In addition to the general deterioration of absolutes and morality in our nation which weighs heavily on many Christian hearts, we are now confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic which has struck fear into many. Christians are not immune to the fear. So we are being told by sincere and earnest people to pray. In these days in which the majority in the world and our nation has spurned the Lord and many are comfort- able doing what is right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6), and as the nation spirals toward Sodom, and COVID-19 spreads, surely children of the Heavenly Father will heed His invitation to lay their concerns before Him in prayer.
In a general sense the sudden national interest in prayer raises questions. To whom do people pray? What do people expect when they pray? Why the interest in prayer now? These questions are not as ridiculous as they sound. Consider:
To whom do people pray? To whom do those pray who do not believe God exists. There was a saying heard in wars past, ” There are no atheists in foxholes.” Fear and fright do not convert hearts. However, there is a natural tendency of the fearful that moves even an atheist to call out to someone or something higher than self. We have all heard it, foxhole or not, “I do not pray a lot. But I sure prayed.” When confronted by trouble, disaster, or death itself they prayed, but to whom?
For people who do not believe in the existence of God, who have their own concept of God, or who create their own gods, prayer may be a feel-good experience. Such prayer is a waste of breath. Israel which turned from the true God to idols was challenged by Elijah to call to Baal to send fire to consume the sacrifice.
“So they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, ‘O Baal, hear us!’ But there was no voice, no one answered. Then they leaped about the altar which they had made. And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, ‘Cry aloud, for he is a god, either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.’ So they cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them. And when midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice. But there was no voice, no one answered, no one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:26-29).
Elijah prayed to the Lord God of heaven who responded. The people “fell on their face” and said, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God” (1 Kings 18:39).
The futility, uselessness, and foolishness of calling on idols is further demonstrated in 1 Samuel 5. The Philistines took the Ark of God from Israel and set it in the house of Dagon, their idol. The next morning they found their god on its face. In a turn about from the relationship of the true God toward His people, the Philistines put their god in place again, only to find the next morning that not only had it fallen on its face, but its head and hands were broken off. Their god was decapitated!
“Who would form a god or mold an image that profits him nothing?” (Isaiah 44:10), and say, “Deliver me, for you are my god” (Isaiah 44:17-read the chapter)?
What do people expect when they pray? The question may be put this way–Why should God answer the prayer of those who pray with an attitude of “Why not? It can’t hurt.” The apostle James wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8). Or why should the Lord God answer a prayer of anyone whose attitude toward the Lord is, “Yes, I understand, God, but…”
James raises an issue that ought to lead us all to examine our own heart. Such exercise will move a Christian to begin with a confession, “Lord, forgive me for my ‘Yes but… moments and my doubts.” Take me to the cross daily where Your gracious will overcomes mine, and to the empty tomb where doubt is removed.”
Just asking; why should the Lord answer the prayers of those within the church who while claiming to believe the Scripture, twist it, distort it, and adapt it to fit their agenda or accommodate societal whims and immoral behaviors– in other words, of those who accept the premise that it is acceptable for everyone to do what is right in his own eyes despite what Scripture teaches?
Finally, the last question, “Why now? Why do people who otherwise do not pray, pray when they or the nation are in trouble? Why then, why now? Is prayer considered merely an exercise to take one’s mind off a problem? Is prayer a “feel good” exercise? Is prayer considered a magical potion? Church attendance frequently spikes in time of stress, or national disaster. Why then? Is worship or communication with the Lord in prayer important only when one feels a need, or when the nation is suffering an epidemic or a pandemic, or has had a 9/11 experience?
Under quarantine, the “have no time” argument will not wash. It is time well spent (as well as good discipline) to set aside a time for meditation in God’s Word and for prayer. It is God’s will that His children address Him in trustful prayer day and night. Scripture says, “Pray without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This does not mean, however, that the Christ-believer must walk about constantly in a prayer posture or legalistically adopt an “hour of prayer”.
So what is prayer? In contrast to those who pray to the wind, who pray to lifeless idols of man’s imagination, to gods whom they prop up, who do not know to whom they pray, or why they pray, meaningful prayer is an exercise of the heart of those who through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are reconciled to the Father. It is a privilege given to His children to communicate their every need to Him, whether it is a temporal necessity or a spiritual. The Sermon on the Mount was spoken to Jesus’ disciples. In the sermon on prayer (Matthew 6), He said to them, “In this manner, therefore, pray, ‘Our Father Who art in heaven…’”. Prayer is an act of worship in which the Christ-believer brings petitions before God in the name of Jesus, confident that the Father hears and answers according to His gracious will and promise. The Christian does not dictate to God but believes Jesus Who said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you” (John 16:23). God’s children are encouraged, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
In praying for things related to our temporal wellbeing, Jesus in Gethsemane gives us
the model: “Not my will but Yours be done.” When asking for blessings related to our spiritual wellbeing, we know the will of God. It is revealed in the Word. It was declared at the cross and empty tomb and in every expressed will of God for our salvation. Therefore we pray simply and confidently as did the sorrowful tax collector in the temple, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13), and Stephen who prayed in the face of death, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59).
A child of God does not take God for granted. Prayer includes giving thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18). If we look for an outline of prayer we can find it in ACTS — Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. “DEAR Heavenly Father…We CONFESS our sins to You…. THANK YOU for your blessings of body and soul… We SUPPLICATE (ask) You to keep us in Your care…”. However, inasmuch as prayer is an expression of trust in the living God, the God Who is, and the God who hears and answers prayer, the Christian’s whole life is an exercise in prayer. A sigh, a tear, a word of a believing heart is a prayer to Him, “… For the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8: 26).
Blessed are the children of God who in faith know and believe in the Father as good and gracious for the sake of Jesus, whose life He spent to forgive our sins and redeem our lives from destruction. Unlike those who have no god or do not know to whom to pray, how confident we can be in all things, in good days and bad, in sorrow and trouble, in sickness and in health. In the darkest nights, in the most painful circumstances, in time of fear, we know our Lord knows us. He will according to His gracious will deliver us. Even death itself despite the fear it engenders in the flesh is overcome in Christ Who is “The Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25). We have an ear that hears, a Father Who cares. Thanks be to God!
When many turned away from the Lord and walked no more with Him, He asked the disciples, “Do you also want to go away?” Their response through Peter was, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:66-67).
In that spirit we pray,
O Lord, in whom our life consists,
Our cares are known to You.
While still on earth we here do dwell,
We trust Your steadfast love.
Lord, give this nation we call home
Such who will govern well.
May all their thoughts and words and deeds
Be guided by Your will,
Lord, give us faith Your will to do,
Respecting those who serve.
Give to our nation peace and rest,
So long as here we dwell.
Lord of the nation and the Church,
Protect Your children true.
Our faithful God, trustworthy Lord.
O, hear our urgent prayer.
O Lord, in sorrow, sickness, fear,
In these uncertain times,
Please hold us in your warm embrace,
And calm our troubled hearts.
Lord, help us focus evermore
On Christ, our Savior true;
And when our days on earth are done,
O, take us Home to You. Amen