Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 31 – From Pastor Joyce

Tuesday April 28, 2020

In my distress I prayed to the Lord,
    and the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear.
    What can mere people do to me?
Yes, the Lord is for me; he will help me.
    I will look in triumph at those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in people.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.

Psalm 118:5-9 (NLT)

One of the feelings many of us are facing now is distress. We feel distress when we hear the latest figures for new coronavirus cases, the number who have needed to be hospitalized and those who have needed to be put on ventilators, and the huge loss of life. We feel distress when we hear the stories that the front line people, the doctors, nurses, EMTs, police, and the many others who go to work each day wondering how many they will care for who will die and whether they will contract this virus themselves, suffer symptoms, or possibly take the virus home to their families. We feel distress when we hear of the problems that are a part of our food chain distribution. We feel distress when our government officials cannot tell us when things will get back to normal – with children in school, parents back at work, restaurants opening, movies showing again in theaters, and we gathering again in church. There is a lot to feel distressed about. In addition, each of us may be feeling distressed because we cannot know if or when we will contract COVID-19 and if we do, how our bodies will respond. All of these things can fill us with anxiety and distress.

The psalmist felt distress and responded by praying to the Lord. The psalmist then tells us that the Lord answered his prayers and “set me free.” That is a key statement to make. This man was in anguish and his natural response was to turn to God in prayer. I think many of us do the same, especially in times like these. How often we turn to God in prayer when things are bleak, and we see no way out.

But then the psalmist makes an amazing statement – God answered his prayers. He knew that God answered his prayer because he felt set free. Set free from what? Distress? Pain? Fear? Anxiety? And likely undesirable feelings as well? That he was set free is plain – he knows that God is watching over him and, because of that knowledge, he has no fear. He knows that God is with him and will help him through the difficult times. But why is this man so sure that God is available to help him? The answer lies in trusting in God’s promises, relying on the faithfulness and unwavering love God shows to him and to us, and as a result experiencing the comfort and assurance that comes from knowing God in this intimate way.

The psalmist goes on to say that it is better to trust in God than to trust in people. Yet in this current situation, what we hear over and over again are recommendations and opinions of people, experts and those in authority. We also know that people are the ones who are saving lives in hospitals, stocking our shelves in grocery stores, driving our buses, planting our crops, and so many other things that make us feel that we as people can overcome even this pandemic. And that is good.

What we can trust in is that God is here among us, that God will not abandon us. God’s presence can be seen in the godly actions of people around us. God uses us all to show God’s love and care. But, and this is a big but, we as people cannot be relied upon to know all the answers. None of our leaders, political, medical, or social, know when and how this novel coronavirus will be completely overcome. Only God knows.

Only God can direct our people to find the answers that will allow us to go on with “normal” life once again. So, although we don’t know the answers, we can know that God does, and that God hears our prayers and sets us free from distress and sets us free from fear. We can trust that God knows what each day will bring. Day by day, day by day, we will make it through trusting in God. Our desire may be to know the future, but God gives us what we need for a day. Just as God gave the Israelites fleeing from Egypt manna to eat, the amount God gave was only for a day. Each new day brought sufficient food for that day. Each new day for us can bring respite from fear and distress. Day by day, until we finally can say the pandemic is over.

The focus scripture for today begins at verse 5 of Psalm 118. This psalm begins with a verse that is good for us to repeat: Give thanks to the Lord for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Amen and amen.

-Pastor Joyce Donigian


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