King Jehoshaphat and Coronavirus
“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
As I sit in my apartment in coronavirus-laden China, I’m hard pressed to think of a better prayer than that one, uttered by a desperate but confident Judean king named Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 20:12).
The eyes of an anxious world are on this global health crisis. Companies and schools in China are delaying operations. Borders are closing. And in recent days many airlines have suspended all travel in and out of this great country. As an American who pastors in China, our decision to stay now feels like a clear “burn the ships!” moment.
Our prayer? We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you, Lord.
Jehoshaphat’s ancient perspective is more apropos for February 2020 than we might think. In his context, a dangerous delegation from Edom was closing in on Judah. But his faith was all-encompassing. He wasn’t just trusting the Lord in the face of potential military defeat, but for any disaster that may come!
If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save. (2 Chron. 20:9, emphasis mine)
Jehoshaphat had a disposition of trust, regardless of danger. Even in the face of pestilence or plague, he cried to God.
And, given the current threat of pandemic, we must learn to do the same. Here are five aspects of his trusting in God that can help us today.
1. Trust God with your fears.
Jehoshaphat was “afraid and set his face to seek the Lord” (2 Chron. 20:3). He wasn’t superhuman; he was normal. The initial step of anyone trusting in God’s help—in his day or in ours—must be admitting weakness. It may be good medicine right now to go before the Lord and honestly tell him how you’re doing. I’m scared. I’m frustrated. I’m angry. I’m lonely.
I’m wounded. I’m exhausted.
The point of airing our pain isn’t to shake a finger at God; it’s to be honest as we trust him with our deepest concerns.
The point of airing our pain isn’t to shake a finger at God; it’s to be honest as we trust him with our deepest concerns. Jehoshaphat chooses to trust the Lord, which is what we’re called to as well. Trust is always a choice. And it’s one we’ll have to make over and over again.
2. Encourage others to trust God.
After Jehoshaphat seeks God, he proclaims a national fast: “And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord” (2 Chron. 20:4). The king knows whence true help comes, and he leads others to go there for their hope as well. When everyone around us is freaking out, and our neighbors fear the sky is falling, we must remind each other that we serve a loving, merciful, and sovereign God, who is himself untouched by pestilence or virus (Ps. 91).
As we take our anxieties to the Lord in prayer, we can experience peace that surpasses understanding (Phil. 4:6–7). And as we experience such peace, the countercultural—and often counterintuitive—hope that we have in Christ is put on display (1 Pet. 3:15).
Our faith, after all, is personal but not private.
3. Call out to God.
Jehoshaphat offers a model prayer in verses 5–12. He appeals to God’s character, his promises, and his actions in the past. The prayer then culminates: “[W]e are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us.
We do not know what to do but our eyes are on you.”
You might feel discouraged as you watch the infection and death tolls rise. If so, join with Jehoshaphat in declaring that you are helpless, but your hope is fixed on God Almighty.
Maybe you feel that way in light of nCoV. Perhaps you feel powerless against a virus to which you can be exposed even when there are no visible symptoms. Maybe your anxiety rises as specialists still aren’t sure all the ways this virus can be transmitted. You might feel discouraged as you watch the infection and death tolls rise. If so, join with Jehoshaphat in declaring that you are helpless, but your hope is fixed on God Almighty.
4. Remember God’s salvation.
In the 2 Chronicles narrative, God responds by sending a prophet to remind Judah that the battle doesn’t belong to them; it belongs to God (20:15). They won’t even need to fight; they can just sit back and watch his salvation on their behalf (20:17)!
This story is a small example of a bigger, spiritual battle for everyone in every age. We have a lethal problem we can do nothing about on our own (though we try!). We must trust another, because the battle isn’t ours to fight. As we trust the One who can battle on our behalf, we’re invited to sit back and watch the salvation of the Lord.
The coronavirus may plateau over the next week. Or it may worsen. My family may be spared from this epidemic, or we may become a statistic. Still we look to God’s salvation. Not because he’ll necessarily prove his love to me by protecting me from illness, but because he’s already demonstrated his love by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners, so that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life
(Rom. 5:8; John 3:16).
I pray for this virus to be eradicated and for my family to be healthy, but God is good regardless of what these next weeks bring. I wear a mask outdoors and wash my hands frequently, but my hope isn’t finally in these efforts. I desire long life for myself and my family, but I also know the goal of life isn’t to escape physical death. That’s a fool’s errand. The goal is to be prepared when physical death inevitably comes, glorifying and enjoying God until that day.
Jehoshaphat trusts God, and he leads others in trusting God. But note the end game: worship. In 2 Chronicles 20:21, before victory had even come, the king leads the people to praise: “And when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against [their enemies], so that they were routed” (2 Chron. 20:22).
How is this final scene part of trusting God? Because if God is good, and we know he can be trusted, we can worship him even amid suffering. We can praise him even under the threat of danger. We glorify him even as viruses spread.
God didn’t tell Jehoshaphat to do this. He wasn’t instructed by God to call together a worship service. Worship isn’t a strategy for getting God to act; it’s a response because we know he has acted, and he will continue to act. This is what it looks like to seek the Lord.
The Judeans go out the next day, and their threat is gone. I’m not saying God will miraculously solve all your problems if you’ll only start worshiping. But I am saying your biggest problem—the problem of disbelief—will be solved if you’ll only start worshiping.
In the face of the coronavirus, may Christians in China and around the world have an unshakeable confidence in the Lord—even when we don’t know what comes next.
Jason Seville is the senior pastor of an international church in China, where he lives with his wife, Kim, and four daughters.
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