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COVID-19: Shepherding My Heart to Trust God

Jacob Hantla March 11, 2020

We were pulling into Washington as the news of the first COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) deaths in the US hit the news. They occurred just a few miles north of the hotel, where we plan to live for the next few months as our son undergoes a bone marrow transplant at Seattle Children’s Hospital to treat his high-risk leukemia. In many ways, this was our worst nightmare. We have spent the last seven years meticulously minimizing our family’s exposure to disease due to compromised immune systems. Yet, here we are at “ground zero” of the viral infection that is causing widespread panic, even hysteria across our country and the world. 

My heart’s first natural response was almost reflexive: Fear and anxiety. “What should I do?” was almost my first question, but before that thought finished forming in my head, I immediately but decisively uttered a statement, “Father, I trust you.” Quickly the heart shepherding began, as Kiki and I began to try to think Biblically about how, as Christians, we should think about and respond to this genuine threat to our safety and health. It is appropriate as Christians to learn, to plan, to think, and to react. But all of humanity– God’s children and those who are still at enmity with Him–can learn, plan, think, and react; only we have the privilege to trust the One Who created all things, sustains all things, and controls all things (Col 1:15-17; Rom 11:36). 

 As your pastor and brother in Christ, I want to give you a glimpse into how I am shepherding my own heart and my family. God has taught these lessons to us through the crucible of leukemia and lymphoma. They are, here, written in the context of COVID-19. Still, I am confident that these heart shepherding responses in trial will transcend either of these circumstances. I don’t write as an expert, having arrived, but as one joyfully being molded into maturity through trials (James 1:2-4) along with you all. 

This post is the first in what, Lord-willing, will be a series discussing how to handle trials. The following tentatively outlines my planned series.

  1. Trust God
  2. Pray with thanksgiving and faith
  3. Don’t be foolish
  4. Love your neighbor
  5. Balance appropriately your thoughts (and reading/watching)
  6. Submit to authorities 
  7. Remember your finitude 
  8. Think about heaven
  9. Speak of your gospel confidence and hope
  10. Don’t grow weary

Trust God

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pointed out a self-evident truth through a simple rhetorical question (Mat 6:26), “Which of you, by being anxious, can add a single hour to his lifespan?” Even the world recognizes the futility of anxiety. Jesus’ point, however, is not to show anxiety’s uselessness, but He contrasts it with the Father’s trustworthy care for His children. 

Fear and anxiety reveal where our trust lies. Trials, especially ones related to basic necessities & health (“life…eat…drink…body,” Mat 6:25) demonstrate where our trust has been placed. Have you been trusting in yourself, in your health, in medicine, in finances, in government? Or God?

Sickness (or even the possibility of it) and the threat of death clearly demonstrate just how little we can control tomorrow. It is when we feel that danger and the accompanied helplessness that anxiety (which the Bible calls sin, see Mat 6:25, 34; Php 4:5-7; 1 Pet 5:6-7) often appears. This anxiety is less than futile; it is miserable and can be debilitating. What is worse and patently obvious, as Jesus points out: Anxiety is powerless to add even an hour to your life. 

Many respond, therefore, in the face of impending danger: “It is what it is.” Or “Time will tell. Eventually, what will happen will happen anyway, so why stress?” “I might as well prepare the best I can and just see what happens. I can’t control it anyway.” Those responses are certainly better than anxiety. And a faithful Christian may probably include many of these as he or she seeks to respond to the trial with faith. However, something crucial is missing in these responses, something only those with the Holy Spirit can do: Trust in God.

Recognizing the powerless of anxiety is meant to not merely make us not anxious, but rather to push us to trust in the all-powerful One Who knows exactly what you need (Mat 6:32) and loves to give good things to His children who ask (Mat 7:11). Every gift and every threat—everything good and evil—is part of God’s good and perfect ordering of the universe, this world, and your life for His glory. If you are His child—if you have trusted in Jesus alone for forgiveness of your sins—then you should be confident that all these things are working together for your good too (Rom 8:28, Jas 1:2-4). 

So, as I drove my family toward Seattle where the first COVID-19 patients in the United States were dying—toward a threat whose risk nobody could accurately quantify and against whose inexorable expansion I am ultimately helpless to stop—I quieted my mind and prayed simply, “My good and sovereign Father, I trust you.” Then I began to learn about the disease and make practical plans to minimize my risk. We reached out to the oncologists to ask if it is prudent to move forward with the transplant. We wash our hands regularly, we don’t touch our faces, my son wears a mask in public, and we carefully read trustworthy literature to better understand this new-to-man threat. And as we do these things, I must never confuse diligence in these practical tasks with confidence in those tasks. The prayer, “Father, I trust you,” must be every present amidst these tasks.

 Christian, if there is one thing that you and I can learn from this threatened pandemic and the everpresent media coverage, may it be a quickness to reflex trust in the Lord instead of anxiety or apathy. 

God made all things, and He rules them perfectly and completely: 

  • Kings, presidents, and governments (Pro 21:1, Act 17:26, Rom 9:17), 
  • the sun and rain (Mat 5:45), 
  • the stock market and your plans (Pro 19:21, Jas 4:13-15), 
  • life and death (Deu 32:39, 1 Sam 12:6, Job 1:21), 
  • good and evil (Gen 50:20, Act 4:26-28), 
  • “random” chance (Pro 16:33), and yes 
  • even viral diseases (Num 15:48-50, Mat 8:15) are “all like water in the hand of YHWH; He turns it wherever He wills.” (Pro 21:1). 

That same Might that rules all things cares for you with Fatherly love, Christian. If God in His wisdom determines that the best thing for you is that you are safe, you will be safe. And if His Wisdom determines that it is best that one gets sick or even dies, we can trust–we must trust–that it is right. Your greatest danger is not COVID-19, cancer, or even bodily death; it is sin. Jesus conquered sin and death (Col 2:13-15, Heb 2:14-15, Rev 1:18). Nothing can happen to you without going through your loving Father. God will provide just what you need (Ps 34:10, Ps 84:11, Mat 6:32-33, Rom 8:31-32).  

So when you face the possibility of COVID-19 coming into your life (even ending your life), don’t be anxious; don’t panic. Don’t resign yourself to helpfulness. Rather, trust in the Lord. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God…casting all your anxieties on him, because He cares for you.”