April 8, 2020
With the number of casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic skyrocketing and its alarming news quickly spreading, life has grown increasingly uncertain and gloomier each day. The whole world is under siege, with fluid timelines unpredictable. The future looks bleak as people are overwhelmed with anxieties. The fear of the unknown is quite palpable. However, instead of being overcome by distress and unrest, as Christians we can prevail over these unnerving emotions and upsetting thoughts with prayer. God has called us unto peace (Col. 3:15) and promised us peace (John 14:27). Knowing that our God keeps His covenant and lovingkindness to the thousandth generation (Deut. 7:9), we are convinced that the faithful God of peace Himself (Rom. 15:33, Phil. 4:9), will Himself fulfill it (1 Thes. 5:24).
As the worldly people falter, through prayers we can continually rest in our God who is our refuge and strength (Psa. 46:1). We know that while God judges the ungodly world, He knows who are His and is able to keep them safe (John 10:27-29), like the way He judged Egypt but protected the Israelites in Goshen. Referring to the episode in Exodus 7:8-14, Brother Witness Lee commented, “In the second group of plagues two matters are very striking. The first is that these plagues did not affect the land of Goshen, because the children of Israel were under the Lord’s redemption. The second is that in these plagues the Egyptian magicians were not able to do anything…. these present-day ‘magicians’…of the world cannot save people from flies, pestilence, or boils…. Only the salvation of God can deliver people from this.” (Life-study of Exodus, Chapter 18)
God’s Promise in the Old Testament
The deadly pestilences recorded in the Bible were all either sent or allowed by God to chastise the people because of their sin (Exo. 9:3-6; Num. 14:11-12, 37; 16:49; 25:9;1 Chron. 21:14). However, it is comforting to know that God’s intention was not to punish the people for them to suffer, but to cause them to repent from their sins and return to Him through prayer.
One clear evidence is Jehovah’s word to King Solomon, “If I send pestilence among My people, and My people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their evil ways; then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer from this place” (2 Chron. 7:13b-15). The same promise was given by Jehovah through the prophet Jeremiah: “Pray to Jehovah for it; for in its peace you will have peace…. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you; And you will seek Me and find Me if you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:7b, 12-13).
God’s Promise in the New Testament
The New Testament has many teachings and encouragement for the believers to pray, especially in difficult, perilous times. In the four Gospels, the Lord charged His disciples to “watch and pray” (Matt. 21:41a) and promised them that “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14) along with “all that you ask in prayer, if you believe, you will receive” (Matt. 21:22). The apostle Peter exhorted the believers to “cast all our anxiety on Him” (1 Pet. 5:7a). The apostle Paul said, “In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). The apostle James said that “the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up….” (Jam. 5:15a). Lastly, the apostle John assured us, “This is the boldness which we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:14-15). Without a doubt, “Since it is God who desires that we pray, He has to answer our prayers (Matt. 7:7).” (W. Lee, New Life Lessons, Vol. 1, Chapter 5)
Prayer, Petition, and Intercession
First Timothy 2:1 and Ephesians 6:18 illustrate the three kinds of prayers necessary in order to “have a proper and overcoming church life” (Eph. 6:18 footnote 2), namely, prayer, petition, and intercession. Prayer is general, having worship and fellowship as its essence; petition is special, being for particular needs (Phil. 4:6 footnote 2). Intercession denotes an approaching of God in a personal and confiding manner, i.e., an intervening, an interfering, before God in others’ affairs for their benefit (1 Tim. 2:1 footnote 2).
We need to realize that prayer is not just for the work, but prayer itself is the work. A prayer ministry is the prerequisite for the administering and shepherding of a local church (1 Tim. 2:1 footnote 1). Our church life must be one that is full of prayers and intercessions in normal times, and more so in times of crises. Our Lord, who is our High Priest, Himself set the tone and example of a faithful and tireless Intercessor (Heb. 7:25-26). Christ as our High Priest undertakes our case by interceding for us. He appears before God on our behalf and prays for us so that we may be saved and brought fully into God’s eternal purpose (Heb. 7:25 footnote 2). He as the risen Lord is interceding in the heavens (Rom. 8:34), and as the indwelling Spirit is interceding for us within us on earth (8:26). Joined to our High Priest, each of us is a priest individually (Isa. 61:6; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 20:6), and together we, as the church, are a kingdom of priests corporately (Exo. 19:6; Rev. 1:6; 5:10). The believers’ intercession is regarded as the “corporate service in coordination” (1 Pet 2:5 footnote 7).
Examples and Scope of Intercession
In the Bible, we see some cases of how intercession averted an impending pestilence heading toward God’s people. When Jehovah sent a plague amongst the Israelites because of the rebellion of Korah and his company, the intercession of Moses “stood between the dead and the living, and the plague stopped” (Num. 16:46-48). Similarly, King Solomon prayed on behalf of the people of Israel, for them to be spared from any pestilence due to their sins (2 Chron. 6:28-30). Daniel also interceded for the people and was regarded by God as “man of preciousness” (Dan. 9:1-23; 10:11-19).
Prayer of intercession is both the right and the responsibility of a believer. Our scope of intercession is not to be limited to our family and kin; we are exhorted to intercede for all the saints (Eph. 6:18; Col. 1:9; 1 Thes. 1:2; 2 Thes. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:3; Rom. 1:9; 8:27), especially for the Lord’s servants (1 Thes. 5:25; Acts 12:5b; Eph. 6:19). We expand the scope of our prayers to also include all men (1 Tim. 2:1) and the government — its different agencies in general and the leaders in particular (Ezra 6:10; 1 Kings 13:6; 2 Kings 20:1-5), so that “we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all godliness and gravity” (1 Tim. 2:2).
The Need to Persevere in Prayer
In his epistle to the Ephesian believers, the apostle Paul not only stressed the need for prayer, petition, and intercession, but also emphasized the importance of persevering in prayer. He said, “By means of all prayer and petition, praying at every time in spirit and watching unto this in all perseverance and petition concerning all the saints” (6:18). “Paul charges us to pray at every time (v. 18) and also to persevere in prayer (Col. 4:2). If we want to enjoy the word and have the Spirit with faith, we must pray by exercising our spirit” (The Secret of Experiencing Christ, Chapter 11). Moreover, we need to be watchful, on the alert, for the maintaining of this prayer life (Eph. 6:18 footnote 4).
In chapter 14 of the book Perfecting Training, Brother Lee explained,
“Watching unto this in all perseverance means not only one kind of perseverance but all kinds of perseverance. You have to persist; you have to insist to the uttermost. This indicates that there may be something holding you down, holding you back, suppressing, oppressing, depressing, and hindering you. So, you have to persevere; you have to be persistent; you have to insist; you would not give up.”
“Colossians, a book on Christ, also has a concluding charge. Colossians 4:2 reads, ‘Persevere in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving.’ For the third time these two words watch and pray are put together in the Bible. They are also mentioned in Mark 13:33 and Luke 21:36 by the Lord. Paul repeated it… means…you have to persevere in prayer. Do not let yourself be subdued by anything. Do not be oppressed, suppressed, or depressed by anything. Do not be distracted or held back or hindered by anything. You have to be persevering. So, Paul says to persevere in prayer.”(W. Lee, Perfecting Training, Chapter 14)
“in order to fight on God’s side against Satan, we need to persevere in prayer (Dan. 6:10). We need to persevere in prayer because prayer involves a battle, a fight. We need to remain in an atmosphere of prayer by continually exercising our spirit (1 Tim. 4:7). We need to pray without ceasing, to persevere in prayer, keeping ourselves intimately connected to the Lord…. To pray is to go against the current, the trend, in the fallen universe. Persevering in prayer is like rowing a boat upstream. If you do not persevere, you will be carried downstream by the current.”(W. Lee, Life-study of Colossians, message 65, and outline of Crystallization-study of Colossians)
“Apart from the virtues we need toward others, Romans 12 also speaks of the virtues we need toward ourselves. Verse 12 says, ‘Rejoice in hope; endure in tribulation; persevere in prayer…. In times of trouble we should and can rejoice in hope. By rejoicing in hope, we can endure any kind of tribulation. However, in order to endure tribulation, we also need to be persevering in prayer. Perseverance in prayer enables us not only to endure tribulation but to remain in the enjoyment of the Lord, in His presence, and in His will.”(W. Lee, Truth Lessons, Level 3, Vol. 4, Chapter 10)
Examples of Persevering Prayer
The word persevere means to continue persistently, steadfastly, and earnestly (Col. 4:2 footnote 1). In Genesis 18:23-33 we see Abraham’s persistency in his glorious intercession for his defeated nephew Lot, which touched the heart of Jehovah in expressing His desire and carrying out His will. Brother Lee expounded,
“The first clear mention of intercession in the Bible is in Genesis 18, where we see that Abraham was the first intercessor…. Intercession is a great thing in the Bible. Without it, God’s economy cannot be accomplished. The excellent ministry of Christ today as our kingly and divine High Priest is a ministry of intercession. Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25 both tell us that Christ is interceding for us.”(W. Lee, Life-study of Genesis, Message 51)
Along the same line, Luke 18 presents to us a classic parable of the Lord’s teaching concerning persistent prayer (vv. 1-8), where the widow (who typified the believers in the present age) persistently pleaded to the unrighteous judge (who represents the Lord) to avenge her of her opponent (which refers to Satan). The widow’s prayer was answered due to her persistent prayer of faith (v. 8).
In chapter one of the book New Believer’s Series (11) concerning Prayer, Brother Watchman Nee taught,
“Another point about prayer which requires attention is that we must persevere in prayer and never stop praying. Luke 18:1 says, ‘They ought always to pray and not lose heart.’ Some prayers require perseverance. One has to pray to such an extent that the prayer seems to wear out the Lord and force Him to answer. This is another kind of faith…. Luke 18 says that we must ask again and again. We must have the faith to pray to the Lord persistently until one day He is compelled to answer our prayer. We should not care whether or not there is a promise. We should just pray until God is compelled to answer.”
Our Church Life of Persevering in Prayer
As the current COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the lives and living of people around the world, the godless people cower in doubts and fear. There is no surety as to when this pandemic will end. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, there are drastic changes in lifestyle and environment that mankind needs to adjust to now. But thank the Lord, we have an open line with unlimited access to our God through prayer to positively cope with these changes. “We need to pray to shake the environment…. We should not believe in the environment. Instead, we have to believe in our prayer to change the environment.” (W. Lee, The Practical and Organic Building Up of the Church, chapter 9).
In implementing the President’s directive on enhanced community quarantine, the country’s military were called to serve for this purpose in the front line. In like manner, as the fighting priests in God’s economy, we must all rise to the occasion this time to exercise our duty and function in burning incense, which signifies our prayer for the fulfillment of God’s purpose. Our prayer can carry out His will and governmental administration as in heaven, so also on earth (Matt. 6:10). God is just waiting for our prayers (Ezek. 36:37; Isa. 45:11) for Him to execute what He wants to do on earth (Matt. 18:18-20) in His time according to His way.
Even as the world around us is locked down, our church life is not locked down, and our prayer life is not halted or slowed down. Let us shake off every form of passivity to be strong and take action, and be strengthened in our prayer life. If there is one thing we need to learn at all from this COVID-19 crisis, it is for us to learn that we have no control, but that the Lord is the One on the throne, and we can always and continually come to Him to pray, petition and intercede, with thanksgiving (Phil. 4:6).
Let us practice prayer individually and corporately with the saints online, by sanctifying at least 15 minutes for individual daily prayer, and another cumulative 30 minutes for weekly corporate prayers with the saints. Amidst the terror brought about by the pandemic, Jehovah our God is watching and waiting for our persevering prayers to be like that of Moses (Psa. 106:23), to “stand in the breach before Me for the sake of the land so that I would not destroy it.” In Ezekiel we see devastation because Jehovah found no one (Ezek. 22:30). In our age and times may He find us as men after His heart, as those who would persevere in prayer to speak out what is in His heart for the carrying out of His perfect will.
Not even social-distancing and lockdowns could stop our prayer groups and church life. The home quarantine that we are experiencing now is not new at all. In the Old Testament, Jehovah told His people, “Come, my people, enter your rooms, and shut your doors behind you; hide for a short moment until the indignation has passed; for Jehovah is now coming forth from His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity” (Isa. 26:20-21a). We may be confined to our homes and restricted from physically meeting with the saints, yet, like the believers of the early church life, we can still continue steadfastly in prayer in one accord (Acts 1:14). By utilizing our mobile phones and online meeting platforms, never has perseverance in prayer been more attainable and practicable. May we all be vigilant in the spirit like a watchman (Isa. 62:6-7) and persevere in our prayers during these trying times, knowing that the God of peace will crush Satan under our feet shortly (Rom. 16:20). Let us always rejoice, unceasingly pray, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thes. 5:16-18).
The co-workers in the Philippines