Southeastern Perspectives: Dr. Chuck Lawless
Dr. Chuck Lawless | January 11, 2021
I suspect the direction of this brief article might surprise you. The topic is prayer in a season of crisis, particularly in these most unusual days of COVID-19. Clearly, we have been in crisis mode for several months now, and prayer is not optional.
In just a few days last spring, churches around the world had to make quick decisions as borders closed, countries locked down, people sheltered in place and congregations stopped gathering. Almost within hours, we had to move online all our worship services, small groups and outreach efforts. Never had we faced anything like this crisis—and we needed God’s wisdom. To our knees we went.
Now months later, we are just as much in need of God’s direction. How do we turn congregations outward when all our efforts are focused internally on the processes of regathering? What additional steps must we take to protect congregations as we sing and worship together again? How do we best re-open preschool, children’s and student ministries? If giving has decreased during this crisis, how do we determine what costs to cut? The questions abound, and prayer must precede our seeking answers.
At the same time, though, I am not convinced that the phrase “prayer in a season of crisis” captures the best way to think about this topic. In fact, I fear many churches have unintentionally taught, “When a crisis is upon us, we then start really praying.” This approach to prayer perhaps wrongly assumes we are ready to pray when crisis hits and seldom leads to transformation in our prayer lives. Rather than this approach, I contend that prayer in crisis should be our natural response simply because ongoing prayer already marked our spiritual DNA before the crisis. To state it another way, a season of crisis may not be the best time to learn to pray.
Consider Jesus’ prayer life. He prayed as he began his ministry (Luke 3:21-22). He intentionally set aside time to be with the Father (Mark 1:35, Luke 5:15-16). He took three of his disciples to the mountain to pray, and it was in a time of prayer that he was transfigured before them (Luke 9:28-29). When his followers reported on a victorious ministry tour, he rejoiced in prayer (Luke 10:21). Jesus simply prioritized his conversations with the Father.
We should not be surprised then that prayer was his recourse in the dual crises of the Garden of Gethsemane and death on a cross (Luke 22:39-46, 23:32-34, 44-46). Nor should it surprise us he prayed for Simon Peter even as he warned the fisherman of a crisis of testing the disciples were about to face (Luke 22:31-32). Jesus lived in prayer and died with prayer on his lips, regardless of what he faced. The early church then followed the pattern of their Lord, as the book of Acts shows (e.g., Acts 2:42, 4:23-31).
So, am I suggesting we should not increase or re-focus our praying during crisis? Not at all. Indeed, the desperation of our praying is likely directly proportional to the depth of the crisis. What I am suggesting is that unless prayer is already in our DNA, any praying that begins in the crisis is not likely to last once the crisis is past. Emergency praying is seldom driven by a deep desire simply to be with the Father.
That is one reason Dr. Akin challenged Southeastern Seminary a few years ago to be not only a Great Commission institution, but also a praying institution. We who seek to reach our neighbors and the nations must confess both our love for God and our dependence on him through our praying. We want our graduates to be the best equipped servants they can be, but we want them leading from their knees. In this most unusual fall semester of 2020, we are thus prioritizing prayer in chapel, praying for the nations in classes, interceding for each other as faculty and challenging our students—both in-person and online—to join us in this task. Around the world are Southeastern students and graduates praying during an ongoing global pandemic.
How, then, do we pray in a crisis? Seek God not because of crisis, but because of love. Prioritize your time with him. Express to him your fears, concerns and worries. Praise him for his steadfast faithfulness and his sovereign control. Thank him for meeting your daily needs. Confess your sin to him. Ask him continually to teach you to pray.
The stresses of a crisis will lose their force when we turn to God, and in this case, the power of a pandemic will prove itself no match for the power of prayer.
Dr. Chuck Lawless serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions, Dean of Doctoral Studies, Vice President for Spiritual Formation and Ministry Centers at Southeastern.
If you have prayer concerns you want to share with the Southeastern family, complete the prayer request form at sebts.edu/prayer. We would be honored to pray for you.
This article originally appeared in the fall issue of Southeastern Magazine. To read more stories like this, visit sebts.edu/magazine.