Covid-19 classes with a British missionary in China
James O Fraser with Kachin believers(Photo: OMF)
God is often belatedly glorified. We see this explicitly in John 11 when Jesus deliberately waits two full days before going to Lazarus, who was seriously ill and then died. As we all know, Lazarus was later raised from the dead to the glory of God.
And similarly, God is being glorified now. Although we are stuck at home, we can no longer meet with others in the church and our daily routines have changed fundamentally. Jesus is still on his throne and works together for our good (Romans 8:28).
Phil Moore, a teacher and evangelist at Everyday Church in London, calls this type of spiritual time we are in the Corona Virus experiment. Moore refers to the missionary of the early 20th century, James O Fraser, who was the first to bring the gospel to the pagan Chinese of Lisuland. The Lisu are a huge, previously unreached ethnic group that is originally several hundred miles west of Wuhan. Although they are now common across China, Myanmar, Thailand and beyond.
Last year I had the great privilege of traveling to Northern Myanmar and Thailand to meet these mostly Christian people. Her love for Christ and his gospel was inspiring. And her zeal for the mission would have made James O Fraser cry with joy, especially considering the many difficulties he endured.
For example, Fraser was often physically prevented from visiting the villages where he had brought the gospel because of the often bad weather. During these times, however, the missionary decided to seriously commit to prayer. As Eileen Crossman writes in her biography of Fraser, Mountain Rain:
If I think like men, I should worry about my Lisu converts – fear that they will fall back into demon worship. But God allows me to put all my worry on him. I'm not scared, I'm not nervous. If I had held my care to myself instead of throwing it at Him, I should never have held on to work that long – maybe I would never have started it. But if it was started in Him, it must continue in Him.
What a great encouragement for us Christians, especially in these difficult days of social isolation. But when our schedules are emptied, there is a lot to do, mostly on our knees. To stand up for our world in relation to Christ's intentions. Throwing all of our fears on him because we know that he cares about us (1 Pet. 5: 7; Phil. 4: 6-7). What a wonderful privilege and promise!
This is particularly challenging for those of us who are pastors of the flock of Christ. Our priorities were suddenly revealed. And we no longer have the excuse that we are "too busy" for our lack of prayer as if it were ever and acceptable. Phil Moore puts his finger on the central issue when he writes:
As a Christian leader, I feel a little stressed at the moment that I cannot meet personally with the people I am leading for the next Sundays. I am busy maintaining many of them via email and social media, and I am busy preparing online services so that I can serve them well over the next few Sundays. But I am challenged to do much more to serve them than to put my pastoral overemployment online. God not only encourages me to broadcast my personal meetings for one season in Skype and Zoom conference calls. He is currently inviting Christian leaders across the western world to rethink their entire ministry and trust that their inability to gather people for a certain time is an opportunity for them to approach God in the name of people gather.
Charles Spurgeon preached: "Prayer is the lean nerve that moves the muscle of omnipotence." So, by God's grace, let's use the next few weeks as an opportunity to experiment together and find out how much this is true. Let us not drive away these precious days of pastoral isolation. Let us use it so that in the coming days we can look back on the lessons of the great corona virus experiment of the Western Church in prayer.
Amen! May the Lord Almighty God pour out His grace on us at this time, so that we can commit ourselves again to pray before him. That this will not only be a time of personal renewal and growth, but that the true, invisible work of prayer in God's perfect timing will bring forth true and lasting spiritual fruits.
Mark Powell is an associate pastor at Cornerstone Presbyterian Community Church in Strathfield, Australia.