Prayer & Pandemics

Michael Metzger

There are some paradoxes in prayer. See them? A pandemic can help, especially now that we seem to be seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

Surveys indicate more Americans than ever are praying during this pandemic. Not surprising. Over the years, 55 percent of Americans report praying every day. But how many see some paradoxes in prayer?

A paradox is two seemingly contradictory statements that are both true at the same time. Here’s one. For God to hear us, we must pray according to his will (I Jn. 5:14). But we only “know in part” (I Cor. 13:9), so we can’t know God’s will in every instance.

How then do we pray? Few give this question much thought. Most of the time we’re puttering along praying for things we desire—a spouse, job, good kids, good school. So we simply pray, “Thy will be done.” But what happens when bad things happen?

How do we pray when we lose our job? Our savings? A spouse? How do we pray when we’re isolated, depressed? This is not theory—it’s reality for millions right now. In this pandemic, simply praying Thy will be done doesn’t seem to cut it.

It shouldn’t. Here’s another paradox to throw in the mix. When we pour out our heart to God in prayer, he hears us (Ps. 62:8). Groan, cry, tell God the unvarnished truth—he hears us! And there’s more. He turns our groans into prayers that align with his will.

How? In the Book of Romans, Paul writes about “the sufferings of this present time” (8:8). In a pandemic, people suffer. Paul likened this to the pains of childbirth. An expectant mother groans in pain as her baby is about to be born. She sees light at the end of the tunnel. This doesn’t lessen the pain. It gets her through the pain.

I watched my wife Kathy suffer the pains of childbirth. Any husband with a lick of sense knows you never say, “Honey, I feel your pain.” But that’s not entirely true.

The authors of the Bible do not relegate “the pains of childbirth” exclusively to women. Paul wrote “that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom. 8:22). When we fell, creation fell. So it groans.

Creation groans because it sees light at the end of the tunnel, “awaiting eagerly the revealing of the sons of God.” That’s us. In eternity. So creation suffers childbirth pains.

So do we. We are impregnated with God’s Spirit, so we see light at the end of the tunnel. But between now and then, bad stuff happens, so “we do not know how to pray as we ought.” In our weakness, we cry out to God. An amazing thing happens.

The Spirit “helps us in our weakness.” He takes our too-deep-for-words groanings, communicating them to the Father as prayers. Our Father “who searches hearts” (Heb. 4:12-13) hears our prayers. The Spirit makes our prayers conform to God’s will.

Now that’s good news. So we pray, Thy will be done in this pandemic because “no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Eccl. 3:11). But we also groan, crying out in this crisis: God, crush this pandemic—now. It’s a paradox in prayer.

Winston Churchill said never waste a good crisis. This pandemic is a crisis. But it can be redemptive if it reminds us of these paradoxes in prayer.

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