Praying for the revival of the church and rebuilding of the city is always crucial, but has a timely urgency during the present COVID-19 crisis. While hopes for urban renewal always burn deep within Christ’s church, in just a few short weeks prayer has risen from the depths from pedestrians to vital. Christians all over the world have united, ‘lifting our voices together” (Acts 4:24). Like the formation of life itself, when DNA coalesces, it seems to be guided by an invisible conductor, with the amino acids and proteins joining together in a synchronized dance of elements. The same is true of a praying community. Irresistibly and invisibly, the Spirit is bringing His people together to pray.
If we distill our prayers for the city 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. Believers are part of this city. The visible church is part of this city.
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. In the biblical view of this present age, the city’s opposition to the Christian life and mission receives a greater portion of attention. According to the Word, this world is worldly. While believers may be called to dwell in the city, they are commanded to remain separate and to renounce their antagonism, autonomy, avarice, and ambition. Jesus did not belong to the city in this sense, nor do believers and the church.
“Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:12-14.
Kingdom prayer for the city has to include both prayers for healing and 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.
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”. (Matthew 9:35-38) 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 are multiplied, sometimes to torment. We pray for all the agents of healing in our city- for hospital workers, doctors, and caregivers who sacrifice their 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 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.” (Matthew 9:35)
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 unites 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 the 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.”
Adapted from Prayer Revolution: Rebuilding Church and City Through Prayer by John Smed. (©2020). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.