A Pandemic Prayer

Dedicated to all who are grieving,  unemployed, or fearful. “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)


Jesus, in this moment, are you here to sense my pain?/ Jesus are you listening to these thoughts I can’t explain?/ Jesus, do you hear it — this pulsing, choking cry?/ Jesus, are you present as this night is dragging by?

Every word you’ve spoken, friend, is one I’ve heard before./ Every ache and longing, every loneliness, and more/ is a feeling I have felt before, a sorrow I have known./ Come to me with anything; you’ll never be alone.

Jesus, do you mean it when you say your load is light?/ Jesus, this dark heaviness is turning day to night!/ Jesus, do you matter now, or is this just a game?/ Jesus, in this sadness now, I want someone to blame!

Lay your blame on me, good friend; the nail has pierced my hand./ Thorns were on my head. (I don’t ask you to understand.)/ I felt the lash; I heard the curse (and you speak of blame!)/ In the dark I freely took your weight of guilt and shame.

Jesus, are you real, or not, and are you truly there?/ Jesus, can you answer when I try this thing called prayer?/ Jesus, are you God, or not, and if so why not speak?/ Jesus, why is my believing so unbelievably weak?

Once I spoke, I’m speaking now, to show you that I care./ If I’m silent, friend, it doesn’t mean that I’m not there./ I call you “friend,” not slave, so you’ll know that you are free/ to question, rage, to ask, to doubt; come share the yoke with me.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Giving Thanks in a Pandemic

Imagine a plague so severe that 8000 citizens of one town would die in a year. That same town was threatened by an invading army. Soldiers commandeered scarce resources of food and household goods. Many of the people had not known a time of peace and prosperity in all their lives.

Pastor Martin Rinckart remained faithful to his surviving congregation in the German town of Eilenburg during this desperate time. Many of his fellow ministers had died in the plague and he had to do the work of three men. Day after day he found himself conducting funerals. There were so many deaths that eventually victims had to buried in mass graves without proper committal services.

Refugees from the Thirty Years’ War flooded the overcrowded fortress town. Imagine the scene: starving neighbors fighting in the streets over scraps of garbage and even for the remnants of dead animals. Anything for a little food. Rinckart himself had to mortgage his future income to try to obtain bread and clothes for his children. His wife died in the plague in 1637.

Last Sunday morning my friend Dr. Mike Philliber told the amazing story of Martin Rinckart. It applies to our present national emergency. If we feel the inconvenience, disruption, loss, illness, or worse, of the pandemic, the example of this devout Lutheran pastor can inspire us to remain faithful to our Savior and to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Amid his own unimaginable sorrows, Rinckart taught his children to take refuge in God and to be thankful for the blessings they still had. He wrote a hymn for the family to sing as a table grace at mealtime. “Now Thank We All Our God” was published in 1636 and became one of the most widely sung hymns in all of Germany, second only to “A mighty Fortress is Our God.”

Hymnologist Alissa Davis has pointed out that Rinckart’s theology pervades the hymn. God is a God who acts: “Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices.”

He is a God who guides: “O may this bounteous God through all our lives be near us, with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us; and keep us still in grace, and guide us when perplexed; and free us from all ills, in this world and the next.”

The final stanza is a doxology ascribing praise to the God who is eternal, the Holy Trinity: “All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given; the Son  and him who reigns with them in highest heaven, the one eternal God, whom earth and heaven adore; for thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.”

Imagine such an expression of thanks in such a time of grief and hardship! Yet that is the attitude to which we are called. As we pray for an end to the pandemic and for a cure or vaccine, we do so “with thanksgiving” (Philippians 4:6). 

As we adjust to economic constraints, school closures, crowded ICUs, and the continuing threat of a dangerous virus, we train ourselves to be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

If Martin Rinckart can be “overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:7) in his circumstances, then by God’s grace, I can too, in mine. “Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices, who wondrous things hath done, in whom this world rejoices; who from our mother’s arms hath blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner


When Life is Hard

Historical scholars tell us that first century Christians were often misunderstood, slandered, persecuted and martyred for their beliefs. They were accused of disloyalty to the political establishment of the Roman empire. This is the background to the letter written by the apostle Peter to the provinces of Asia Minor.

His words in 1 Peter 1:6-16 are just as relevant today as when he wrote them. We are given guidance on how to respond when life is hard. He tells us that difficulties in life (such as the present pandemic and civil unrest) are temporary, “for a little while,” as the Lord sees our lives (v. 6). We wonder when life will return to “normal.” Peter wants us to know that God has his own timetable and his timing is perfect.

He also says that trials are purposeful. God has something he wants to  accomplish in the troubles that reach us. Peter compares the suffering of a Christian to a gold miner who brings his ore to a refiner so that the gold may be purified and alloys and impurities can be removed. The fires of testing (v.7)  refine our faith, so that we may glorify the Lord and be prepared for his return.

At Jesus’ revelation, Peter says, those who patiently endure affliction because of love for Jesus, will receive rewards of praise, glory and honor. This is a motivation for us to live holy lives (v. 15). In this context, holiness means to be set apart for God, separate from the world, and self-controlled.

“Therefore, with minds that are fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (vv. 13-15).

Some people have the mistaken idea that following Jesus is a guarantee that they will escape suffering and trouble in this life. Peter’s letter tells a different story. Sometimes God uses life’s hardships to accomplish his higher purposes in our lives. He wants to put his holy character on display in us (vv. 15-16). He wants us to behave as strangers and exiles in this world, living in expectation of Jesus’ return.

Charles Colson told of being hospitalized for surgery. As he recovered, he took walks in the corridors, dragging an I.V. pole along with him. He met a man from India, a Hindu, whose two-year-old son had had two failed kidney transplants and was now blind for life.

When he learned Colson was a Christian, he asked if he became a Christian would God heal his son. He said he had heard things like that on religious television programs. Colson wrote, “When I heard that I realized how arrogant the health and wealth gospel sounds to suffering families. Christians may be spared all suffering, but little Hindu children go blind. One couldn’t blame a Hindu or Muslim or an agnostic for hating such a god!”

“I told my Hindu friend about Jesus. Yes, he may miraculously intervene in our lives. But we come to God, not because of what he may do to spare us suffering, but because Christ is truth. What he does promise is much more — the forgiveness of sin and eternal life. … If that man does become a Christian, it won’t be on false pretenses.”

The fact is, we are called to live for God, whether or not the Lord relieves our pain, ends the pandemic, or restores the American economy. We love and serve Jesus not because he gives us easy, comfortable lives. It is because he has a higher purpose: he wants to make us like himself. “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner


Christian Hope in a Pandemic

I turned on the TV preparing to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder play the Utah Jazz in basketball. It was Wednesday, March 11 of this year. I was not prepared for what I saw that night. Instead of positioning themselves on the court for the tip off, players milled around while game officials gathered the coaches for whispered conversations.

Then to the shock of local fans, and thousands of TV viewers, officials called off the game and instructed  everyone to leave the arena, without a word of explanation. Commentators were speechless with amazement for what seemed a long time. Then word came that a Jazz player had been tested and found infected by the highly contagious coronavirus. Proceeding with the game was considered dangerous to players and fans. All NBA games were cancelled until further notice.

We now know what “further notice” means, not just for athletic events, but for businesses, schools, churches, and for the American economy. Nationwide, thousands of families mourn loved ones who have died. Words like pandemic, epidemiology, and social distancing have crept into our everyday vocabularies. The plague has disrupted every aspect of life in America, and evidently it will for some time to come.

The apostle Peter wrote his first letter to people who were facing a great crisis. They had believed on Jesus and were now following him. Because of this they were facing opposition, outright persecution, and in some cases, the threat of death. Peter wrote his letter to re-emphasize the gospel, and to prepare them to suffer for the sake of Jesus.

Like our public health physicians, Peter was obligated to tell the truth and to help his readers face their situation realistically. He did not resort to happy talk and empty platitudes. He told them about the possibility of suffering for their faith in Jesus. Life was about to get more difficult and he wanted his Christian readers to be ready.

I urge you to read Peter’s letter with the present crisis in mind. I do not wish to imply that our situation compares to the sufferings of the first century martyrs. But we do need now, as always, the comfort of God’s word which tells believers that “he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). Peter’s letter is full of hope.  “Set your hope fully on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:13).  “Your faith and hope are in God” ( 1 Peter 1:21). “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have” ( 1 Peter 3:15).

In the New Testament, “hope” is not wishful thinking. It is confident expectation. Peter knew his readers might be tempted to lose hope when they were being persecuted for their beliefs. The troubles started in Rome and were spreading to the provinces. The Christians were thought to be a threat to society. Their worship practices were misinterpreted and slandered. Some were being martyred because they refused to worship the emperor as a god. In his letter, Peter directed their attention away from their circumstances to the living God, the source of their hope.

This is what  distinguishes Christian hope from mere optimism. Optimism seeks to put the most favorable interpretation on circumstances.  Biblical hope, on the other hand, is centered in God. This is what gives certainty when the outlook is uncertain. Believers are said to be “chosen” by God (1 Peter 1:2) for his special purposes. Peter says God “foreknew” them. This is the same word he used in verse 20 to refer to Christ who was foreknown, destined, chosen to be the Lamb of God before the foundation of the world.

So, while believers may sometimes feel like strangers in a dangerous world, we are, in fact, precious to God. Thus, in the opening lines of Peter’s letter, we find God revealed as Father who has chosen us, Holy Spirit, who has set us apart, and Jesus Christ who has redeemed us by his blood. This trinitarian God is the source of our hope. At all times, but especially in a time of trouble, we look to him as the God of hope.

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ: to God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: grace and peace be yours in abundance” (1 Peter 1 :1-2).

We all hope for an end to the pandemic. We are tired of being quarantined, hidden away from life as we knew it three months ago. We don’t like wearing masks and missing out on events like Thunder basketball. I think the apostle Peter would say to us that God is in control and he knows what he is doing. He is reminding us that God is our only real hope.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


Where’s the Grief?

National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” news broadcasts have been telling stories of some of the people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. So has Lester Holt on the NBC evening news. The New York Times recently published the names of thousands of the deceased on its front page. Our nation crossed a terrible threshold this week: 100,000 people have been killed by COVID-19, the plague that has infected more than 1.7 million Americans.

This is not fake news. This is not a hoax. Our nation’s respected public health physicians and scientists have no reason to lie to us about this dangerous and mysterious disease. People are dying. Doctors, nurses, and first responders are risking their own lives to care for them.

Thoughtful people of faith are praying, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray for an end to the pandemic. We pray for a cure or an effective vaccine. As we pray shall we not also take time to grieve? We want to think happy thoughts. We are inclined to turn away in denial. We numb our brains with social media and Netflix. We tell ourselves that those who have died are far away and unknown to us.

Can this be the right response to the tragedy of this historical moment? I wonder if a failure to grieve these losses will exact an emotional toll at some future time. I remember a time in my own life when I experienced the sadness of a great loss. I did not face the situation in an emotionally mature way. I denied my feelings of loss. I did not talk to anyone about them. Instead, I put on a brave demeanor and tried to be strong. It was fully a year later that depression hit me like a sledgehammer! I have learned that this was a delayed grief reaction, the result of a failure to grieve in a healthy way at the time when I most needed to do it.

Grief is a normal and appropriate response to a severe loss. It is not evidence of weak faith or moral defect. Sooner or later every person has to face the reality of death, separation, and loss. No one escapes. The New Testament reminds us that believers sometimes experience grief, but not without a final hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Two other examples come to mind, Job and Jesus. They show us constructive expressions of grief. They did not deny their sadness. They poured out their hearts in lament. In Job, we find a man expressing his grief in anger, doubt, depression, fatigue, and regret. His physical pain has him praying for death. Yet through it all, he retained his faith in God and affirmed his belief in his eventual resurrection (Job 19:25-26).

If Job’s grief was for his personal suffering, our Lord’s lament was for others, for the people of Jerusalem. On at least two occasions he voiced his sorrow over the city’s rejection of God’s kingdom (Luke 13:34-35, 19:41-44). What brought Jesus to tears was the realization that the city’s course was set for destruction. His was vicarious grief expressed for those who would not know what they could have known of God’s freedom and peace. They had refused to “recognize the time of God’s coming” to them in the person of Jesus.

The Lord’s lament for others is a lesson for us. If we find it hard to empathize with the sorrows of others, perhaps we should pause to think more deeply about what they are going through.  We hear of victims of the coronavirus who spend weeks in isolation, and who must die alone, because of the danger of contagion. We hear of families who cannot honor their loved ones with traditional funeral rituals. No gatherings of friends. No compassionate hugs. Their grief is solitary. Can we weep for them? Can we pray for them?

I heard this week of a local family whose husband and father died of the disease. The wife was asymptomatic and under quarantine. At the graveside service for her husband, she and her son had to maintain physical separation. And they were the only ones present for the burial! This story is being repeated daily, thousands of times, all over America. Do we really understand the emotional toll this is taking on our fellow citizens? Do we really think there will be no delayed trauma, possibly expressed in unhealthy ways?

A friend of mine is grieving. She is approaching the anniversary of her husband’s death, a great sorrow. She told me about her way of facing down the emotional triggers that lead to doubt and fear. She does it in the same way she faced her grief as he was dying. She writes, notebooks filled with memories and prayers. She talks, freely and honestly, with trusted confidants. She prays, with the assurance that as she comes near to God, he is coming near to her (James 4:8).

I think that is precisely what we should be doing for our nation. Lamentation is an appropriate way to pray in these circumstances. Our nation is facing unprecedented and universal disruption. Grief is a normal response. Intercession, for our nation’s leaders, for clinicians, for scientists engaged in a search for a cure, and for victims and their loved ones, is always right. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Praise to Jesus is also required, lest we forget that he is “the Living One who was dead and is alive forever and ever” (Revelation 1 :18)! Those who die believing in him are now very much alive (John 11:25). This is the assurance that will carry us through grief.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner 

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