A Biblical Response to Panic
I’m writing this at the end of a very eventful Wednesday evening. Over the course of just a few hours, the response to the Coronavirus crisis has increased dramatically.
The World Health Organization officially designated COVID-19 as a pandemic. The NBA announced they are suspending their season. President Trump suspended all flights in and out of Europe for 30 days. Dr. Al Mohler announced that all classes at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary will finish the semester in an online-only format. Actor Tom Hanks announced that he and his wife, actress Rita Wilson, have tested positive for COVID-19 in Australia. Earlier today, the first presumed cases appeared in New Mexico. In the community I serve, the popular Bataan Memorial Death March, expected to draw 10,000 participants to our community of 35,000 people, was canceled over health concerns.
There is much cause for concern. Government and organization leaders are wrestling with how, exactly, they should respond. Pastors and ministry leaders are doing the same. In these days of uncertainty, we must be united in praying for wisdom for our leaders as they navigate the range of responses.
You probably have people in your congregation who are worried. Many of you are serving in states and cities that are being directly affected. Some of the readers of this blog may have church members who have contracted the virus. Our nation and, in fact, the whole world seems to be on the brink of an all-out panic.
During times like these, communities and churches will look to spiritual leaders for guidance. Not unlike a church on the verge of death, our responses must be firm, loving and, above all, staunchly biblical.
As replant pastors, you and I deal with fear on a daily basis. We shepherd people who are afraid of losing their church. Perhaps they are even more afraid of their church changing beyond recognition. Maybe you worry that one more contentious business meeting will mean the end of your ministry in your church. They – and you – may be on the verge of panic.
For the follower of Christ, there is no room in our worldview for panic. This world is not our home. Our hope lies not in government leaders, in sports teams, in good health, or in the stock market. Our hope lies in a Man from Galilee who defeated sin and death once for all when He stepped out of a borrowed tomb nearly 2,000 years ago.
Jesus knew that we would be tempted to worry (dare I say, even panic?) in this life. Thankfully, Matthew records Jesus’ words for us that are so appropriate for such a time as this.
Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying? And why do you worry about clothes? Observe how the wildflowers of the field grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t he do much more for you—you of little faith? So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34, CSB)
So, pastor, instead of panic, lead your people in praise. Instead of worry, lead them to worship. Focus your attention – and theirs – on the empty tomb where Jesus defeated the real enemy once and for all.
And, just for good measure, sing songs like “In Christ Alone” by the Gettys as a simple reminder that our hope, ultimately, is in Jesus Christ, the Great Physician.
I’m praying that you’ll have wisdom as you help your churches and communities navigate through these choppy waters. Love them and lead them well in these days.