As none of us have lived through a pandemic, these are hard times. What do we do? Thankfully, we locate advice in church history from leading Christians who endured plagues, but their counsel seems counterintuitive. I’ve made a long list of points I am sharing with ministry fundraisers around the world next month in a webinar. Here are three in this post.
- Pray and Avoid People – Normally we say there’s nothing more important than face-to-face meetings in rallying partnership in God’s work. Right? Not now. During the plague in 1527, Martin Luther said to pray and avoid people.
“Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly refuse. Therefore, I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, He will surely find me, and I have done what He has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.” Martin Luther, Pastoral Writings 4: 404.
Do this with your partnership efforts. Keep your distance. Pray vigilantly for ministry partners. Text or message them to check in. Ask how you can pray. Perhaps even inquire how you can help if they have needs you might be able to meet.
- Pause and Write People – We live in a time when this global reset forced on us by COVID-19 causes those who tend toward “doing” (like me and most ministry fundraisers) to have no choice but “be” still. Use the time to pause and write notes filled with love and truth. During the plague (c. A.D. 250), Cyprian, bishop of Carthage did just this.
“The Lord had foretold that these things would come. With the exhortation of His foreseeing word, instructing, and teaching, and preparing, and strengthening the people of His Church for all endurance of things to come, He predicted and said that wars, and famines, and earthquakes, and pestilences would arise in each place; and lest an unexpected and new dread of mischiefs should shake us, He previously warned us that adversity would increase more and more in the last times. Behold, the very things occur which were spoken; and since those occur which were foretold before, whatever things were promised will also follow; as the Lord Himself promises, saying, “But when ye see all these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is at hand.” Cyprian of Carthage, On the Mortality 7:2.
Plagues are a sign that the kingdom or the reign of God is near. What does that mean? In plain terms, Cyprian reminded God’s people that God works through things like a plague to get the world’s attention. It works! Only weeks, even days ago, people in these present times thought they were in charge of their lives, their futures. I don’t exclude myself in this. All of us planned ministry as though we were in control of the future. We are not (read James 4:13-15). Since we are not, pause and write people. If they are struggling, remind them to raise their sights heavenward. Find hope and peace in Jesus together.
- Celebrate and Unite People – In Ecclesiastical History 22, Eusebius cites these words of Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria. He penned them around the same timeframe as Cyprian and during the “festival” season leading up to Easter. People were dying in great numbers, and yet, Dionysius reminded them to celebrate the victory of Christ over death.
“To other men the present might not seem to be a suitable time for a festival. Nor indeed is this or any other time suitable for them; neither sorrowful times, nor even such as might be thought especially cheerful. Now, indeed, everything is tears and everyone is mourning, and wailings resound daily through the city because of the multitude of the dead and dying… After these things war and famine followed, which we endured in common with the heathen. But we bore alone those things with which they afflicted us, and at the same time we experienced also the effects of what they inflicted upon and suffered from one another; and again, we rejoiced in the peace of Christ, which He gave to us alone.”
With COVID-19, there is fear and hoarding all around us. God desires instead for faith and giving to abound through us. How do we help people make this shift? Like Dionysius, we must call the living to celebrate the hope we have in Jesus Christ (with appropriate social distancing, of course). This hope unites and strengthens us in times filled with sickness, death and hoarding, and with plague, fear, and mourning. We have hope because of three words: Christ is risen!
Only as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ do we actually discover our purpose. It's bigger than the plague. We are here to speak hope into despair, to show love to the hurting, and to share resources with compassion. While everyone is experiencing difficulty and even death, we have hope and can celebrate because Jesus triumphed over death. We get to unite together and proclaim that victory through our generous living, giving, serving and loving before a watching world.