It’s the weekend again, another Saturday in lockdown. We reach the weekend and think, ‘so what?’ For many of us, the days are all beginning to blur into one and it’s like living through ‘Groundhog Day’ yet again. Another day when the most exciting thing we will get to do is go for a walk (now we know how dogs feel, perhaps!) It’s very easy to feel helpless and hopeless in these situations.
I find that it’s the sense of powerlessness that grates the most. We’re used to thinking of ourselves as competent and capable, and yet the truth is that much of life ordinarily is beyond our control. We can’t control the weather (and I’m very grateful it’s been so mild and sunny recently, as that does lift the spirits!) We can’t control other people. We can’t control if the bus is on time or when something breaks down. So powerlessness and helplessness really ought to be familiar to us. The trouble is we are very good at pretending and smoothing over those ‘uncontrollable’ things with all the things we can control. We can choose what to wear. We can normally choose where we go and what we do. We can choose and plan holidays. All those things give us an aura of being in control and so we forget the helplessness which now threatens to consume us.
One of my favourite chapters in the Bible is 2 Chronicles 20. It’s part of the historical writings, telling us about the history of God’s people. It’s the story of a tough time for God’s people when armies rose up against them, armies that seemed big, terrifying and much more powerful than God’s people. Already, I’m drawn in. Don’t we all feel there are enemies more powerful than we are? The ‘war’ terminology has been used a lot by politicians lately, and if a huge army isn’t bad enough, an invisible virus can feel pretty scary.
The king’s response to this threat was to turn to God and to seek Him – and that’s something that stirs my heart, because suddenly that’s something I can do too. I might not be able to work in a hospital or drive a lorry or even serve in a shop, but I can turn to God. I can seek Him. Jehoshaphat said, ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’ (2 Chron 20:9) I can do that. We can do that. We can stand in God’s presence and cry out to Him in our distress and we can know that He will hear us and save us.
Prayer often starts as we are in trouble and recognise that the trouble we’re facing is beyond our ability to solve. We can’t solve a pandemic. We can’t solve so many of the problems of the world – poverty, climate change, personal relationships and so on, even though we may well have things we can contribute that will solve the problem. Jehoshaphat said, ‘For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.’ (2 Chron 20:12) I think that’s how many of us feel right now. We feel powerless. We don’t know what to do. But our eyes can be turned to God.
When we do this, standing together before the Lord, fixing our eyes on Him, things start to change. God spoke through His prophet, Jahaziel: ‘Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.’ (2 Chron 20:15) Suddenly, the people did know what to do, because God told them what to do. He gave them instructions, and bizarre though these instructions seemed (sending out the musicians at the head of the army!), they worked because they were God’s instructions. (2 Chron 20:15-17, 21-22) God set ambushes against the armies; the enemy was defeated, even though they had seemed so powerful.
We need to understand that our powerlessness and helplessness are not the end of the world. They are the spur to turn us to God. When we turn to Him in our distress, He steps in. He is not powerless or helpless. He is the Almighty God. He is the One who breaks the bow and shatters the spear. (Ps 46:9) He is the One who makes wars cease and who turns weakness into victory. He is our ever-present help in trouble. (Ps 46:1)
The people’s part in this victory was not insignificant, but it looked (quite frankly) crazy. They had to sing, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures for ever.’ (2 Chron 20:21) That was it. That was their part. All the rest was done by God.
I would say that this is still our part in the victory today. Stand up and praise. Stand up and sing. In the words of Luke Hellebronth’s song, ‘Stand Up’,