We are now just over two weeks into our national “go home and stay home” order, precipitated by the global Covid-19 pandemic. People are finding new structures and rhythms for their “stay at home” lives, the shock of the cascading changes is wearing off, and the realization that this is not just a pause, but a full-blown reshaping of society, is sinking in.
I come from a theological position that believes that God is in control, yet not just in a general but disengaged way, rather in a very active way, shaping, maturing and positioning His Church for His glory, regardless if we are going through times of prosperity or calamity. While we must weep with those who weep and keep engaged with the very real suffering that is all around us, this lens means that even in this current crisis, we look to see where and how God is actively moving. What is He redeeming, what is He birthing? I find that looking for the work of the Spirit doesn’t just encourage me, but it inspires and directs my intercession, as I seek to “bless what God is doing”. I’m sure you too, find that your heart encouraged and your spirit activated in intercession, when you observe the hand of God at work.
Over the last 12 years I’ve had the honour of leading a large, national, interdenominational house of prayer (on Zoom), and at the same time, chairing Ears to Hear (the Canadian Network of Prayer Ministries). These two ministries have provided two unique windows into the Canadian Church. One window is a view into trends in the Church, and the other sees where the emphasis in intercession has been over the last number of years.
So here are a few things, right in the midst of the Covid calamity, that I’d like to share with you. Places where I can see the Spirit moving, reshaping the Church in extraordinary ways in this hour. Of course it’s bigger than what can be shared in a simple blog post, but I’ll try to hit some of the macro changes. And what I’m observing now is where I’m leaning in in intercession, as I believe that these trends could very well be laying the ground work for unprecedented renewal of the Church and revival in our generation.
A Shift Away from Consumer-Christianity
To the grief of many pastors, over the last years, the trend has been towards “consumer Christianity”, where Christians have developed the habit of picking and choosing what they like from an assortment of churches and ministries. It comes from having being discipled by our culture where anything we want has been available to purchase or experience with a click of a mouse. But the downside spiritually, is that we reject what makes us feel uncomfortable, what challenges our flesh, what calls us to commitment or service. We have become like children allowed to pick whatever we want from the buffet, so we’ve heaped up our plates with desserts and left the rest. It’s a trend that is absolutely toxic to discipleship, it refuses accountability and treats the Church like a form of entertainment that we engage with as long as it pleases us (but not a minute longer).
Covid has changed this. Churches are now unable to deliver that commitment-free, carefully designed Sunday experience for the whole family that has come to be expected, even demanded. In a time of high need and stark isolation, churches been reduced to running services online, and suddenly the pursuit of spiritual entertainment and excitement is irrelevant in the face of our immediate need for connection and care. Yet the kind of connection and care we crave right now only comes by being known, engaged, and committed to a church family, not by being a consumer. The Lord is giving us an incredible opportunity to break out of the toxic pattern of consumer-Christianity and shift back into healthy church structures which enable us to grow as disciples. Praise the Lord!
A Restoration of Sabbath and Spiritual Disciplines
A second aspect of this reshaping is the restoration of the sabbath rest that we haven’t had time for, or given ourselves permission for. The driven-ness of our society which values success and productivity above all, has seeped into the Church and many of us have unwittingly adopted a similar lifestyle pace with less than two or three hours of downtime a week. When we do have free time, we quickly fill it out of a fear of boredom or the stigma of being “unbusy”. Our kids keep similarly full schedules as we anxiously push to ensure their academic and athletic success, assuming this will lead to career success later on in life. But this pace has not allowed for the biblical rhythm of sabbath or the vital practice of spiritual disciplines (such as reading, meditating, and the studying of scripture, waiting on God, prayer, intercession and unhurried communion with Him). Our lack shows, we are spiritually anemic and easily overwhelmed.
The Covid crisis has abruptly interrupted this unrelenting busyness. If we are not a healthcare worker or in a similar frontline industry (which most of us aren’t), we’ve been sent home. While some are able to work from home it’s shorter hours without the commute, others have been laid off, still others have been quarantined because of possible exposure. Many of us, (likely most of us) are being forced to rest.
Sabbath is not just an old religious idea from the Victorian era, it’s a powerful statement of dependence on Jesus. Taking a day off doesn’t mean that you don’t have work to do, it means that you trust Jesus to enable you to do it in a shorter amount of time. It’s willingly handicapping our productivity to make more time for Him, and trusting Him to make up the difference. But without sabbath, our lives become increasingly unhealthy and self-reliant. The Lord is giving us a reset in our lifestyle pace as well as an opportunity to explore and establish spiritual disciplines that we’ve avoided in the past. If we lay hold of this moment, we can grow in relationship with God in ways we’ve never believed possible. Going forward, this development of the inner life in God, cultivated by spiritual disciplines and strengthened by sabbath rhythms will have profound effects on the maturity, holiness and resilience of the Church. Praise the Lord!
A Deliverance from our Hyper-Independence
A third aspect of reshaping, is a jarring deliverance from our radical, (even hyper) independence and a lifestyle marked by our worship of personal freedom. In its place the Lord is calling us back into biblical community oriented around home, family and neighbourhoods, but not isolated communities, with raised drawbridges disconnected from the rest of the Body of Christ. No, rather, interconnected, linked across regions and nations. So it’s both the restoration of parish-type Christianity, but with the addition of the new virtual connections that are powerfully linking us and uniting us globally.
This process of reshaping will take a while to adjust to and will be both refreshing and wrenching. Suddenly families with children are in lockdown together which, even though this can be very difficult, also creates a genuine opportunity for connecting in deeper ways simply because of time and proximity. Everyone is homeschooling so parents are hands-on and engaged with their kids in all their areas of strengths and weakness. Secular ideologies that have been quietly eroding the Christian worldview that parents have sought to instill in their children no longer have a platform of influence during this moment of reset. Pray for families that we emerge from this lockdown season closer than ever, rather than hanging on until we can escape from each other!
In our desire to protect our society from Covid, seniors have being highlighted as the most vulnerable demographic and suddenly they are not just being seen, but very intentionally being cared for. The Church has long sought to create a place of honour for our “fathers and mothers”, but the prevailing “your value is in your beauty or your productivity” ethos of our society has splashed into the Church, often leaving our seniors marginalized. But now God has used this pandemic to restore seniors to a place of being cherished and honoured, enabling the Church to carry on upholding this value as Covid fades. Like the restoration of sabbath, honouring fathers and mothers provides a huge well of blessing that God wants to uncap. This new focus creates an opportunity for them to be authentically knit into our communities.
We can also see the effect of spending all our time at home by the shift in how we think about our neighbours and neighbourhoods. We’re starting to think about the command to love our neighbours as actually having an immediate application of loving and caring for the people that live beside us or near us. There is a new sense of neighbourhood cohesion and responsibility. This is impacting non-Christians as well, as many are now watching out for those that have needs to lend a hand. But for believers, it has an additional spiritual dynamic and this awareness of neighbourhoods is activating prayer and ministry, if you like, we are being called into a very real pastoring our neighbourhoods.
The reshaping of our focus around families, extended families and neighbourhoods creates massive opportunities for the Church. It’s a moment to guide our people into intergenerational, authentic, Christian community, marked by the presence of God, where people are known, welcomed, and loved. In this age of radical independence— vibrant, missional, communities centred on Jesus become an extraordinary apologetic for the gospel, just as they were in the book of Acts.
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Act 2:46,47
Communities, as we see in this Acts passage, also provide the most effective way to care for a harvest. We are all longing for harvest, but the Father doesn’t want any to be lost once they have received Christ, so our independence really needs to be reshaped into community. Over the last 2-3 years there has been a glorious national crescendo of intercession for harvest, for souls— could it be that God is ready to answer this cry in a massive way?! If there is a great ingathering in coming days, these communities will be the very best way for us to lead new converts into becoming mature disciples. Praise the Lord!
The Gift of Humility
In addition to the intercession for souls, over the last year (in particular) there has been a very strong intercessory focus on humility. I have been in hundreds of prayer meetings where humility has been a partial or central focus. God has heard our prayer! Covid is being used to humble the world. Remember, He gives grace to the humble, so consider the wonderful way He is redeeming this crisis! With this unprecedented humbling, He’s setting us up to receive extraordinary grace! The wealth and strength we have taken for granted and leaned on— is tottering, shown to be no match for a teeny virus. We are being delivered from the intensity of narcissism, as vanity and image—obsessing over how we look—seem, in this new reality, shallow and foolish. Our heroes are now masked and gowned in sterile protective covering, they’re the frontline medical workers, not perfectly photoshopped Hollywood celebrities in up-to-the-minute fashion. The great celebrities of sports and entertainment have lost their platforms. Humility and transparency is becoming the new normal. Praise the Lord!
An Awakening of Prayer
Perhaps the most important change is that the Church is rising in prayer. Within the last week there have been four different days of prayer called by various groups, nationally, regionally and internationally, but not only are days being set aside for prayer, churches, stripped of many programs, are turning to prayer and instead, gathering online, establishing a new culture of intercession and dependence on God. Individuals are also praying with new consistency and earnestness. Regardless of our experience in prayer, the Church is being tutored by the Spirit in this hour and given grace to grow. We are face to face with our need to pray and the grace of God is here to powerfully enable us.
Because of the overwhelming changes and the humbling that this crisis has brought, it is no longer odd or awkward to ask someone if you could pray for them, so Christians everywhere are stepping into this opportunity. Even in the public square that was so hostile and offended by prayer a month ago, prayer is being welcomed and respected. Look around, see the prayer awakening that has begun like a mighty groundswell! Praise the Lord!
If we put all these pieces (and others we didn’t mention) that are emerging in this hour together, we see the building blocks of a glorious renewal of biblical Christianity with the potential for a massive revival. New levels of commitment and discipleship, a restoration of spiritual disciplines, holiness and a lifestyle marked by dependence and trust in God, the reorientation towards Christ-centred community— all these pieces infused with deep humility and much prayer. Wow! Let’s not just pray for Covid to end and for the mitigation of the suffering, but let us in this hour also loudly bless what God is doing as He reshapes his beloved Church for her finest hour.
by Sara Maynard