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The Thing Most Needed

church prayer

By Dennis Pollock

For the Bible-believing Christian, the present coronavirus highlights a dilemma in which the Bible has much to say. The question is this: how do God’s children respond to a severe, life and death crisis? There are two excesses to which men and women can run when their lives are threatened, and panic is sweeping the land. One is to focus all our attention upon the ways and means of defending ourselves. The other is to determine to trust in God and ignore those safety precautions and guidelines with which our non-believing friends are entirely consumed. To err on either side is foolish, but typically most people are far more likely to focus almost entirely on things they can do, steps they can take, and ways of escape. “Give me the five steps to avoiding the virus, or the seven principles to a stronger immune system or the ten keys to vibrant health. It is not that principles cannot be helpful, but for the followers of Jesus Christ, principles alone are never enough.

We find insights into this concept in the book of Isaiah the prophet. In the 22nd chapter of the book Isaiah deals with a terrible crisis facing the people of Israel. Babylon has swallowed up most of the nation, and now they are coming for the capital city, Jerusalem. You talk about a life and death crisis; this was surely one! In those violent days, when one nation was conquered by another, the results for the captured people were likely to be catastrophic. Women were raped, families were split, men were killed. If you were lucky you might become a well-treated slave. At worst you faced the end of your life.

Desperate Times

With the mighty armies of Babylon on their way toward Jerusalem, desperation had set in. There was no possible way that Israel could fight Babylon in the open field, but perhaps if they held out long enough behind the walls of Jerusalem, their invaders might get tired and move on to other prey. Unlikely for sure, but it was their best hope. They had a little time to prepare for the siege of their city but not much. Isaiah the prophet is present, and he speaks as the voice of the Lord to the people, addressing the current situation of Jerusalem:

You looked in that day to the armor of the House of the Forest;
You also saw the damage to the city of David,
That it was great;

And you gathered together the waters of the lower pool.
You numbered the houses of Jerusalem,
And the houses you broke down
To fortify the wall.

You also made a reservoir between the two walls
For the water of the old pool… (Isaiah 22:8-11)

To most observers the Jews were doing several things right. Facing a possible lengthy siege, they created a huge reservoir, that their needs for water might be supplied from within the city. Without water they would barely last a week, but by storing large measures of water in reservoirs, they insured that they could hold out for months if necessary. They were also tearing down some of the houses, to use their wood for reinforcing the walls surrounding the city. Without strong walls, they would never be able to defend themselves against the huge, well-armed Babylonians. The walls of Jerusalem must be strengthened, reinforced, and made more impenetrable than ever before. Isaiah also comments upon their “looking to their armor.” The defenders must have weapons: bows and arrows, spears, shields, swords, catapults, in abundance. With strong walls and a large supply of effective weapons, it might be possible for a smaller number of defenders to hold off a much large number of invaders for weeks or possibly months.

In short, the men of Jerusalem were doing about as much as it was possible to do in preparation for the coming battle. The time was short, but they deserved credit for their efforts. They were not sitting around idle, expecting the worst. But there was something they were not doing. In the midst of his description of all their military preparations, Isaiah injects the little conjunction “but”, declaring:

But you did not look to its Maker,
Nor did you have respect for Him who fashioned it long ago.

The Real Problem

It was not that Israel was foolish or wrong in making the preparations for the attack. What was wrong was that they were so busy with those preparations that they failed to do the one thing that was far more important than reservoirs, much more powerful than swords and spears, and vastly more effective than building a good, strong wall. They were not looking to their Maker, the great Defender of His people. Where was the prayer, where was the fasting, where were the assemblies of the people acknowledging their dependence upon the God of Israel? These scared Israelites were so tunnel-focused upon taking the necessary steps to defend themselves that they totally neglected prayer, fasting, and acknowledgment of their entire dependence upon God. They had become, in effect, unbelievers. They were acting just the way people act who have no relationship with the living God. They do as much as they know how to protect themselves, and then hope that it will be enough.

In another place the Bible tells us that King Asa, king of Judah put too much trust in physicians and not enough trust in the Lord:

And in the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa became diseased in his feet, and his malady was severe; yet in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but the physicians (2 Chronicles 16:12).

I have never believed that this is a criticism of doctors or of those who go to doctors (which would include me). The problem was not that King Asa went to a doctor for his condition. The problem had to do with the idea of seeking the Lord. There had been no prayer, no trust in God, simply a reliance on the latest medical technology. As a result Asa died prematurely.

Faith and Action

Believers in God always experience a tension between trust in God and the appropriate use of means. To seek God and do nothing to better your situation would be presumption. If I had an accident and ended up with a nail sticking halfway through my foot, I would be wise to go to a clinic and have the nail removed, rather than just determining to pray about it, and go about my life day after day trusting God to miraculously make the nail disappear. On the other hand I would be most wise to pray that the Lord would give the doctor wisdom, and prevent infection from occurring. I will use “ways and means” to solve my problems but I will also pray for God’s blessings on my ways and means, and for Him to bring about total healing and recovery.

When we read the Scriptures, we thrill at God’s wonderful interventions into the lives of His children, and His mighty power that works on their behalf. But sometimes we fail to recognize that in nearly every situation there were things for His people to do, steps to take, actions to initiate. When Israel conquered the land of Canaan and drove out the inhabitants, God had promised His people that they would see victory on every side. But Israel did not merely go into Canaan and hold prayer meetings, while God rained down death and destruction from the heavens.

There were battles to fight, and often strategies to employ. Sometimes God would tell the Israelites to attack from the front, and then retreat when the enemy came out against them. But unknown to their enemies, a sizeable number of Israel’s army were waiting at their enemy’s rear, and once they came out of their cities, pursuing the fleeing Israelites, the other group would slip into the city without resistance and burn it to the ground. Once the city was in flames, the soldiers who had been chasing Israel’s army would see the smoke and become totally disheartened. The Israelites would turn around and attack their attackers, and the group who had just burned the city would now come out and attack their enemies from the other side, resulting in total annihilation. It was a great battle strategy, and it had been given by God. But it required actual fighting; not merely having a prayer meeting out in the forest and waiting upon God to rain down fire on the heads of their enemies.

Seeking, Believing, Doing

Prayer and principles, faith and action, trust and strategy… Both have always been needed in our fights with our enemies. But people being people, we usually tend to run to one extreme or the other. Some will pray and pray but do nothing to help themselves. Others will constantly look for strategies and principles but almost never pray and put their faith in the Lord.

In our present crisis, our nation’s focus is almost entirely upon the steps we must take: socially distance ourselves, avoid gatherings of all kinds, wash our hands constantly, use sanitizer, stay home as much as possible, wear masks when we must go out, and so forth. These are all reasonable responses to this terrible virus. But they are not enough! We must also pray and while we are praying we must put our faith in the Lord. The same Jesus who healed lepers and blind and lame people two thousand years ago is still our Healer today!

Our major news networks and their reporters will never tell us this. They cannot tell us because in most cases they do not know our Jesus. They cannot trust One that they do not know. They can tell us all the statistics of this horrible scourge – how many confirmed cases there are, how many have died, how many respirators and masks, and hospital beds are needed. But they will never tell us to put our faith in the Lord. As Isaiah said to Israel, they are creating reservoirs, building up the walls of Jerusalem, and stockpiling weapons of war. But while we are busy with testing vaccines, producing masks, and practicing social distancing, let us, in our individual homes, look to the Holy One of Israel.

Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.” This verse can also be translated: “Trust in God; trust also in Me.” To which we say, “Amen, Lord Jesus. We will trust in You.” In this season of crisis, and in every crisis we will ever face in our short, fragile lives, that is the very best advice: Trust in God; trust also in Jesus, His Son.

There is another thing which you will never hear from the major news networks, and that is that there is a far deadlier disease than the coronavirus which has been afflicting men and women for thousands of years. I am talking about the disease of sin. While the coronavirus can destroy your body and even take your life, the disease of sin can destroy your soul. Jesus tells us: “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell.” And that is the worst the coronavirus can do to us – kill the body. But sin’s destructive power is far worse than that.

The good news is that God has freely supplied a “vaccine” for the disease of sin, a cure which leaves one totally immune from sin’s ravages. This cure is found in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, so that we can be eternally healed, eternally whole, and eternally well. Those who appropriate this divine cure will live forever in a place that is virus-free, crime-free, and depression-free. The Bible invites us: “Let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” Jesus is the Fountain of those living waters.



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