They threw open the hurricane doors, two inches of stainless steel that defiantly sheltered them from the gales shredding their landscape. A glance across the horizon quickly established one incontrovertible fact: On the flip side of this weather event, life was going to look much different.
The analogy works because it parallels our lives. Though the Covid-19 storm has not fully passed, the world is emerging from their shelter to see the after-effects. Across the globe, hurricane doors, proverbially speaking, are flying open. What we see from this event will say much about how we think God works. Or even, if we think God works.
Bad Times Bear Deep Truths
In the opening paragraphs of 2 Corinthians, we encounter an extraordinary passage. Paul, the writer of Scripture and guest to the 3rd heaven, describes a time when he actually despaired of his life. He felt like he was under a sentence of death. Honestly, Paul’s perspective on that emotional hurricane is not what we expect from our Apostles. But Paul was making a fine point. His trauma was filled with purpose. In fact, he specifically says the purpose of his hopelessness was to teach him reliance. God brought him to the point of despair “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (v. 9).
As we break free from the shelter of our homes, God wants to create a category for our COVID-19 trials. While it’s impossible to know the entirety of God’s plan, Paul tells us that the experience of emotional death presses us toward a deeper embodiment of resurrection hope. In fact, dead situations are God’s specialty–he wants you to bank your life on that truth. In those barren times—when affliction comes, when devotions bore rather than inspire, when your kids have no spiritual life. Yes, even when a pandemic is rocking the globe—there is still wonderful news. We can entrust ourselves to one who raises the dead.
Commenting on this passage, John Piper recently wrote:
This is the message of the coronavirus: Stop relying on yourselves and turn to God. You cannot even stop death. God can raise the dead. And of course “relying on God” does not mean that Christians become do-nothings. Christians have never been do-nothings. It means that the ground, the pattern, and the goal of all our doings is God. As Paul said, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). The coronavirus calls us to make God the all-important, pervasive reality in our lives. Our lives depend on him more than they depend on breath. 1
If that description sounds like the gospel, that’s no coincidence. God installs these gospel recaps wherein we experience the sentence of death so that we might trust the one who gives life. God imposes the painful seasons so that we might be pressed toward deep dependence on him. In 2 Corinthians 1:10, Paul expresses confidence in God’s power to rescue: “He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.”
Bad Times, Potent Prayer
You know, if Paul stopped there, we might merely be encouraged with a profound gospel truth. But Paul goes on to make our confidence in Him imminently practical. In verse 11, he writes:
You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
Do you see the interesting twist, the unexpected paradox? Paul has just expressed deep faith, but somehow that doesn’t diminish his need for others. No, his deep need leads him to call the community to pray. Think about this because it’s pretty counterintuitive: Paul’s confidence that God will deliver him does not eliminate his need for prayer. Rather, his confidence grounds and inspires his prayer.
Trusting and relying upon God, by definition, means looking outside of ourselves for answers. But I get it, that’s really difficult for us. In our culture we celebrate self-reliance: the successful entrepreneur or the athlete who just guts it out. But if we live relying on ourselves, we only get what we can deliver. If we rely upon God in prayer, however, we get what he can deliver.
I’ve been a pastor since 1986, so I’ve collected a few books. When I’m in the office where I keep most of my books, I can rely upon the resources of my own library. But the internet has pretty much revolutionized study. Now there are millions of resources available at our fingertips. All of the sudden, information seems infinite. Sure, I can go to my own library (and I often do). But now I can also go to something a million times greater.
If I need great power, I must move beyond myself. Compared to my puny library, God’s power is like countless internets. Why would we rely upon ourselves when we can rely on him? Prayer is reliance upon God.
Paul also describes another benefit. In prayer—when we involve other believers in the church– many are blessed and give thanks when they see God answer. In this way, our hurricane of affliction is not merely a place where we learn to trust God, but it’s also a project where others get to help. Then we can rejoice together in God’s deliverance.
Meeting God in the post-pandemic world is not just about personal transformation; it’s a community project.
My friends, don’t go silent about your pain. You may be depriving yourself and others of a blessing. When I was a young leader, I always wanted folks to see my strengths. Paul’s approach seems to be the opposite. If you’re still with me, here’s my counsel: When you experience fear and affliction, follow Paul’s example. Get honest. Tell others about how you feel leaving the shelter. Be real. Paul shared about an experience that crushed him and led to feelings of despair (v.8). The end result? Many gave thanks because of how God showed up to rescue (v. 11).
Are you afraid today? Dreading the future? Are you waiting for resurrection in some corner of your world? If so, here’s a question the passage raises: Who knows about it? Whose praying for you? This is not a time to paint a smile on your face in denial of how you feel. Let’s drop the managed and brokered images and talk more openly about our burdens. Talk about where you are–ask your church for prayer. If Paul needed it, I think we may need it even more. I know I do.
1John Piper, Coronavirus and Christ, (Crossway, 2020), 87.