A major crisis pushes us to re-evaluate the way we see and do things in the fields of health, finance, and social interaction. But how does this crisis affect our religious practices—especially the most common of these, prayer?

Check out all our COVID-19 coverage. We update constantly.

The war against the novel coronavirus is a war waged not only objectively, within the external reality, but also subjectively, within the reality of thoughts. In the context of a crisis, it is essential that the inner resources be balanced to better manage the internal conflict caused by our fears, scenarios and interpretations. What is, or could be, the role of prayer among the typical reactions of man in times of crisis?

Crisis as a test

It is often said that extreme situations reveal our true nature. And, indeed, when you go to the store and see someone taking all the flour off the shelf and another one taking all the yeast, it is difficult to interpret this in any way other than that selfishness has taken control. It is difficult, if not impossible, to hide our dominant traits in times of crisis. But these dominant traits are not always negative.

We have notable examples on the positive side, even in the context of the escalation of this pandemic. From those who donate to people in quarantine or to the various institutions and initiatives involved in the fight against the pandemic, to the neighbour buying groceries for the lady next door, the demonstrations of altruism are most likely nuances of an older dominant trait that emerge in a new context.

It is difficult to explain the presence of these positive dominant traits other than by their constant nurturing in times of “peace”, which then continue in times of crisis, and which give rise to small and large heroes. One of the most effective ways to nurture one’s positive traits is to understand, control and channel one’s emotions through self-analysis, through dialogue with trusted people, and in the case of the religious man, with God.

The idea of revealing our tendencies and inclinations through a deliberate test of crisis is only partially accurate because it does not fully show who we are, for the simple reason that at the time of the test we are able to stop, think about how we would like to react, and choose to not react as we naturally want to.

Crisis as an opportunity

For some, a major crisis is a time for self-analysis of what they could be. Faced with the tests that life and circumstances give us, stopping can mean the chance to forge another path, asking ourselves essential questions about purpose and direction at the micro level (What should I do? Where should I go?), or at the macro level (Which way are things flowing?).

For someone who knows how prayer works, who they pray to and how to do it, but does not feel that he wants to pray, a crisis can be a chance to reset, restart, and try again. A turnaround in world history can make personal history flow differently.

For someone who knows how prayer works, who they pray to and how to do it, but does not feel that he wants to pray, a crisis can be a chance to reset, restart, and try again. A turnaround in world history can make personal history flow differently.

This could mean that, in the test, we should not write anything we have learned that comes naturally to us, but, contrary to the natural course, we should write exactly what we do not know but would like to know. Such an opportunity becomes the chance to plot our lives on new coordinates. Ben Carson—famous neurosurgeon, former candidate for the US presidency and currently part of the American administrative apparatus—describes in one of his books one such crucial moment in his adolescence in which he managed to make the transition from a quick-tempered and selfish temperament to a rational and sensitive one.

Crisis as an impetus

For those who have not been accustomed to dialogue with God for some time, an ordinary crisis can be the impetus for a relaunch of the exercise of prayer. But not always. A quick walk through the wards of a hospital suggests that suffering has the potential to harden souls at least as much as it has the ability to predispose them to prayer. Frustration, anger and swearing or curses (at the staff, the system, even at God) in some cases seem to emerge more easily than other impulses of spiritual origin.

But what about prayer in times of major crisis? In general, in such situations we seek to encourage ourselves and believe that determination will help us get over the crisis. At the same time, we aim to be strong, which is normal. But the fact that a big crisis is in itself an atypical conjuncture, with dimensions difficult to quantify and with unpredictable implications, means that, sooner or later, the limits of human possibilities to solve the crisis will be reached. What can one do then, when there is nothing left to do, when all options, ideas and inner resources have been exhausted?

We know that helplessness can lead to frustration and anger, obstructing any vertical initiative. But it can also be an opportunity to press one last button, not because that’s what we planned to do (“Let’s save the best for last”) but because at some point the unwanted action becomes the last chance, and thus necessary. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” God answered, in conversation about helplessness, to the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9).

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” God answered, in conversation about helplessness, to the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9).

When it’s hard for us

Sometimes it is difficult for us to knock on the door of an office, even though we know that there is someone there who can help us. What could be holding us back is the reluctance to depend on someone else to solve our problems. However, God does not seek to make us indebted. If what He has done for us is done out of love, it means that He will not request to be paid back for the good he has done (see Matthew 5:45). He even takes honour in the new partnership and the resumption of dialogue, when man finally decides to turn to God in the crisis he is going through. “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry,” we read in Psalm 34:15.

Maybe it’s hard for us to reach out only when we’re in distress. The resumption of the dialogue of prayer can thus be discouraged by the guilt felt after the lack of sustained contact with God in pre-crisis times. But the logic of reciprocity (“I haven’t prayed when things were good, how can I do it now?”) is refuted by the position our dialogue partner assumes.

When war veteran K. T. Robbins resumed the dialogue, after 75 years, with the one he loved, he gave us one of the most poignant examples in favour of restoring the connection despite the silence or inconsistencies of the past. God’s attitude of openness and desire for dialogue is a constant that humans can count on (Isaiah 65:24).

Reassessing the idea of caution

In times of crisis, after absorbing the initial shock, and after a quick or elaborate assessment of the situation, caution can take various forms. It can be expressed like this in the classic example: during an evening drive we notice in the distance something on the road. Our caution will usher us to stop to possibly save a life. But in crisis situations, caution can be expressed, paradoxically, not by stopping, but by acting out: if a man on shore sees something far away, in the waves, but he’s not sure that it is a reckless swimmer or something else he sees, he can decide that the prudent thing to do is not to ignore that a life could be in danger and not be cautious as to simply protect his own life.

In times of crisis, paradoxically, the cautious spirit can manifest itself precisely through a lack of reluctance that would be typical of prudence. Caution may turn into action. In our relationship with God, prudence can take the form of a leap of faith, especially since the personal stake is very high. Thinking in times of crisis about whether or not to resume dialogue with God can later prove to be reckless and a loss.

The test of the crisis, therefore, shows not only what we are, but also what we can become. Although we may be inclined to be rather reserved after a fragmented or unsatisfactory dialogue with God in the past, it is important to know that we can rely on one constant—God’s openness to dialogue. Exploring an interaction with God, capable of bringing balance to our souls and clarifying our direction in life, is part of the reset equation for the Christian. And, to be authentic, this reset of one’s life can only be done with the help of the Creator.

Check out all our COVID-19 coverage. We update constantly.

Florin Iacob serves as a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.