Editor’s note: Over the past years, China Partnership has dedicated itself to intentional prayer for the church in China. As CP increasingly emphasizes prayer as part of our calling, we have worked with John Smed, director of Prayer Current, to hone our prayer muscles. He shares with us here his vision of prayer for the city in light of the global outbreak of COVID-19.
If we distill our prayer requests to kingdom essentials, there are two dimensions to our intercession. First, we pray for the city to be healed. Second, we pray for the city to be humbled. The reason that our prayer has two sides to it is that the city has a twofold identity.
On one hand, the city can be a place where industry, creativity, statecraft, and education coalesces to build a place of refuge, opportunity, and safety – where a multicultural and multifaceted mosaic of humankind can be accepted and even celebrated. On the other hand, the city is characteristically a contagious amalgam of human idolatry, ambition and indulgence – a composite of worldliness that conspires to build a firewall to keep God and the gospel at bay.
Kingdom prayer for the city has to include both prayer for healing and prayer for humbling. If we only ask for healing, we are mere soothsayers (a name for false prophets). If we ask only for humbling, we are denying our common humanity.
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The COVID-19 crisis calls forth deeply moved prayers for God to heal the city. Like Jesus, we are to look at crowded cities with shared human kindness: “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages…when he saw the crowds he had compassion on them, for they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” We enact compassion when we pray for the diseased, the vulnerable, and the agents of healing:
“Lord, grant mercy and healing to those afflicted with the coronavirus in their intense suffering. Father, grant grace and comfort to the most vulnerable, the elderly who are most susceptible and now separated from loved ones; the homeless poor who are scattered by the edict of social distancing; the refugee and immigrant who are already distanced socially; and for the mentally and emotionally ill whose anxiety and isolation is multiplied, sometimes to torment. We pray for all the agents of healing in our city – for hospital workers, doctors, and caregivers who sacrifice their own safety to serve the sick and dying.”
We also lift our eyes to the higher purpose of God and pray for the redemptive humbling of the city. Indeed, the city with all its pride and self-sufficiency IS being humbled. The firewall has been breached. The body of the city, and all the metabolic processes fueling its chaotic acceleration, has ground to a halt. Willing or not, we all have been brought to our knees. We pray that the city will receive this reality as a warning and invitation from on high:
“Lord, on behalf of our city, including our churches, we humbly intercede and repent. We have been selfishly and relentlessly cultivating our personal peace and affluence to the exclusion of your righteousness and the gospel of your Son. Grant us, in your mercy, repentance unto life. Grant us grace to attend to the warning and the beckoning of this COVID-19 epidemic, so that we might see what you are doing, and hear what you are saying to our city. Change our hearts to receive and embrace this message, not only in our urgency, but also for all the future. Amen.”
Both dimensions of kingdom prayer – seeking healing for the afflicted and offering eternal hope – are embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus. He brought the kingdom to the cities of his time by “proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and affliction.”
How to pray for the city in light of COVID-19? Most importantly, we need to heed this epidemic as a clarion call to prayer. Jesus brings kingdom compassion and proclamation together by telling us to pray: “The fields are white for harvest, but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” This day of humbling will only become a day of hope if Christ’s people unite with a common voice to intercede for the church and the city.
“Our Father in heaven, the clouds of present judgment are silver-framed with the beckoning light of the free offer of the gospel of your only Son. O Harvest Lord, please send workers and fill us with your Holy Spirit so that we will announce to our city the good news with a humble and bold clarity.”
Smed says that we should pray for the city to be both healed and humbled. How can you pray these things for your city?