Delivered but not Delivered

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I’m increasingly begging God to kill the coronavirus. The impact of this disease is taking its toll on so many areas of life and death. I long for God’s merciful deliverance. The suffering of our church family in recent days has heightened my desire for God’s powerful crushing of this misery. And I am sure that I am not alone in my desire.

As I was praying this morning, I pondered the words, “Deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13) and prayed, “Lord, please deliver us from this evil disease.” That is a biblical prayer. Read through the Psalms and, over and over, you hear cries for deliverance. James wrote words of encouragement to the oppressed that their “cries … have reached the ears of the LORD of hosts” (James 5:4). In other words, God was pleased to hear their prayers for deliverance. Paul asked the Thessalonian church to “pray for us … that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men” (2 Thessalonians 3:1–2). When Peter was imprisoned—again!—and facing execution, we are told that “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5). Though we are not told the specific content of those prayers, his subsequent deliverance indicates this was high on the list.

I am simply saying that prayers for deliverance are biblical. Passionate pleas of “How long, O LORD?” have been welcomed at the throne of grace since sin entered the world. They still are. So keep praying for deliverance.

But—

There is another kind of deliverance that we should also be looking for: deliverance from worry, despair, and self-sufficiency. We might summarise and say that we should be praying for deliverance from practical atheism.

When Isaiah prophesied God’s judgement on Judah by the destructive army of Babylon, he told them that it would last seventy years. That is a long time. (Compare that to the past four months of lockdown!) Jeremiah would later exhort his fellow Jews to make peace with captivity and to seek the peace of their new “home away from home” (Jeremiah 29). In other words, deliverance was a long way off. Yet, even amid the crisis, they could experience a spiritual deliverance, a deliverance from fear and the foolishness that often results from it. (Think Peter’s fearful failure in denying the Lord.) The Lord told them this in the words of Isaiah 43:1–3,

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.

God pointed his people to a past deliverance in order to encourage them during this time of no deliverance while they waited for eventual deliverance. The Lord promised his powerful, peaceful, and providential presence in the meantime.

As the people of Judah remembered the great deliverance from Egypt, they would be encouraged that God had a plan for his people and that he was faithful to his people.

God’s promise (“I will be with you”) empowers his children through the flood waters of economic loss, upholds them through the rivers of loneliness, and sustains them through fires of suffering, including the heart-wrenching suffering of burying loved ones.

Brothers and sisters, as we increasingly feel the flames of the pandemic, let us take to heart God’s gospel promises. Having given his Son to ransom us from our sin and to provide deliverance from condemnation, we can be confident of his care. Yes, let’s pray for deliverance from the virus, but let us also pray for the ability to hear our Saviour’s voice as he daily says, “Fear not I am with you” (Isaiah 43:5).

Peacefully pleading with you,

Doug