Prayer Stares Down Panic
2 Chronicles 20
We are living in days of fear, uncertainty and anxiety. Our multi-faceted society is systematically shutting down – education, sports, entertainment, commerce, trade and even church. Everything except government! The Covid-19 invasion demands a bold response. It presents a clear and present danger to all, especially the elderly and those that are weakened by other respiratory illnesses. High-risk folks need to be ultra-careful. The infection rate and the death toll in other countries is staggering. Our response in the U.S. is largely a pre-emptive response. We are trying to avoid a death toll in the thousands or tens of thousands or worse. Despite the medical and social necessities precipitated by this very real crisis, I am concerned by the “unintended consequences” of our rush to socially distance ourselves. In our zeal to sequester and quarantine each person from each other person in our social society, we have succeeded in one thing – instilling a sense of fear in each of us; not a fear of a virus, but a fear of each other. We are now looking on each other as potential carriers of the dread disease. I was in a public setting yesterday and I had to blow my nose. I suffer seasonal allergies every spring. I merely blew my nose. No coughing. No other symptoms. A woman heard me and whipped her head around and looked at me with an expression of fear and contempt. It is like we are living inside a Twilight Zone episode. We are living the episode, The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. In that episode, the citizens of a quiet suburban town turn from friendly and communal to frantic and homicidal. All because lights are turning on and off and they cannot explain it or control it. Someone has to be The Monster. Someone has to be The Villain. They move from suspicion to accusation to attack to murder in swift order. None of them is actually the culprit. It is aliens on the hillside causing kindly neighbors to turn into vicious animals. The main tool was fear. Fear turns normal God-fearing, law-abiding folks into animals fighting for toilet paper like it is the last useful commodity on earth. Fear turns us against one another. We lose our sense of community and society and unity. We are reduced to survival mode – kill or be killed. Am I describing our whole response as a “panic”? No, I am not. We need a measured response to a legitimate threat. But I do fear that our very aggressive response will have lasting consequences – to our economy, to our community and to our national psyche. We have been successfully trained to look on each other as a potential threat. That will only further divide and weaken our national community. We will further retreat into self-obsession and self-absorption. We will withdraw from the social structure that has identified us and governed us and provided for us. Will people resume travel? Commerce? Cruises? Ballgames? Classrooms? Church? Maybe, maybe not. Why take the risk? Just stay at home and be safe. The lasting value from all of this may be mutual paranoia. We may find out that the fear we have created will outlast the disease.
So what is the cure to the disease of fear? It is faith. Faith in God gives us hope and strength and perspective. It calms and quiets us in a time of duress and distress. Panic is an emotional response to a traumatic event. If the commercial airliner is going down, most people are going to panic. (No matter what the pre-flight speech teaches us!) Multiple alarms can incite panic. When the Prophet Nathan wanted King David to act to stop Adonijah from stealing the throne from Solomon, Nathan orchestrated a two layer alarm to move David to act. He told Bathsheba to explain the crisis to David, but then Nathan would come rushing in before she could finish and Nathan would say the same thing. The two of them together would not have had the same force as the two of them separated. The two layers of alarm startled David into action. In our country, three straight days of announcements of closings and cancellations awakened an overwhelming sense of danger and dread in the national consciousness. The momentum became unstoppable. Yet, fear and panic can be stopped. When we look upward rather than outward, peace helps chase away panic. There are many examples in the Bible – Paul on a doomed ship in Acts 27, Esther in King Xerxes court, Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. In that pivotal moment, an anguished Jesus looked to the Father to see if there were any other ways to end the curse of sin. Surely there could be 14 million ways to save mankind other than the cruel cross of Jesus. As Christ prayed, the Father slowly and solemnly and silently raised one index finger to his Son. There was only one way. Jesus fulfilled that one way. Prayer stared down panic in that garden.
There is another example deep in the Old Testament. King Jehoshaphat was a godly and wise king in Jerusalem. He listened to God and he obeyed God. Other than his foolish friendship with King Ahab and Ahab’s sons, Jehoshaphat was a very successful king. His mettle of faith was tested in battle in 2 Chronicles 20. The Chronicler records that three nations formed an alliance against Judah. The Moabites and the Ammonites and the Meunites all teamed up to defeat Judah. King Jehoshaphat was told, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar”. They were a multi-nation army engaging in a multi-front attack. We are told that Jehoshaphat was afraid. Who wouldn’t be! But Jehoshaphat did not flee in panic or crumble under the pressure. He calmly responded in faith and with courage. He first “set his face to seek the Lord”. He then proclaimed a fast. Then the nation of Judah assembled in Jerusalem to follow the Lord and Jehoshaphat. With men, women and children present, Jehoshaphat calmly stood up in the Temple Court and boldly spoke this magnificent prayer,
“Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. 7 Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8 They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, 9 ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’
10 “But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. 11 See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. 12 Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” [Emphasis mine.]
After Jehoshaphat finished his prayer, another prophet stood and spoke to all the assembled men, women and children. He said,
“Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’”
The next day, they went out battle. King Jehoshaphat did not have them attack or plan an attack. He had them sing. That’s right, they sang! While adorned in holy garments, the singers sang to the Lord, “Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.” As they offered this concert of praise, God caused the three nation alliance to fall apart. The enemy combatants turned on themselves and destroyed themselves in a civil war of annihilation. It took the nation of Judah three days to gather all the plunder and valuables from their dead enemies. After three days of gathering the plunder, Israel had a praise service to the Lord. They came to Jerusalem and to the Temple with harps and lyres and trumpets and held a loud and joyful service of praise. And all the surrounding nations trembled at the power of the God Israel.
Jehoshaphat did not panic. He did not become irrational. He stood tall. He prayed with faith. He maintained his spiritual balance throughout.
I wish we could just offer a sincere prayer of faith and make the coronavirus leave the earth, but we cannot. Victory will not come in one day over this enemy. But we still must maintain our faith composure, our faith orientation. Let us calmly turn to seek the face of the Lord with confidence and faith. We cannot control a microscopic, microbial army, but God can. Pray that God will remove this plague! Pray that God will give us wisdom against this outbreak. Offer a song of praise before the battle, during the battle and after the battle. In the Lord there is hope. In the Lord there is peace. In the Lord there is triumph.
Lord we do not have the strength to face this vast microscopic army that is attacking us. Lord we do not know what to do, but our eyes are set upon you. You can end this plague. You can protect our church, our community, our nation and our world. The battle is yours, not ours. We are helpless. You are all powerful. We are weak. You are strong. We cannot. You can!
The Lord is with us.
Prayer stares down panic.