As I write this on a beautiful spring morning, we are all struggling to believe what an impact the coronavirus epidemic is having. In a matter of days it has moved from being a news item which affected other people to many of us now self-isolating, to travel restrictions, event cancellations and organisations going out of business.
In fact, in the last few minutes, the Church of England has announced that all church services are suspended until further notice. This is obviously unprecedented.
In the midst of such incredible uncertainties (and dangers), how on earth do you apply what the apostle Paul says in Philippians 4: 6-7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus?
Pray obviously! But here are some other practical suggestions from Tim Lane, and also from Martin Luther:
anxiety is not the same as concern.
It is entirely appropriate to be concerned about things.
It leads to wise action and dependent prayer. Many everyday actions flow from proper, godly concern: for example, regular medical checkups, balancing your finances, getting your car serviced regularly. Paul is not telling us not to be concerned about things. He is telling us not to be over-concerned.
2 The solution to worry is not becoming laid-back.
The answer to “over-concern” is not “under-concern.” We all know laid-back people. It can seem a wonderful way to live!
But a person who is laid-back on the outside can still be a deeply worried person on the inside. A laid-back person can also be a deep worrier who has chosen to disengage and become indifferent.
And someone who seems very calm and laid-back, can in fact be deeply engaged and invested in other people’s lives and situations. This is not laid-back so much as God-dependent. The Christian life is one of complete engagement, not disengagement. In Philippians where Paul talks about not being anxious, he also says: work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13), and I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me (Philippians 3:12).
3 Protecting yourself is not the same as worry.
It is important to understand that godly fear and concern for your safety and the safety of others is not the same as “worry.” Suppose you are currently fearful for your own safety, or the safety of another person, because you have reason to believe that someone is going to harm you or them. You would be completely justified in doing whatever you can to protect yourself and others.
It is not wrong to take action and seek help if you’re suffering or fearing harm of any kind.
Finally, Ash Cunningham (Head of UCCF’s Theology Network) has composed the following summary of Martin Luther’s advice to Christians during an outbreak of Bubonic plague in 1527, which he hopes offers some comfort and encouragement in the days ahead. It is strikingly up to date:
Employ good hygiene;
Do not shy from medicine;
Do not put others at risk;
Avoid places where you don’t need to be… but if your neighbour is in need – you DO need to be there;
Do not fear death, but do not court danger – the Christian is fearless because they follow the death-defeating Christ, not because they follow a cult of fearlessness and folly.
With best wishes in Christ,