations, but I’ve seen Him do it so many times that I just can’t deny it as a part of the mysterious way He works.
There are many theories regarding the current crisis we are experiencing, and many are struggling to understand whether God, in fact, has sent this virus upon mankind. I encourage you to refer to my previous post (“Waste Not, Want Not”) for more perspective on this, but I will simply state here that God has not sent this evil, though He has sovereignly allowed it. By not choosing to instantly remove it, He has chosen to permit it, and we must then wrestle with the question many are either entertaining or empowering: WHY???
If you have a rooted relationship with the heart of God through your faith in Jesus, it will be easy to believe that He has permitted the crisis we are now facing for benevolent purposes we probably have not yet begun to understand. If you have yet to get to know His heart, it will be more difficult for you to believe, and you will likely battle with great fear during this time. I’d like to simply point you back to the Scriptures – the inspiration for this blog entry – and remind you that fear is not the inheritance of the children of God. He has removed the threat of punishment for those who have placed their trust in Him. Therefore, for every believer, hardships and trials and crises become opportunities to see God unfold His good plans for you.
There will be an appointed end to all the madness we are experiencing now. For those who have put their trust in Jesus and committed to following Him completely, that end will be filled with rejoicing. But the rejoicing, according to Scripture, will be followed by more trials and tribulations, more hard times and difficult, perilous days. Our hope in all of this cannot be – if we adhere to the words of Scripture – merely for deliverance from hard things. Our hope is, and must continue to be that, even when He doesn’t quickly remove all that He has written we must face, He is with us and has promised that, if we endure to the end, we will most certainly be saved.
As we are watching our world begin to labor and convulse under the weight of destruction (because Scripture says it has been under the curse of sin since the day that Adam and Eve chose life outside of God’s good plans), and because we know it’s been foretold that things will get worse as time goes on, our response to what we are experiencing matters greatly.
Yes, we will recover from Coronavirus, but as I mentioned, the Scriptures are clear that it will not be the last peril we are going to face. If all we do is close our eyes tight and hope and pray for it to go away, we will survive it, but we will also have missed a crucial opportunity to be prepared for what is yet to come.
So, again I want to say that it’s good to begin with asking God to help us in this hour, to deliver us. He is, in fact, our only source of true hope. He is the only One big enough and great enough to solve this, and to turn it around. And we should pray this way not only for the sake of our own selves and families, but for the whole world that is suffering the horrors of this situation.
But when we frame this atrocity through the lens of Scripture, and what God has told us must come, realizing that all of Scripture must be fulfilled, we have to then realize that maybe there is another way to pray in times like these.
So I return to Paul’s testimony of the tormenting affliction he had been “given.” Though it was a weapon formed by Satan for destruction, because Paul belonged to the Lord, He accepted it as God’s gift to him. Follow me for a second, because this is how we, as children of God, must learn to view all that we face in life. Whether hardship or attack, sickness, calamity, or loss – if it touches our life, we must understand that God, while He could have prevented it, has chosen to appoint it as a tool for our growth and for the strengthening of our faith.
This is hard for many people. We can’t seem to understand how a loving God could allow anything painful to happen to us. We especially can’t see how He could permit evil to touch us. And because that seems irreconcilable in our own understanding, many lose trust and fall away. This is exactly what Matthew 24:12 says will happen in the last days. This, I fear, is exactly what Satan wants to see happen to those who are simply praying that the bad stuff will just “go away.” He is banking on the truth that, when the hard stuff lingers, we will lose hope.
However, Matthew 24:13 follows the prophecy of those who lose faith in hard times with the promise that the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. So it is not just running or turning to the Lord, not just looking up or crying out, but it is our decision to stand through what may persist for longer than we wish it did that will make the real difference in our stories.
In Ephesians 6, Paul writes to the church, telling them about the power and purposes of God, about how they must trust God and obey Him, about how that should look in their individual lives and relationships. He wraps up the book with a strong exhortation to put on the armor of God so that they/we will be able to stand firm against the strategies of the devil. He instructs them three times in two verses (vv. 13-14) to stand and keep on standing. He tells them they will need to be strong in the Lord, and clothed with His presence and provision in order to stand against the power of the enemy that will come against them. Nowhere does he intimate that “opting out” of such attacks or afflictions or battles will be a choice.
I and we will continue to pray for God to eradicate this virus and restore what’s been lost because of it, but in the meantime, as we wait, we also would be wise to recognize that, where God delays in deliverance, He pours out the grace needed to endure it. Paul said in 2 Corinthians, regarding the affliction He asked God to remove, that God’s answer to his prayer was not what he had asked, but was instead the provision of grace that was sufficient for him to wait it out, and to live beneath its burden.
We never learn whether God lifted Paul’s tormenting “gift” or if he let Paul endure until the end of his life that way. But we do watch Paul submit to God’s wisdom and grow bolder and stronger in the faith, providing a great example for the churches he ministered to, and even for us today. We learn from his story something about how to pray when he says, in verse 10, that he has learned to be content with the hardships he has no control over. In other words, he learned to submit to God’s timing and God’s wiser ways, and to trust in God’s grace as long as he was “given” the opportunity to endure and to grow through what he could not pray his way out of or change by any choice of his own. He learned to be okay when things were not okay, in other words. And in that process, his prayers developed into something more than mere deliverance from hard things.
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, I want to suggest to you today that, as we wait for God to do what only He can do (continuing to pray that He will heal our land and save many souls in the meantime), we ought also to be positioning ourselves to stand and keep on standing through this time of peril. And not only this time, but all the times which are yet to come. If God has written it in His Word, we are to expect that it will be fulfilled. We will face perilous times. We will go through deep waters. We will walk through fire. BUT He will be with us.
I want to ask you, in your time of waiting – and probably as you are suffering in some way or another: is His presence enough? Can you pray for deliverance, but set up camp in the valley of the shadow of death and prepare for an extended stay – if that should be a part of His plans? None of us can see the future but God. But in this present moment, we have the choice to stop fighting against what God has allowed to touch our lives and embrace the chance to develop some spiritual muscle and maturity as we wait for His timing to be fulfilled.
Paul made a very special boast as he mentioned his reason for contentment with suffering: he said that when he was weak, it was then that discovered true strength. God pours His grace into humbled vessels who have yielded themselves to whatever He wants to do.
Yes, we must believe that He can and desires to move powerfully and miraculously in all the ways we are praying in unity. But it is no less powerful or miraculous when God chooses to duck beneath the clouds of calamity and develop His character in the individual and corporate lives of His beloved ones while they wait.
May you grow in endurance, dear one, throughout this appointed time. May you draw closer and deeper to God’s heart, may you learn to trust that His delay is not neglect, but bountiful wisdom, and may you align your heart to embrace the grace to be molded and shaped for His great plans and purposes…even if those may include hard things.
Moses, Abraham and Noah embraced hard callings. Our Jesus did the same. Hebrews 11 tells the world of many who endured through unimaginable horrors and yet did not abandon their faith in God. May it be said of us that, in the last days, we dug our heels in and determined to accept whatever God allowed, and because we did, those who came after us had an inheritance worth taking hold of and passing on.