CHURCH IS NOT A BUILDING – CHURCH IS THE PEOPLE OF GOD
WE WILL CONTINUE TO DO CHURCH – WE WILL CONTINUE TO BE CHURCH
PSALM 91 – HOPE, SECURITY AND PRAYER
THE LIFE-CHANGING HOPE OF FATHER GOD IN THE MIDST OF THIS TIME OF CRISIS
Italy, more than any other country in Europe, has been gripped and devastated by the awful Coronavirus Crisis. Yet, in the midst of tragedy have come out stories of hope and triumph – one of which has gone “viral” around the world.
A doctor from Lombardy, the worst affected area of Italy, takes up the story:
“I was an atheist, but now I am returning to God…until two weeks ago me and many of my colleagues were atheists – 100% believed that science excluded God because we are doctors. I used to look at my parents at church and mock them…A 75 year old clergyman arrived here [at the hospital] nine days ago. A poor man. He was struggling to breathe [he was smitten with COVID-19]. But, he always had a Bible in his hand. He reads it to patients who are dying…we began to look at his work. We began to feel that God begins where man ends…we were atheists until yesterday, now pray to God for peace…yesterday that 75 year old priest died…He helped to give us the peace we never expected in 9 days…I will live like this priest…I am happy to have returned to my God”
What did this doctor see in this old priest? He saw a man whose hope and whose security did not rest in medical science, did not rest in whether he got the virus or not, did not rest in being healed from this awful disease. He saw a man whose hope rested in a loving God, a God who gave him peace in the midst of trouble, a God who gave him hope of life eternal which meant it did not matter what happened now. He saw a man who lived out the promises of Psalm 91 – a message from God to us that is sweeping the world-wide church as God’s message of hope and security at this time of fear and despair.
1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.’
3 Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
9 If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
14 ‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honour him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.’
WE WILL BE AFFECTED BY TIMES OF TROUBLE:
Being a Christian does not make us immune from times of trouble – but we have the joy of knowing that we will be “saved” from:
- Those who want to do us harm (v 3)
- Disease (v 3)
Being a Christian does not make us immune from times of trouble – but we have the joy of knowing that we don’t need to fear terrors of night or darkness, attacks during the day, plagues and pestilences (v 5-6). We can have peace and live in peace.
WE HAVE THE HOPE AND CERTAINTY OF BEING SAFE IN GOD WHATEVER THE TROUBLE:
The Psalmist uses words like “shelter” (v 1), “refuge” (v 2), “fortress” (v 2) and “dwelling” (v 9) – God is a PLACE of safety from all these troubles that beset all of us so that no “harm” (v 10) will come to those who “trust” (v 2) in Him.
The Psalmist uses words like “cover you with his feathers” and being safe “under his wings” and promises us that He will “protect” us (v 14) and “deliver” us (v 15) and will be our “salvation” (v 15) – God is the PERSON with whom we are safe from all these troubles that beset all of us so that we can “rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (v 2).
This is why we can have peace and live in peace because we are safe and secure in Him and He will ensure that no harm comes to us – even in this awful time.
DOES ALL THIS MEAN THAT WE CANNOT CATCH CORONAVIRUS AND CANNOT DIE FROM IT?
Of course not! The death of the 75 year old priest in Italy is proof of this. The evidence of Christians around the world catching the Coronavirus is proof of this.
- Suffering illness or trouble is not proof of the punishment of God on someone who is not right with Him. Jesus taught us:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’ (Luke 13: 1-5)
ALL need to get right with God!
- Jesus teaches us that troubles will come upon Christians constantly. Speaking of the end times in Mark 13: 9-13 Jesus states:
‘You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
12 ‘Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Psalm 91 is not promising safety in this world from persecution or even death.
OUR HOPE AND SECURITY COMES FROM ETERNAL PROMISES:
Jesus did not come to bring rest from temporal problems and illnesses. Jesus came to bring us an extravagant hope for tomorrow – a certainty that all those who put their trust in Him, repent and follow Him, receive the forgiveness of sin through His death on the Cross, will have the certainty of eternal life in Paradise.
This is why Paul declares – in the midst of suffering on earth:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands…We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5: 1,8)
SO, LET US APPLY THIS TO PSALM 91:
The Christian has the joy and the privilege of peace of heart, mind and soul – even during this time of unprecedented fear and anxiety; even during this time of plague and pestilence because:
- When we are with (or in) Christ then we are safe and secure –
- Our future – our eternity – is safe in Heaven
- Nothing can happen to us that God does not allow
- These present, temporal, troubles cannot harm our true, eternal, lives
- So, we have peace for now and hope for the future – WHATEVER happens to us here on earth!
AND WHAT SHOULD OUR RESPONSE TO THIS WONDERFUL TRUTH BE?
Well…it must begin with a resounding “thank you” to Father God!
But, should we then sit back and say “we’re OK and we don’t care about you”? Of course not!
- Do all we can to give this Good News of “peace now and hope for the future” to as many as possible
- Pray for God’s mercy on our world right now that this dreadful plague is stopped.
It is for this reason that we are committing this Sunday to be a “Day of Prayer” for the world at this time of Coronavirus Crisis.
And we know that there is Power in Prayer; we know that God hears our prayers. We know that God does miracles when His people pray. We know that incredible things happen when God’s people pray together. So, let’s look at an example of this – to spur us on in prayer – let us look at the Miracle of Dunkirk as described by Canon J John:
“HOW A DAY OF PRAYER SAVED BRITAIN AT DUNKIRK” J JOHN “PREMIER CHRISTIANITY” 21/7/17
Most of us are uneasy about war stories, particularly those that revel in the quantity of death and destruction we unleashed on our enemies. In fact, for the Second World War there are now only three big military events that retain a hold in the public memory. These are Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain and D-Day.
I find it significant that each of these echoes with the great themes of the Bible: Dunkirk is about rescue; the Battle of Britain about deliverance and D-Day about liberation. Dunkirk, however, is a uniquely enthralling story. Who can resist the tale of how, surrounded by overwhelming enemies and faced with imminent annihilation, an entire army escaped to safety by sea? It almost seems like a reworking of the miracle of the biblical Exodus, with the English Channel replacing the Red Sea.
Yet Dunkirk is not simply a gripping story; it is also a thought-provoking one because even today the word ‘miracle’ hangs over it. Nevertheless, even for the most sceptical, the reality of what happened at Dunkirk is intriguing.
On 10th May 1940, Hitler unleashed a military onslaught on France and Belgium. Within days the British Army – outmanoeuvred and unprepared – along with soldiers of other Allied nations, found themselves with their backs to the sea and hemmed in by enemies. The German High Command was able to boast with confidence that its troops were ‘proceeding to annihilate the British Army’. That the total destruction of an entire army was imminent was a view shared by many in the military and political leadership of Britain. Prime Minister Winston Churchill found himself preparing to announce to the public an unprecedented military catastrophe involving the capture or death of a third of a million soldiers.
But it didn’t happen. On 23rd May, King George VI requested that the following Sunday should be observed as a National Day of Prayer. Late on the Saturday evening the military decision was taken to evacuate as many as possible of the Allied forces. On the Sunday, the nation devoted itself to prayer in an unprecedented way. Eyewitnesses and photographs confirm overflowing congregations in places of worship across the land. Long queues formed outside cathedrals. The same day an urgent request went out for boats of all sizes and shapes to cross the English Channel to rescue the besieged army, a call ultimately answered by around 800 vessels.
Yet even before the praying began (in my experience, prayer often works like that) curious events were happening. In a decision that infuriated his generals and still baffles historians, Hitler ordered his army to halt. Had they continued to fight, the destruction of the Allied forces would have been inevitable and the war would have taken a different, darker and more terrible path. Yet for three days the German tanks and soldiers stood idle while the evacuation unfolded.
Not only so, bad weather on the Tuesday grounded the Luftwaffe, allowing Allied soldiers to march unhindered to the beaches. In contrast, on Wednesday the sea was extraordinarily calm, making the perilous evacuation less hazardous. By the time the German Army was finally ordered to renew its attack, over 338,000 troops had been snatched from the beaches, including 140,000 French, Belgian, Dutch and Polish soldiers. Many of them were to return four years later to liberate Europe.
Now you could argue it was all a coincidence, but I think not. It certainly wasn’t considered so at the time. Sunday 9th June was declared a National Day of Thanksgiving and, encouraged by Churchill himself, the phrase ‘the miracle of Dunkirk’ began to circulate.
We live in a world where people are not simply cautious about miracles but they prefer to rule them out entirely. In much of public culture it is an unchangeable and unbreakable rule of life that the miraculous cannot and does not occur. The view is that while we may pray, there is no one on the other end of the line. It’s curious how we have come a full circle: in the past, few dared argue with the religious faith that saw the hand of God everywhere; now few dare argue against the atheistic faith that sees God’s hand nowhere. The events of Dunkirk might make us want to reconsider the elimination of God as an actor from history and politics. On a more practical level, looking at the challenges facing the British nation, the idea of praying to God for deliverance seems to be something well worth encouraging.
Indeed I think Dunkirk stands as an extraordinary encouragement to pray in faith. However great our problems, God is greater than them all. That ‘Dunkirk encouragement’ to pray in times of need applies at every level of life and to every challenge, from what may be a petty domestic crisis to a national disaster. And although our nation may not face imminent military catastrophe on the scale that it did in 1940, you don’t have to look hard to see major and overwhelming problems. Dunkirk may have been a military epic that should be remembered but, far more importantly, it is an encouragement to pray.
CONCLUSION AND CHALLENGE
We live in unprecedented times.
We live in a time of great opportunity – to call on people to turn back to God#
We live in a time when the need to “pray earnestly” is more important than ever.
So, let us pray together – knowing that when God’s church heeds the call to pray then miracles WILL happen!