“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life …”
Jesus spoke these words during His famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25). There’s a tendency for us sound trite when we use them. “Oh just don’t worry about that. The Bible says you shouldn’t worry,” but I’ve never encountered a situation where simply telling a person to not worry or to not be anxious has ever worked. We miss everything that Jesus meant when we try to package these words up into a cliche saying or platitude.
Moments before Jesus told His audience to not worry, He told them that they are blessed if they mourn, blessed if they are poor in spirit, blessed if they are meek, blessed if they are persecuted (Matthew 5:1-11). He told them to love their enemies and give to the needy. He taught them how to pray and how to fast. When it came to treasures, He instructed them to look heavenward. Lack of worry doesn’t come from a lack of pain and trouble, He even said that too. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)
As we navigate a time of anxiety and worry over the spread of a virus about which we know little, as well as all of our general worry that results from access to an overload of information and opinion 24/7, it would do us much good to step away from the noise, adjust our perspectives, and heed the words of Jesus. It is human nature to want to do something, to want maintain a level of control. When we feel as if there is nothing that we can do, we like to busy our minds with obsessing over what we cannot do. If we read Matthew 5 and 6, we’ll discover that we are not helpless. Jesus gives us plenty that we can do.
1. Pray: Again, this is one of those things that can come across as trite, not because the act of praying is trite, but because we often don’t take it as seriously as we should. The GOD of the UNIVERSE has opened Himself to us and actually LISTENS. We need to accept that, while we will never truly be in control over our lives, we have access to the One who is in control. And He listens. When worry and anxiety start to creep in, take your concerns to God first, not Facebook, not Twitter, not your friends or family. 1 Peter 5:6-7 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” If you feel that your prayers aren’t being heard, pay attention to the first part of those verses and ask if you have humbled yourself before God. In Matthew 6 when Jesus is instructing on how to pray, He starts with addressing God as “hallowed” and acknowledges that He is in control (“your will be done”). Prayer involves work, it involves adjusting our posture, it involves setting ourselves aside. If you’ll turn off your Internet devices and take time to connect with the Lord instead, you’ll find yourself better for it.
Pray for those who work in the medical field, working at an even faster pace than normal. Pray for their safety from illness and disease and ask that they will be rested, energized, and refreshed. Lift up those in nursing homes and others who are more vulnerable to this virus, such as people with pre-existing respiratory problems, auto-immune diseases, and those going through chemotherapy. Pray for those in China who have experienced the worst of this, for those who are dying without ever knowing the name of Jesus. Ask that the Lord will use this tragedy to bring people to Himself and be glorified. Worse than the coronavirus is an eternity spent apart from God. If we are anxious for anything, let us be anxious to see people come to know Jesus as Lord. While we cannot do a lot in these situations, God Our Father can and will if we call out to Him.
2. Fast: This is not one that most of us turn towards often, if at all. Jesus says in Matthew 6:16, “And when you fast …” He doesn’t say, “If you fast,” but assumes that we will fast. It’s hard to wrap our heads around how going without can give us peace, especially during a time of uncertainty. Fasting, for me, has been a great experience of relinquishing control, facing my weaknesses, and learning to trust and rest in the Lord. Once I get over the nervousness of not eating, I’ve found it to be a very freeing experience where I experience less worry.
3. Give to others: In His sermon, Jesus also says to give to the needy. This could mean going to volunteer at a food bank, checking in on someone who is homebound or just needs some companionship (and you can do this over the phone, so no spreading germs!), or just sharing some of your toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Think of ways that you can serve others during this time and put those thoughts into action.
4. Learn from Scripture and history: Since the fall of man, the human race has lived in turmoil. If you look at history, fear, turmoil, and unrest are actually the norm, not the exception. In the modern Western world, we have been spoiled with peace and prosperity, comparatively speaking. Read through the Psalms and see how David, the man after God’s on heart, experienced trials, tragedy, consequences of sin, and anxiety. Yet, you’ll see that David never stopped praising the Lord through any of it. Our past will teach us a lot about how we should react. Nothing that we are going through is new to humanity. We have survived thus far. Find peace in that.
Be encouraged, take heart, and don’t succumb to the panic and frenzy of the moment. Do the practical things like practice good hygiene, abstain from unnecessary travel, and avoid large groups of people as much as possible. Even more so, I pray that you will heed the words of Jesus and place your trust in Him, pandemic or not.