The title for this post is one I never imagined writing. But recent days have brought about many firsts for many of us.
In response to the spread of the Coronavirus across the globe, a group of ministers led by Rev. Chris Hutchinson has called upon churches to pray on Friday, March 20, 2020. They have asked us to pray that the Lord would slow the spread of the Coronavirus, that he would strengthen the hands of those serving in the medical community, that he would bless the efforts of those researching vaccines, and that he would comfort, strengthen, and heal those who suffer in various ways from Covid-19 and its effects (economic, psychological, social, etc.). For more information and the latest developments, follow #UnitedExtraordinaryPrayer on Twitter.
I thought I’d publish a few resources to serve this concerted prayer effort.
First and foundationally is Psalm 91.
1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. 5 You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. 9 Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place– the Most High, who is my refuge– 10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. 14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15 When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
I will refrain from offering extended commentary on this psalm but will note a couple of points.
First, the psalmist lives in the real world, where trials always seem to travel in hordes. The psalmist lists “deadly pestilence” (vv. 3, 6) among the manifold trials that afflict God’s people. There is the “the terror of the night” and “the arrow that flies by day” (v. 5). There is “the pestilence that stalks in darkness” and “the destruction that wastes at noonday” (v. 6).
Nevertheless, second, the psalmist encourages God’s people that, in spite of the manifold trials that assail them, they need not fear. Why? Because the manifold trials that afflict us are no match for the God of many names who stands with us and helps us. The one who trusts in God, dwells in the shelter of “the Most High” and abides in the shadow of “the Almighty” (v. 1). The God of the covenant is “my refuge,” “my fortress,” “my God,” “in whom I trust” (v. 2). His “pinions” and his “wings” are a source of refuge; his “faithfulness” is “a shield and buckler” (v. 4). Our God, to whom all these names apply, is all these things to us; and no trials that come upon us can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 8:31-39).
And so we pray with confidence, knowing that he will “answer” us (v. 15). Contrary to the claims of today’s false prophets, we do not know whether God will answer us by delivering us from the deadly pestilence that stalks us (through healing) or through the deadly pestilence that stalks us (through death and resurrection). But, in Christ Jesus, we may pray with confidence that God will “deliver” us, “protect” us, “be with” us, “rescue” us, “honor” us, “satisfy” us, and “show” us his salvation (vv. 14-16). These are the strong verbs that belong to the people who belong to the Lord.
In addition to Psalm 91, below are a few prayers composed and used by the church for occasions such as this.
The first prayer comes from the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England (1662).
O ALMIGHTY God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thy people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also, in the time of king David, didst slay with the plague of pestilence threescore and ten thousand, and yet remembering thy mercy didst save the rest: Have pity upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sickness and mortality; that like as thou didst then accept of an atonement, and didst command the destroying Angel to cease from punishing, so it may now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sickness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The second prayer comes from the Book of Common Prayer of the Reformed Episcopal Church.
O MOST mighty and merciful God, to whom alone belong the issues of life and death; In this time of grievous sickness we flee unto thee for relief. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to thy ministers of healing; bless the means of cure; and grant, that, perceiving how frail is our earthly life, we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The third prayer comes from the The Liturgy of the French Protestants at Charleston (via Rev. Tommy Shields).
O LORD, we are consumed by Thy anger, and by Thy wrath we are troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee; our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance. Our days are passed in Thy displeasure, and we spend our years as a tale that is told. Thou hast dealt justly with us, O Lord, in all things; for we have not obeyed Thee. Thou hast seen that our wickedness is great, that the thoughts of our hearts were evil continually, and Thou hast sent forth sickness and tribulation among us. The King of Terrors is in the midst of us. O God, remember mercy, and withdraw from our land this awful scourge. O Thou at whose word, in the time of David, seventy thousand perished by the pestilence, and Who in Thy compassion didst stay the destroyer and spared the reside of Thy people, have pity on us! O say to this angel of death, “It is enough!” and of Thy mercy spare us. But whatever the future may have in store for us, whether of good or evil, give us grace to praise Thy compassion with humility and fear, and to bless Thy name forever and ever, through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.