Praying in an Epidemic

Every day my Facebook account brings me reminders to pray, biblical prayer promises, and some heart-wrenching prayer requests. The worldwide virus pandemic has become a call to prayer for many people.

How are we to pray in such a disruption? We find ourselves praying for protection for medical professionals and for first-responders. We pray for healing for those afflicted with the coronavirus. We pray for an end to the plague and for the speedy development of effective vaccines.

It does us good to pray. Prayer is an acknowledgement that we are not, after all, in control. It keeps us in our place. It seeks the will of God in our own lives and in the lives of others. It recognizes God’s authority in all circumstances of life.

The story of Jabez illustrates this. He was one of those obscure personalities tucked away in a long genealogical list in the Old Testament. There is a short historical notation about him that stands out: he is noted for his prayer.

“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, ‘I gave birth to him in pain.’ Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request” (1 Chronicles 4:9-10).

We are told little about Jabez. His brief story is found in the family history of the tribe of Judah and the allocation of their inheritance in the Promised Land. His immediate family ties are obscure, but we are told that his mother bore him in pain. Thus he was given a name which means, “he causes pain.” How would you like to be introduced with that name on your first day of school? This was, apparently, a bad omen from which he wanted to be freed.

We can learn from the prayer of Jabez. For one thing, it was bold. Jabez dared to ask God for a personal blessing. The Bible encourages us to “approach God with freedom and confidence” through Christ (Ephesians 3:12). “Ask,” promised Jesus, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7). There was a sense of bold urgency in the plea, “Oh that you would bless me!” When we pray this way in the name of Jesus, we will pray as Jesus prayed: “Your will be done.”

We are living through a time of pain and sadness. What are your needs? Healing? Protection? Financial provision? Boldly commit them to God the way Jabez did.

Also, the prayer was specific. Jabez asked God to enlarge his territory. He was asking the Lord to increase his usefulness, responsibility, and productivity. If we want this for selfish reasons, at the expense of others, it’s wrong (James 4:3-4). But if we ask God to enlarge our resources and influence to bless others, it’s a good thing. Lately we have all been hearing stories of neighbors helping neighbors, and people sacrificing for the greater good. They are being blessed in order to be a blessing.

This reminds  us to be specific in our praying:  confessing sin, giving thanks, interceding for others, and in asking God to make us fruitful in his service in this world. He knows what we want before we ask. But it pleasures him when we are transparently honest in our praying.

I am impressed by something else. Jabez was seeking God’s direct  involvement in his life. “Let your hand be with me,” he prayed. This was a familiar Hebrew idiom referring to God’s strength and presence. (See how the Lord’s “hand” was with Elisha in 2 Kings 3:15 and with the Christians in Antioch in Acts 11:21.) Jabez knew God’s purpose in his life could only be accomplished through God’s strength. 

Our present circumstances may be baffling, inconvenient and complicated. We need now, more than ever, God’s direct involvement and his strength.

The name “Jabez” was a daily reminder to him of pain and misery. We are being reminded of the same things every day. He prayed that he would be spared. Did his prayer also imply that he didn’t want to inflict pain on others? Perhaps. These are prayers we can pray in an epidemic.

The Bible tells us that he was honorable, more honorable than his contemporaries. Surely this was because he cried out to God in bold dependency. What would happen in America if believers cried out to God as Jabez did, boldly and specifically, for God’s powerful intervention in this present crisis?

Matthew Henry observed that in his prayer, Jabez was devoting himself completely to God. It was as if he was giving God a blank sheet of paper letting him write on it whatever he pleased. “Lord if you will bless me, do with me whatever you will. I will be at your command and disposal forever.”

“And God granted his request.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Ways of Thinking About Tragedy

Ways of Thinking About Tragedy

Sunday will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. No resident of this town can forget where they were at the moment this awful event occurred. 168 people lost their lives, 19 of the little children. Over 500 people were injured. 30 children were orphaned. 219 were left with one parent.

For the last several months, local media have been offering daily tributes to those who were killed and injured, to firefighters, police, volunteers, to doctors, nurses, and EMTs, and to community leaders.

Friends of mine, Dr. Charles and Jean Hurlburt, respected members of the medical community, died in the blast. Another friend, Robin Jones, wrote a book, Where Was God at 9:02 A. M.? published by Thomas Nelson. The Rev. Billy Graham and President Bill Clinton spoke in a memorial service attended by thousands a week after the bombing.

The perpetrators, convicted on multiple counts of murder and conspiracy, were Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. This was considered to be the worst act of domestic terrorism on American soil before 9/11, and it was carried out by American citizens.

In remembrance, I have been re-reading the commemorative volume, In Their Name, commissioned by Governor and Mrs. Frank Keating. It has reminded me of the book of Lamentations in the Old Testament. Lamentations were written to mourn one of the most wrenching tragedies in the history of Israel, the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army.

The author was an eyewitness to the slaughter of civilians and soldiers, the destruction of the city walls, the mass deportation of survivors, and the desecration and destruction of the Temple of the Lord, built by King Solomon. Into his writings he poured his personal anguish, describing the depth of his nation’s suffering. Tradition tells us the book was written by Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet.”

The author was inspired to write a dark epic poem that Christopher Wright has called, “the powerful poetry of grief.” It gives us ways to think about tragedy. It is well suited for what our nation is confronting now as we face the deaths of thousands of our fellow-citizens and the sufferings of thousands more in the Coronavirus plague. Here are some lessons learned from reading Lamentations.

1. Express your grief. The author of Lamentations described the horrors he had witnessed. He did not hold back. He told us how he felt about the tragedies he had seen. He complained to God, who in judgment on his people Israel, was letting them bear the consequences for their sins. He said he felt cut off from God (3:8).

2. Confess your sins. Confession is always appropriate. This is especially true in times of trouble. Tragedy has a way of turning our attention from the trivial to the eternal. As we seek God (3:25), we discover the need to examine ourselves (3:40), and honestly confess the ways we have offended him (3:37-42; 4:12-13; 5:7).

3. Recognize God’s sovereignty. The writer never gave the impression that the overthrow of Jerusalem was a meaningless accident of history. He did not imply that God was powerless to prevent it. Rather, he bluntly stated that God not only knew what was going to happen, He permitted it to happen. See if you don’t come to the same difficult conclusion as you read Lamentations 2:1-8, 2:17 and 4:11-17.

4. Remember God’s mercy. The centerpiece of the book is a profound declaration of God’s great faithfulness to his covenant people (3:22-23). This cuts like a laser through darkness and hopelessness. While his holiness requires letting sin’s consequences run their course, God’s love shines through. We are told that no matter what happens (3:38), God is good and his judgments are righteous (3:25). His love reaches us under the rubble.

5. Patiently wait for God. We should be careful about making glib pronouncements about matters beyond our understanding. Sometimes it is best to sit in silence and think about God (3:28). A time of waiting can teach us that God has a plan for our lives. That is why “we are not consumed” (3:22). It teaches us to examine ourselves and repent of our sins ((3:40). A time of patient waiting shows how the Lord rewards those who seek him (3:25; Hebrews 11:6).

On Sunday, April 19, I intend to read Lamentations again. I will think of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. I may do some lamenting of my own as I think about the thousands now who are dying in our nation and our world. I will pray for those who are suffering the effects of COVID-19 and for their families and caregivers.

And I will try to remember some of the lessons of Lamentations: to express grief and to ask God to give me greater empathy for others; to examine myself and confess my sins; to remember that though God does not take pleasure in the suffering of his people (3:33), he has a purpose in what he allows to happen, and his purposes are good. He has slowed me down. He has stymied the nation. Maybe one reason is so we will draw near to him (3:24).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Last Words from the Cross

When Jesus called out from the cross, “It is finished,” he was saying farewell to earth. When he said to God, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46), it was an entrance greeting to heaven. His spirit was to be separated from his body. He had assurance of his spirit’s continuance apart from the body. Those who are in Christ may have that same assurance now.

His death was an act of his will. Yes, he was killed by wicked people (Acts 2:23). But in a deeper sense his death was purely voluntary. Neither Judas, nor Caiaphas, nor Pilate, nor the soldiers took his life from him. “He gave his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). No human power could have touched him unless he permitted it. Only when he declared that the appointed time had come, did he allow his enemies to arrest him (John 12:23).

He had said to his disciples, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:17-18).

This tells us of the Son of God’s complete agreement with and submission to the Father’s eternal plan of redemption. For this the Father loves him. Jesus will give resurrection life to those who believe in him. But in order to do that he must experience it himself. To be raised from death, he must first die. His resurrection must be preceded by his death. This was the Father’s loving purpose for his obedient Son.

This was not a form of suicide, nor a martyr complex, nor fatalistic resignation. This was his authority to terminate his physical life, and then to resume that physical life in the resurrection. Only the Son of God has that authority. In this he exercised his power over death, to make possible our deliverance from the power of death.

So he “cried out again with a loud voice” (Matthew 27:50), “bowed his head” (John 19:30), and committed his spirit to the Father (Luke 23:46). In one moment he lost consciousness of the terrible scene in front of him and was immediately conscious of being in Paradise, in the presence of the Father. His body was taken down from the cross to be buried by the hands of humans. His spirit was taken into the loving hands of the Father in heaven.

This helps explain the Lord’s earlier words to his disciples, “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father” (John 16:28). If you and I believe in this Jesus, his word proves as true for us as for them, “The Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God” (John 16:27).

Pastor Randy Faulkner


“It Is Finished!”

Victims of crucifixion usually died exhausted and unconscious. The New Testament tells us that before he died, Jesus summoned the strength for a loud cry (Mark 15:37). This was unusual for a man dying on a cross after many hours of torture.

His final shout was a cry of victory over the powers of darkness: “It is finished!” He was saying that he had accomplished what he had been sent to earth to do. In this sixth statement from the cross (John 19:30), Jesus again alluded to the twenty-second psalm, a prophecy of his sacrificial death: “He has done it!” (Psalm 22:31).

What did he accomplish in his dying? He accomplished “everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man” (Luke 18:31; 1 Peter 1:11). He accomplished the requirements of God’s law. He was born and lived under the law, he fulfilled the law in his perfect life, and he bore the curse of the law in his death (Galatians 2:21, 3:13, 4:4). With perfect obedience he accomplished the purpose of the Father (John 17:4).

The Hebrew prophets, writing hundreds of years earlier, tell us that his death on the cross would be to “atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness” and that “the Anointed One (Messiah) will be put to death and will have nothing” (Daniel 9:24, 26). “They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He (God in Christ) has done it!” (Psalm 22:31). That is what he meant when he said, “It is finished!”

He was speaking to the Father in heaven: ” I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4). He was speaking to those who  would make up that growing worldwide congregation of believers throughout history: “I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you” (Psalm 22:22). He was speaking to himself: “After he (God’s Lamb) has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53 :11).

The word “finished,” in the Greek language implies completed action with a continuous result. It has finality. The work of salvation is accomplished; the price of redemption is paid in full. This word was used in first century marketplaces where goods were bought and sold. A seller would write a receipt for a completed transaction with this word which means “paid in full.”

Rudolf Stier wrote, There is nothing lying beyond the reach of this word. … Here is the center of the history of the world.” Nothing can be added to what Jesus accomplished to secure salvation for all who believe in him. “He has done it! It is finished!”

In his book, The Cross of Christ, John R.W. Stott wrote: “The loud shout of victory, is in the gospel text the single word tetelestai. Being in the perfect tense, it means ‘it has been and will forever remain finished.’ We note the achievement Jesus claimed just before he died. It is not men who have finished their brutal deed; it is he who accomplished what he came into the world to do. He has borne the sins of the world. Deliberately, freely and in perfect love he has endured the judgment in our place. He has procured salvation for us, established a new covenant between God and humankind, and made available the chief covenant blessing, the forgiveness of sins.”


Pastor Randy Faulkner