This is a challenging time in our nation and world. Through it all, what sustains Christians is the knowledge that earth is not our “home” and eventually the Lord will restore everything to its flawless original state. But while Jesus still has us here, He intends for us to be His Church – commissioned to shine God’s light on those in darkness. And there is plenty of darkness – fear, isolation, hopelessness, disease, sin and death – exacerbated during this Coronavirus pandemic.
The good news that Jesus asked us to proclaim after His ascension is that He can heal all those ailments. The virus is causing not only physical pain but emotional, financial and spiritual suffering. Jesus does the healing but often uses us as instruments through which it is delivered. Yes, Christ is the Cornerstone but we are the “living stones” of the New Testament church. (1 Peter 2:5-9) Each of us can play a role in alleviating the side-effects of COVID-19 among our neighbors, coworkers, family and friends.
We can’t invite those suffering to a church building at this time, but we can bring “church” to them. However, people won’t be interested in getting a “house call” from a doctor unless they feel sick. This pandemic is making even those who haven’t contracted the virus aware that they’re not well. The door has rarely been so open for spiritual conversations – did you know that Google searches for the word “Prayer” have never been higher than right now? God can use all things for His glory and our good.
The only cure for the underlying source of all illness is the Great Physician and He gave us a (Great) Commission and explicit instructions for Church to be a “hospital” for sinners. Jesus modeled the importance of demonstrating His love before telling them who He is – which doesn’t always have to be done at close proximity in this age of social distancing. Jesus did touch the leper and, like Him, brave health care professionals are putting themselves at risk, but most forms of healing needed today don’t require physical contact. We each can reduce spiritual distancing while maintaining a social distance.
Before healing takes place though, in Scripture we observe 3 prerequisites that are typically met…
1) Realizing You’re Ill
My favorite miracle story in the Bible is Bartimaeus regaining his sight. Bartimaeus fully understood his condition, had immense faith in Jesus’ power and wasn’t ashamed to ask for help. In all of those respects, Bartimaeus stands in stark contrast to the Pharisees who didn’t know they were blind, questioned Jesus’ authority, and proudly looked down on “sinners”. In John 9:39, Jesus says “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Bartimaeus confessed his blindness and received healing. The Pharisees thought they had 20/20 vision and received Jesus’ sharpest rebuke.
Part of what makes COVID-19 so insidious is roughly 50% of those who contract it don’t ever know they’re sick, while others don’t show symptoms for up to 2 weeks. Meanwhile they’re spreading the disease to others who are more likely to feel its effects. Studies show roughly 50% of churchgoers are cultural “Christians”, born into the religion but not following the tenets of their faith. They live in sin, yet spread the disease of self-righteousness, concealing their sickness and need for God’s grace. Sadly, the most common reason “Nones” give for their rejection of Christianity is the hypocrisy of “believers”. Testing for Coronavirus is the only way some people know they have it. Testing of our faith through trials like many are facing in this pandemic is revealing who is spiritually sick (e.g. fearful) and who is truly a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Also, over 50% of churches aren’t aware their growth models and metrics are more inclined toward institution-building than disciple-making. They’re ill, more focused on attracting and retaining than challenging and sending – but won’t confess the model is flawed even though 80% of churches are stagnant or in decline. COVID-19 has become a test for a virus that churches have contracted. Which ones will maintain the status quo and simply move the brick-and-mortar “store” online? Which ones will realize that they’ve become too dependent on a building or weekly event and failed to equip members to BE the “church” to those in the neighborhoods where they’re quarantined? Which churches will repent of the blindness of treating members like “customers”, challenging them to choose self-sacrifice over self-preservation for the sake of those suffering (e.g. emotionally or financially)?
2) Crying Out for Help
Only those who realize they are unhealthy will seek a cure. The most compelling part of the Bartimaeus story, at least for me, is when he was told to pipe down but cried out all the louder. Imagine the life Bartimaeus led – the suffering he must have endured as a blind man in that day and age to warrant such desperate attempts to get Jesus’ attention. In almost every case where Jesus healed, there was a recording or presumption of a distress call for help. Jesus even frequently solicited the request by asking “what do you want me to do for you?”. Jesus doesn’t force healing or forgiveness on us – it must be sought before it is granted. God is sovereign but man bears some responsibility for admitting our shortcomings and pursuing a divine remedy.
The more intense our suffering, like during the COVID-19 outbreak, the more likely we are to be on our knees asking the Lord for relief. The more humble our confession and heartfelt our pleading, the more sincere our prayers will be. From mid-March to late March, Global Media Outreach (GMO) saw a 170% increase in clicks on search engine ads about finding hope. Medically, we most vigorously pursue health when we no longer have it. Spiritually, we most vigorously pursue forgiveness when we realize we need it (which is increasingly uncommon in our society where the mere mention of “sin” is associated with hatred and intolerance). Everyone looks forward to a time where there will be no more suffering – the only difference is that non-believers expect it now temporarily while Christians expect it later eternally.
Those poor in spirit, mourning and persecuted are actually “blessed” because suffering is the primary impetus for crying out to God. “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4) God allows suffering in part because it brings with it a significant spike in two things – prayer and compassion. Eventually physical, emotional and financial suffering will eliminate pride and shame – two of the leading impediments to prayer. And just as our suffering reveals our own needs, it also makes us more attune to the needs of others – for example, more empathetic and generous with our persecuted brothers and sisters overseas who are unable to work, and therefore eat, due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Just as people need sickness to appreciate health, maybe the struggles churches are enduring during this pandemic will lead to an overdue revival. Many were already sensing something was wrong with the prevailing Invite, Involve and Invest model that has made “church” about a place, pastor and performance.
3) Availability of a Compassionate Believer
Jesus healed all those who cried out to Him. He expects His Church to bring “healing” to all those who reach out to us. Christ may (or may not) choose to work a miracle of physical restoration through us, but He gives us the power to deliver Compassion (alleviating suffering now) and Evangelism (leading to hope for eternity). Jesus modeled for us that the first is the door opener to the second – prayer, care then share. We each know the cure for the emotional, psychological and spiritual virus spreading rapidly in our nation. It’s cruel not to share that cure at every opportunity with those impacted in any way by the COVID-19 crisis. The iron is ”hot” for bringing help and hope as the pandemic wreaks havoc on bodies, hearts and minds. Jesus rarely delayed in administering an antidote – nor should we.
However, since churches no longer are the local food bank and homeless shelter, as they were for 1900 years, staff members now refer those suffering elsewhere. Jesus stopped what He was doing and acted on the timeline of anyone who admitted their illness and requested deliverance, but churches today tell them to come back during the next seasonal outreach event. It has also become apparent during the pandemic (when it is harder to abdicate evangelism to pastors) that few churchgoers have been prepared to convey the Gospel adeptly and answer tough questions.
That’s why Meet The Need has introduced Love Your Neighbor – a FREE platform to mobilize congregants to be the hands and feet of Christ in their neighborhoods. This pandemic could be a catalyst for returning “church” to its biblical roots with members acting in their intended role as the “church” personified. Last Sunday, since our neighbors couldn’t go to church my family brought “church” to 10 of them, delivering Easter dinner to their doorsteps. My neighbors shared personal struggles and prayer requests and I had the privilege of discussing the true meaning of Resurrection Sunday. That’s just one small example of embracing a less institutional and more biblical view of “church”. Let Love Your Neighbor transform your entire congregation from “victims” to “vessels” during COVID-19 and beyond!
It’s Your Turn
Find out more about Love Your Neighbor and get your church started using it today! Your church could actually INCREASE its impact for Christ in your community right now, not in spite of but as a result of not being able to meet in the building due to the pandemic.