Society’s need may be the church’s opportunity.
When the first death linked to the coronavirus was reported on January 11, 2020, in Wuhan, China, few would have imagined that a localized epidemic would morph into a worldwide catastrophe with disastrous and traumatic consequences. Since then, millions have been infected; hundreds of thousands have died; businesses have closed; countless numbers are unemployed. The world has entered into a “new normal” in which everything has been shaken.
Amid this catastrophic pandemic, one would think that the most urgent need of the world is to find a cure for COVID-19. Yet, if one looks at our world from a distinctly Christian viewpoint, the discovery of a vaccine, as desirable as it is, would only temporarily alleviate human suffering and postpone sin’s inevitable outcome, which is death. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can fully answer the human predicament. The gospel promises life to the fullest now and guarantees eternal life in a world made new. So, the ultimate need of this world is not to find a vaccine to the coronavirus but to find salvation in Christ.
The question is, how will the world hear the good news of salvation and believe in Christ if the church is not fully alive to faithfully share the gospel? The salvation of the world is largely dependent on the revival of the church, because a revived church is God’s most useful agency in bringing the glad tidings of the gospel to this perishing world. Thus, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread and scientists desperately seek for a much-needed cure, God is calling His church to a revival of true godliness that is made manifest through selfless and loving acts of service.
A Revival of True Godliness
“A revival of true godliness among us,” wrote Ellen White, “is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs. To seek this should be our first work.”[i]
Why do we need such a revival? Simply because the Bible declares that in the last days, many will pretend to be Christians by holding an outward form of godliness without having a living connection with God (see 2 Tim. 3:5).
Could the coronavirus be a wake-up call to stir us from our Laodicean lukewarmness (Rev. 3:15) so that we can experience authentic Christianity? Could this crisis be a God-given opportunity for us to develop a new thirst for righteousness that leads us to earnestly seek for God?
In his classic work, Why Revival Tarries, Leonard Ravenhill makes this insightful comment regarding the spiritual condition of the church:
“Poverty-stricken as the church is today in many things, she is most stricken here, in the place of prayer. We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere.”[ii]
A church that has more important things to do than earnestly pray and passionately seek God has missed the mark. When prayer becomes an afterthought to church activities, the need to be resurrected from spiritual death becomes urgent. This is why the current crisis should be seen as a divine opportunity for us to seek for a revival of true godliness; to recalibrate our lives according to the divine standards; to rethink our priorities and realign ourselves with the gospel values of the kingdom.
Such a revival is not human-based, it is God-breathed. Any human-centered revival is bound to fail. Does revival depend on us, on our church programs and activities? Will our church ever experience revival because we talk about it, preach about it, and sing about it? Never!
There is no revival apart from God’s love. There is no revival apart from the cross of Christ. There is no revival apart from the refreshing presence of the Holy Spirit. Only the Spirit of God can revive dried bones (Ezek. 37:1-14). Revival will come when we are broken enough to acknowledge that God is God, and that true revival comes from Him.
We cannot schedule a revival, but we can put ourselves in the most favorable conditions to experience an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Self must be sacrificed on God’s altar. We need to be emptied of self to be filled with the Spirit of God. Our will must be fully surrendered to God’s will. Every cherished idol must be discarded so that only Jesus is exalted. Throughout the whole process, it is important that we keep God at the center. The greatest danger we face as we seek revival is to focus on ourselves rather than on God. There is the danger of us becoming so obsessed with our sinfulness that we forget we have a Savior. It is unsafe to focus on personal holiness at the expense of developing a personal relationship with Christ.
Revival does not originate in church activities but in God’s grace. This is why we need to seek it with humble expectations. Prayer is the only place to start. The world has never seen, and will never see, genuine revival without prayer. Revival cannot be experienced by those who are not interested in it. God does not bring revival to those who do not seek for it. This desire for revival is expressed through persistent prayer.
So, unless we are willing to devote ourselves to seeking God earnestly, we will not experience revival and will not meaningfully impact the world with the gospel as a result. Are we willing to seek God wholeheartedly in a spirit of humility, confession, and repentance so that we can embrace true godliness? God is more than willing to hear, forgive, and heal, if we only turn to Him (see 2 Chron. 7:14).
Selfless and Loving Acts of Service
True godliness is not limited to seeking God. It must also be expressed in seeking the good of others through selfless and loving acts of service.
As the body of Christ, we are invited to love one another, to feed those who are hungry, to clothe those who need clothes, to comfort those who are afflicted, to care for those needy and oppressed, and bring hope to those who are hopeless.
As Christ’s ambassadors, we cannot afford to be primarily interested in looking within the confines of the church, we must also look at what is happening in the world. We should not only be concerned about our own needs but should also be sensitive to the needs of others, especially those who do not know Christ. The church exists for God and the world.
Our mission is to reach out, especially as we understand that the current crisis has made people more aware of their vulnerability and fragility. The myth of humanity’s unconquerable mastery of fate has been shattered. Many now feel their vulnerability and helplessness and are open to the gospel. This is a golden opportunity for evangelism that should not be missed. A revival of true godliness, coupled with a selfless and loving engagement in God’s mission, will have a positive impact. The time to unreservedly consecrate ourselves to God and work for His glory is now!
What kind of church does the world need us to be? A church that genuinely cares! A church that shares the gospel in word and deed. During this time of crisis, we have the occasion as a church to demonstrate what it means to be followers of Christ, not only as we suffer in the world but also as we suffer with the world.
Historian Rodney Stark, in his book The Rise of Christianity, points out that the growth of Christianity in the first two centuries can largely be attributed to how Christians demonstrated acts of compassion and care in the middle of crises. This is evidenced by their reactions during two great plagues that struck the Roman Empire in a.d. 165 and 251. While the sick were being cast out of their homes, and physicians as well as pagan priests were running away from their posts of duty, Christians sacrificially ministered to those who were rejected. Their spirit of service and benevolence during those epidemics compelled people to join Christianity in masses.[iii]
As we live through this COVID-19 pandemic, the church should explore ways of being even more involved in the life of the community. The church doesn’t have to choose between preaching and community involvement; the two must blend. The gospel has to be faithfully announced and embodied. Precious opportunities for engaging in practical expressions of kindness and generosity abound.
Imagine every local church becoming a center of hope where the gospel, food, and clothes are shared regularly? Imagine members involved in serving their neighbors? As the body of Christ, it is our privilege to make the gospel known through proclamation and action.
Redeem the Time
Despite its heavy toll on lives and economy, the current crisis should be seen as an opportunity for renewal and mission. God is calling us to redeem the time and to make use of this crisis to rediscover our God-given identity and mission. As children of God, let’s seek for a revival of true godliness among us. Let’s meaningfully share this world’s only hope—Jesus Christ.
We have no time to lose!
1 Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958), book 1, p. 121.
2 Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries (South Bloomington, Minn.: Bethany House, 2004), p. 25.
3 Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (San Francisco: Harper, 1997), pp. 73-94.