Recently, the Anglican Bishop, the Rt Revd Rennis Ponniah, gave a sermon to the Singapore church as the country faced the COVID-19 virus crisis. I thought his main points applied equally well to the Malaysian church as our country faced a challenging political crisis.
First, he said, followers of Christ must rest in the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign over history.
Why do the nations conspire[a]
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.”
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
(Psalm 2:1–4 NIV)
The rise of the COVID-19 virus, the fall of the Pakatan Harapan government — well it may have taken some of us by surprise but it has not taken God by surprise. For His reasons He has allowed both. So, while followers of Jesus should be concerned, we shouldn’t be shaken. Indeed, this could be an opportunity to demonstrate our faith in the living God. We should live our lives so that people will ask: “How can you be so calm at a time like this?”
Next, he said, followers of Jesus should pray. It is a mystery of course, but God asks His people to pray and prayer opens the door for divine action.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1–8 NIV)
I suspect many of us in Malaysia began to slacken in our prayers for the nation after the change of government in the last general election. And now many of us are panicking or have given up hope that there can be permanent change in Malaysia. Jesus’s prescription is clear. We must continue to pray. Indeed, prayer is the acknowledgement that history will be changed primarily by divine action and not by human activity. In the face of the COVID-19 crisis and the political turmoil in Malaysia, are we praying? And are we praying in confidence that our God is a God who hears and answers prayers?
Thirdly, Bishop Rennis said that God’s people must act. Interestingly, he puts this down as the third thing we need to do, not the first. We must act but we act as people confident in the sovereignty of God and praying for the intervention of God.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20:21–22 NIV)
God’s people are sent into the world as ambassadors of their Lord, to witness to Him through word and deed. Evangelism should always be done with humility. This is especially true in a time of crisis. It is also true, however, that in times of crisis, people are made aware that human cleverness cannot solve the deepest problems of humankind. That we need God. Even as we look for sensitive ways to share the gospel, we continue to act in ways that reveal the heart of the God of the gospel. A few evenings ago, we were part of a group that gave out surgical face masks to some of the homeless in Singapore. I think of a few dear friends who are MPs in Malaysia, struggling to speak and act in integrity after the collapse of the PH government. I think of friends on both sides of the causeway living out their faith and shining for Christ as they seek to follow Christ in the areas God has put them.
While there are major concerns facing believers on both sides of the Causeway, Bishop Rennis reminds us of our duties as followers of Christ in times like these. We rest in the sovereignty of God, we pray for God to act, and we show our love for God and neighbour in concrete ways.