As I remarked to my wife the other night, I feel in so many ways like I’m literally living in a Left Behind novel right now. While I won’t go so far as to say that we’re actually living in the Tribulation Period (Matthew 24:21), it does very much feel to me as if we’ve entered a brand new era, a turning point if you will, as far as our world’s history is concerned. The pandemic that is the Coronavirus outbreak is something that none of us, certainly none of us who are alive right now, have ever experienced in our lifetimes.
As a Christian counselor, I cannot recount how many conversations I’ve had surrounding the Coronavirus. Indeed, it seems to be all anyone is talking about. Social media and the internet is absolutely ablaze with texts, messages, posts, articles, videos about it. Television and radio stations alike are dominated by constant news, analysis, and expert commentaries surrounding the virus.
Here in Washington State, the normal areas where people would receive needed comfort and support are currently not an option. Coffee shops, restaurants, and bars are as of this moment all closed to public dining. Schools, gyms, recreational facilities, and all social clubs are all shuttered. Even most churches themselves — church services, youth groups, men’s and women’s Bible Studies, prayer groups, many home groups — are all suspended until further notice.
As a whole, people are feeling more isolated than ever before. I can tell you from both professional and personal experience that isolation is one of the most difficult and truly trying experiences life has to offer. There is a reason that it’s used as a punishment in prisons.
Though many pastors are adapting by live streaming sermons or posting them online for their congregants, I feel that Christian counselors have in so many ways been shoved to the forefront, as many in the greater Body of Christ are looking to us not just for support, but more importantly for answers, for comfort, and for hope. As one who is working and ministering on the front lines, I can tell you that is exactly where a lot of people are. Many are feeling isolated, alone, anxious, depressed, scared, and confused.
I personally have spent a lot of time in silence, solitude, prayer, and study, seeking the will of God and what I believe He would have me say. Underneath the normal shallow inquiries such as, “How can we keep ourselves and our families safe?” and “How can we provide for ourselves?” and “How are we going to keep from going crazy?” lie much deeper, probing, and central questions of life that have suddenly become thrust to the surface for many people.
How to Cope Well During Trying Times
Allow me to offer some advice on how to effectively manage during this difficult time as well as a few things that I think are important to reflect on and think about.
What or whom are you fixing your eyes upon?
Christian music singer Zach Williams wrote a powerful song called Fear is a Liar. In the song, Williams says that fear will take your breath, rob you of your rest, and steal your happiness.
Right now, I’d have to say a lot of people are having their happiness, their rest, and their very breath stolen from them by fear of the Coronavirus. How appropriate, especially given that COVID-19 is a severe respiratory infection.
So many people are so very fearful. I think the biggest reason people tend to get so fearful is because of where they have their eyes fixed.
In my practice, one of the biggest questions that I often ask people is, “Whom or what are you fixing your eyes upon? What has the bulk of your attention?”
I often ask how much time they’re spending on social media and the news. Chances are if they’re honest with themselves, they’ll probably realize they’re spending too much time on their cell phones, the internet, etc. That’s all because they’re worried about the state of the world and a great many other things as well.
If you are literally glued to your phone . . . if your life right now is basically all things related to the Coronavirus 24/7 . . . is it any wonder why you’re feeling anxious and afraid? All that chronic worry, anxiety, and fear is going to do over time is lead to overall increased stress and eventual disease in your life.
In his book, Deadly Emotions, Don Colbert, MD clearly demonstrates how sustained stress, anxiety, fear, and repressed emotions have long-term psychological and physiological consequences (such as high blood pressure, chronic lung and heart issues, serious gastric issues, compromised immunity, and so on) if we don’t learn how to effectively deal with them.
Chronic stress, if it goes on long enough, can literally kill you. Stress is a normal part of life, so learning healthy ways to channel and deal with that stress is essential for you. How, though?
The great Reformer Martin Luther once said, “You cannot stop the birds from flying overhead . . . but you can stop them from making a nest in your hair.” Those are sage words for us especially today. You can’t stop the birds (negative worried thoughts) from flying overhead . . . but you can stop them from making a nest in your head (from becoming embedded and all-consuming).
When computers first came out, there was a saying that was popular among programmers — Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO). That’s true of us as well. If you spend the vast majority of our time listening to, reading, and watching things that are chock full of anxiety, negativity, and worry, the more fearful, hopeless, and despairing you will feel.
If I stare at a painting long enough and hard enough, eventually I will find something that I don’t like — something that I think is wrong with it. There’s a very funny thing that happens over time. It’s a lot like a microscope. The more that I stare at that perceived flaw, the bigger it becomes.
If I keep staring at the painting, I’ll begin to see more things that bother me. If that’s all that I’m focused on, pretty soon that’s all that I see. I only see the things that are wrong, and fail to see the things that are right. My question for you would be, “Are you looking at everything that’s wrong in the world and not everything that’s right?”
In John 3:14-15, Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
In this passage Jesus is referring to Numbers 21:4-9 and an incident from the Exodus involving God and the Children of Israel. The Lord had sent poisonous serpents to bite the people as a consequence of their bitter complaining and lack of gratitude. Moses was then told to make a bronze serpent and lift it up on a pole. Anyone who looked at the bronze snake lived. Presumably those who failed to do so, died.
So what is Jesus saying? He’s saying you have a terminal disease that’s called sin. If you want to live, keep your eyes fixed on me. The writer of Hebrews implores us to keep our eyes fixed on Christ (Hebrews 12:2).
Let us not forget that Peter was able to walk on the water when he kept his eyes fixed on Jesus (Matthew 14:28-31). We can do great things and our life is far more stable when we do. So, are you going to keep your eyes fixed on the poison that’s ultimately going to kill you, or the one who can save you?
What are you truly living for?
Trials like the Coronavirus have a nasty habit of dispelling illusions and stripping away the things we tend to delude ourselves and others with. Times of crisis and trial tend to show what’s really most important to us and what we’re actually living for.
In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus says, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, and streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
COVID-19 is most definitely a storm that is battering everyone’s house right now — believer and non-believer alike. The difference between the two houses is what each house is founded upon. What’s yours founded upon? I can almost guarantee you that trials such as this one reveals the answer to that most clearly.
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). What is your treasure? What is it that you value most of all? What is it that you place your trust in? Is it job security? Health and the perfect body? Wealth? Status? Fame? That nice comfy house? That hot car? Your new boat? Friends? Family? Relationships and sex? And the list of things could go on.
If that’s you, let me ask you — Are those the things that you’re truly trusting in? Do you honestly believe those things will truly make you happy? Do you think those things will fulfill you? Do you believe they’ll fill that deep void, that emptiness within you, the one that we all have?
If so, I have news for you. All of those things, as wonderful as they are, can be taken away from you. If the answer to those questions are anything other than Jesus, then might I humbly suggest that you start rebuilding the foundation of your life’s house upon Him and begin earnestly seeking to lay up for yourself heavenly treasure where moth and rust can never destroy (Matthew 6:19-20).
Hebrews 13:14 has become a real life verse for me — “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” It’s a real reminder that for those who believe in Christ, this world is not our home. We are aliens and strangers in this world (John 17:6; 1 Peter 2:11-12), so don’t fall in love with the temporary things of this world and don’t set up permanent camp here (1 John 2:15-16; 2 Corinthians 5:1-4).
Do you honestly trust God, not just believe in Him?
I grew up in church. I spent all of my childhood years sitting in church pews, singing in the choir, going to Sunday School, youth group, church camps, and so on. If you asked me back then if I was a Christian, I would have told you (hesitantly, depending upon who you were and whether or not I was trying to impress you) that I was.
It wasn’t until I was 20 years old when I came to real faith in Jesus that I realized there is a stark difference between belief in Jesus and truly trusting in and following Him — between saying that I believed in Jesus and surrendering my life to Him.
James put it this way:
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good. Even the demons believe that — and shudder.” — James 2:18-19
I meet so many people in life who say they believe in God. Belief is one thing though — faith is another. The real question is actually — do you trust God? How much? One’s ultimate response to COVID-19 or any other trial in life really boils down to trust.
Do you believe in a God who truly loves you and accepts you no matter what? Do you trust what He says about you, how He feels about you, and that He’ll provide for you? Do you believe and trust in a God who’s a good, loving Father, who’s sovereign and in control of everything . . . even when it appears all around is chaos? Do you honestly trust Him with your life?
Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not only of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-31).
If I’m honest, that passage right there used to cause me a lot of anxiety. Be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell? Whoa! What do you mean, “be afraid”? I thought we weren’t supposed to fear. Again and again, Scripture talks about not being afraid.
It took me years to understand what Jesus was actually saying. What He’s saying is that the only One we ought to fear is God Himself.
What does it mean to “fear God”? According to the late Brennan Manning, the biblical meaning of “The Fear of the Lord” is “silent wonder, radical amazement, and affectionate awe.”
If you’ve ever been blown away by a natural wonder like Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon or looked up at the night sky and stood captured by the sheer majesty, power, size, dimension, intricacy, and awesome design of the universe, then you come close to understanding this concept.
A great passage that illustrates this is Isaiah 8:13-14:
“The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” — Isaiah 8:13-14
Simply put, the key to stopping worry and anxiety’s power over you is by learning to fear God far more than anything or anyone else in life. Do you?
Have you accepted the fact that cataclysmic events such as COVID-19 must happen?
Jesus promised that people would experience distress and trouble in this world.
In John 16:33, Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” The word there for “trouble” is the Greek word, thlipsis, which can mean tribulation, distress, affliction, and being pressed together.
That is a very good word which really captures the essence of what’s happening now and has been happening in our world. When He was asked by His disciples what the time of the end would be like, He answered:
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines, and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.” — Luke 21:10-11
The Greek word there for pestilences (loimos) can mean both plagues as well as pests. If you’re aware of what’s currently happening in the world, all of those things are currently happening. Not only is COVID-19 wreaking havoc around the globe, but locust swarms of biblical proportions are devastating crops throughout Africa and are expected to shortly descend upon the Middle East.
Again, I’m not predicting the imminent end of the world here. What I am saying is that Jesus said that pain and suffering is a part of life. Jesus said that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
Plagues, wars, and devastating events have happened throughout time. Countless American lives have been lost due to smallpox outbreaks throughout the course of our country’s history. The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic (which lasted from January 1918 to around December 1920) infected over 500 million people and killed 50 million. What’s happening right now is nothing new.
That said, we need to be paying attention to what’s happening now in our world because Jesus said that events such as these are the beginning of birth pains (Matthew 24:8). That’s an interesting term He uses there — birth pains.
If you’ve ever been around a woman in labor, you’ll know that those contractions come with greater frequency and intensity the closer you get to the time of delivery. In this case, the delivery would be the time of Jesus’s return, and the passage states that we would see an increase in frequency and intensity of those signs noted in places such as Luke 21 and Matthew 24 the closer that day approaches.
Why, though? Why would God allow plagues, wars, earthquakes, famines, tsunamis, economic devastation, and the like to occur? Why would a supposedly loving and merciful God allow such things to happen? Does He get some sort of twisted pleasure out of seeing people suffer and die? Hardly.
Ezekiel 18:32 says, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” He repeats that same sentiment later in Ezekiel 33:11, saying, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”
One passage that I believe is very helpful in giving us insight into why God allows such events to happen is 2 Chronicles 7:13-14:
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague upon my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” — 2 Chronicles 7:13-14
God’s intent, then, is clear — it’s so that people will stop their selfish evil ways and seek Him. People are naturally self-centered and focused on doing things that hurt (and ultimately destroy) themselves and others.
Why go to such drastic lengths, though? It’s because God knows that many people are so very stubborn and set in their ways that oftentimes they will only respond to one thing — pain and suffering.
It’s only when people are in pain that they stop to consider — maybe what I’m doing isn’t really working all that well for me or anyone else. When things are going well, people have no need of God. That’s exactly why Jesus said it was hard for those who are rich to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:23-24). Money and all it can buy is far from the only problem that keeps us from God, though.
We live in an absolutely idolatrous society. There are way more idols today than ever before. People in our society are so distracted. They really and truly are. It is Satan’s greatest tool, in my opinion. Social media, the internet, movies, TV, X-Box — not to mention illicit drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, sports — there are no shortage of distractions out there.
And to put it quite frankly, those things are the true gods of a lot of people. Those are the things that are most important to them and the numbers show it. Christianity in America has been steadily declining for years.
According to Gallup polls, on average only 42% of Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are members of a church. By comparison, 20 years ago 62% of the members of Generation X said they were members of a church. That’s not just here in America, by the way. Just north of the border, a full 89% of Canadians no longer attend church services. The light of the gospel is but a mere flickering candle in Europe today.
Jesus was right when He said, “The love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). He said, “As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:39). If you read Genesis 6, you’ll see a society in Noah’s Day that’s described as being absolutely wicked and idolatrous. God tried to get their attention then, and I’d say He wants to get our attention today.
C.S. Lewis once said that pain was God’s megaphone to a deaf world, and I often add that a lot of people are pretty darned deaf. I believe God is allowing the Coronavirus and all of the fallout from it to occur because He’s once again trying to get our attention. Especially at this time in our history, we need to be living like Jesus’ return is right around the corner, because the fact of the matter is that it very well may be.
Does Death Have a Hold on You?
People’s biggest issue with COVID-19 comes down to the fact that they’re afraid of death. They don’t want to die. I think for me personally, this has been one of the most eye-opening experiences when it comes to the Coronavirus — just how afraid of dying people really are — even among those who claim the name of Christ.
We’re seeing Costco employees who are already standing 8 feet away, backing up an additional 3 feet when they’re asked where the milk is. We’re seeing moms on social media shaming others, accusing them of supposedly not caring about spreading the virus. We’re seeing parents who are home from work screaming at their children to stay far away from good friends who’d stopped by just to say hello and offer assistance.
Let me say at this point that I believe in social distancing when it comes to this virus. Given the nature of this virus, keeping a reasonable distance from others is a very good idea. I practice it myself. I wash my hands and use sanitary hand wipes both on myself and on my office. I wipe down doors and surfaces. I believe in and use good hygiene practices. That’s just using good common sense, and it shows courtesy and care for others.
What’s happening right now goes far beyond using good sense. What we’re seeing is hysteria and panic. I shudder to think about the impact all of this is undoubtedly having on the rates of domestic violence, child abuse, pornography use, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and suicide. People are literally scared to death because they are scared of death.
For those who might be tempted to panic when it comes to this virus, may I remind you that death was already not just a possibility, but a certainty for us all. Whether it be from COVID-19, a car accident, or suddenly dropping dead of a heart attack, the Grim Reaper is someone none of us escape apart from God’s intervention.
All of us — every single human being — was already sentenced to death before the Coronavirus. Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the entire human race has been infected by a plague far scarier and far more impactful than COVID-19 could ever be — sin.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
It is very simple. Apart from Christ, you are lost for all of eternity because of your sin. Jesus Christ came to earth and died on the cross for you, and for anyone who believes and puts their trust in Him.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” — John 3:17-21
If you believe in Him, if you’ve received Him as your Lord and Savior, then you have absolutely nothing to fear. Death no longer has any hold on you because you have eternal life (John 1:12-13; John 11:25-26; Romans 6:5-7; Romans 8:1-2).
Once you do, that can never be taken away from you. God cannot and will not change his mind about you (Numbers 23:19; Romans 11:29). He loves you unconditionally and promises He will never ever leave you nor forsake you (Matthew 28:20; Deuteronomy 31:6; Psalm 23).
On a personal level, I know based upon my own past history that I am at high risk for contracting COVID-19. I came down with croup when I was merely two weeks old and have battled respiratory issues my entire life. I have allergies and received weekly desensitization injections for years growing up. I have exercise-induced asthma and have had bronchitis and pneumonia more times than I can count.
As a Christian counselor, I am a health care worker whom God has placed smack dab on the front lines. I regularly interact with people from all levels of society and all walks of life. As I write this, there is a doctor in his 40’s who worked at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland who’s currently in critical condition. He’s my age. Yet, I say this with total complete confidence that I am not afraid. I am not afraid whatsoever of death. Death has no hold on me.
My wife and I have both discussed this and are in complete agreement about what I’m about to say. We believe that if it’s the Lord’s will for me to contract COVID-19 and die from it, we accept that.
We both accept the consequences of my job because we believe it’s the Lord’s will for me to be serving in this capacity, even at this time because we believe people are in need.
How can we have that level of confidence? Psalm 139:16 says, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” In other words, the Lord knew the number of my days here on earth before I was ever born. I know I’m not going to die before my time — and at the same time, there’s nothing I can do to prolong my days. If it’s my time, it’s my time. He is sovereign and I know that He loves me and has my life in His hands (Matthew 10:28-31).
Again, I’m not acting foolishly. I’m cautious. I’m prudent. I wash my hands. I wipe down surfaces with sanitary wipes. I exercise social distancing. I do all I can do on my part to not contract this virus nor spread it to others. What I am saying is — if I happen to catch it and die from it, then it’s clear that was my time to be called home. God’s will be done, not my own.
Many believers in Christ I know have the exact same kind of reassurance. He wants that for me and He wants that for you, too. That’s something that many lost and hurting people all around us don’t have and desperately need to find as well.
God doesn’t want you to fear death, and He certainly doesn’t want you to fear COVID-19. He destroyed the power of sin and death through Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. If you believe in Him . . . if you’ve put your faith and trust in Him . . . if you love Him with all your heart and live by the truth . . . you have that same power living within you. “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:31-36). That’s the best news of all.
Are you letting your light shine?
Things are darker right now in our world than they have ever been in recent memory. People are stumbling around in the dark, crying out for hope, crying out to be saved. More than ever, people need to see the light and are looking for it.
Jesus said of His followers:
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.” — Matthew 5:14-16
Now is the time for the people of God to be the light of the world . . . to let their light shine. One of the biggest verses God has brought to my remembrance again and again is 2 Timothy 1:7, which says, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self discipline.”
Fear is generated and propagated by the enemy of our souls (the Devil). Jesus said of the Devil, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). Fear is the Devil’s very nature, his weapon, and his greatest tool.
Perfect Love, though, (Jesus) drives out fear (1 John 4:18). If you have Christ’s Spirit living within you, His spirit drives out fear and darkness and replaces it with His light and the fruits of the Spirit that come from it (Galatians 5:22-23). That is what a desperate, lost, and hurting world needs to see.
As human beings, we were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) — made for relationship with God and one another. It’s literally written into our DNA — an integral part of who and what we are.
Perhaps that’s why many of us have become so soul sick — because many of us have forgotten that simple truth. We’ve lost sight of the things that truly matter in life. Maybe, just maybe, part of the reason we’ve been given this trial is that we’ve been given an opportunity to slow down and remember the things that are really important. Time with God. Prayer. Worship. Family. Friends. Shared meals around the table. Reading to our children. Playing catch with our kids. Board and card games. Walks and hikes. Late night conversations with your spouse or a friend.
Let us not respond to the stress of our current world’s crisis by retreating into sinful and empty things that will only destroy us and the ones we love (alcohol, drugs, pornography, hours of mindless self-centered absorption on the internet, and so on), but by bringing those stresses into relationship with God and with others and finding healing, wholeness, and restoration.
And let us not forget the miracle of modern technology. We can still text. We can still email. We can still send letters. We can still call. We can still video chat. Let us love one another and serve one another (John 13:34-35; Matthew 20:20-28). Let us continue to encourage one another, build one another up, and let our light shine for all to see until the day Jesus comes and takes us home.
“Covid-19”, Courtesy of CDC, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Social Distance”, Courtesy of Geralt, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Face Mask”, Courtesy of Coyot, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Warning Sign”, Courtesy of Jordan Hopkins, Unsplash.com, CC0 License