In light of everything happening, we wanted to send a message to you all. What does it mean to be like Jesus as the Coronavirus spreads. How do we respond to the fear of getting sick with the COVID-19 virus? This is a great time to be Christ’s ambassador, especially if you’re a pastor or leader.
The most important thing we can do in ministry is to offer empathy to people. Really. Without empathy preaching falls flat and prayers miss the heart. (Taking prudent precautions regarding being safe and sanitary is an expression of empathy.)
The most common mistake we make in our sermons, conversations, and social media posts is to deny fear and other emotions. We do that when we cheerlead people to “have faith,” “be strong,” and “love other people.” If this kind of encouragement is not preceded by and based in empathetic validation of people’s real fears, anxieties, vulnerabilities, and other emotions then it is not loving or wise. It reinforces people to deny their emotions.
Like us, probably your family includes people who are vulnerable to dying from the coronavirus. As Kristi and I shared on our “Soul Talks” podcast, our family and extended family includes people with cystic fibrosis, compromised lung function, pregnancy, and being over 70 years old.
We also have family members who are mentally ill and live with anxiety and fear every day, all the time.
These are real reasons to be afraid of COVID-19 – add in financial losses, important meetings being cancelled, and difficulty accessing food. Just breathing in the air of panic in our culture now is scary!
Something else we shared on this week’s podcast is that Jesus and the Bible are never on the side of denying or negating emotion. If you don’t read carefully you might miss this. “Fear not” (e.g., Matthew 14:27) and “Do not be anxious” (e.g., Philippians 4:6-7) need to be taken in context of their passage and the whole counsel of God’s word.
The point the Lord is making is, “When you feel afraid or anxious, pray honestly about your experience, ask for what you need, love one another with listening and compassion, and take courage from being with Jesus in the spiritual reality of the Kingdom of God.”
Perhaps the most helpful examples of this kind of authentic faith that validates real emotions and puts confidence in the nearness and goodness of God in all things are the Psalms. With a tender heart and insecure feelings the Psalmist pleads to the Lord, “Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge” (Psalm 16:1).
The first thing we need to do for ourselves and the people around us is to ask, “How are you feeling?” We need to listen with curiosity, patience, and compassion. We need to help people put words to their emotions: “I understand that your parent is scared… It sounds like you’re worried about what to do in this situation…”
When we put time, energy, and heart into understanding people and being emotionally present for them it opens a portal to heaven for the unconditional love and empathetic grace of God to flow down to them—and us.
The best sermons and most encouraging messages and most helpful aid to those in crisis all start with empathy.
The coronavirus pandemic is our time to shine with the compassion and wisdom of Christ.
Here are a couple of free resources we want to offer you. Included is an article encouraging you to not let fear take over and two breath prayers to help refocus your mind and heart.
May the love of Christ be poured out upon you!
Bill & Kristi
Listen to today’s SoulTalk: Here is a special message from Bill and Kristi in this season as we are dealing with the Coronavirus.