I received a similar text message from three different people:
I was asked to be a part of a prayer chain. When you get this, pray for the slowing of the coronavirus and that leaders would have the wisdom they need. Then send this message to 8 other people. Thank you!
I’ve never gotten a message like this before. Not after key political developments, horrific accidents, catastrophic natural disasters, acute famines, spikes in warfare or unrest. The news is bad now, but hasn’t it always been? So why do I suddenly see all around me a new willingness among Christians to pray?
Such a text is only one of many prayer initiatives I’ve seen pop up in the past few weeks:
- Local churches are organizing prayer chains to connect with every individual in their congregation.
- Large organizations like 24-7 Prayer International are providing resources on how to pray.
- Podcasts are offering daily opportunities to pause, reflect, and pray.
- Musicians are offering free, online worship sets.
- Publishers are offering free liturgies to help us pray.
- Power to Change-Students has been publishing guided prayer reflections as well as morning, midday, and evening online prayer calls.
Suddenly the verse “pray continually” from 1 Thessalonians 5:17 seems to have become a lot more important.
What is especially interesting to me is that there seems to be a two-fold call to prayer. Of course there is an obvious need to ask God for help, both on a global scale and in our disrupted lives. This type of prayer is labelled as “intercession,” and is typically the activity most people imagine when they think of prayer.
But I am intrigued to notice a second call to another form of prayer, one that simply seeks to be with God, rather than to ask things of him–often labelled “contemplation.” While this might not be the type of prayer that people typically think of, it is just as valuable as intercession; in uncertainty and anxiety, what else can offer stability and peace but coming into the presence of God who never changes?
So yes, I want to participate in this prayer chain, to intercede for God’s mercy in this pandemic. But I pray not only for his mercy to stop the virus, but to continue to stir up intercessory prayers both now and when there isn’t the same obvious threat to humanity. If this virus didn’t cause death, I would actually hope that God would wait to stop this crisis, so that deeper habits of intercession would be learned and formed.
And I want to take advantage of this opportunity to learn how to come to God in quiet contemplation. For many—though certainly not all—this is a season of having more time and fewer distractions, lowering those barriers towards seeking God’s face. It is a season that has made salient the continual reality that life is uncertain, and thus the need to seek out the certain One. What better opportunity is there to learn to contemplate, to pray not with an agenda, but with a desire to be with God? If this virus didn’t cause such financial and social hardship, I would actually hope that God would wait to stop this crisis, so that deeper habits of contemplation would be learned and formed.
May this opportunity to learn to pray, both as intercession and contemplation, not be lost on us. May we ask for COVID-19 to be slowed, while also asking for an even greater increase of prayer. May we urgently seek God’s face now, as well as when life resumes its normal pace.
I invite you to be a part of my prayer. When you read this, pray for the slowing of the coronavirus, that leaders would have the wisdom they need, and that the global church would be renewed as we learn to pray. Thank you!