Stop, start, strengthen—preparing for the future with a threefold prayer
Dr. Jeffrey A. Johnson
May 15, 2020
This is a great time to spend the rest of the COVID-19 confinement praying the threefold prayer I often teach to churches with whom I coach and consult.
Though hard right now to believe, this virus will run its course. The government-imposed quarantine and the self-imposed isolation will be lifted. We need to be forward-thinking right now about ‘what then?’ when the end of this pandemic comes.
But, before you think about just going back to the old patterns and previous practices, doing it the way it had always been done, why not start praying a threefold prayer. A three-strand cord is not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Maybe three prayers in accord will help. Let’s be honest, it sure can’t hurt!
First, Lord, what would you like us to stop? What would you like us to let go? What would you like us to NOT resume? Though we have been forced, through no fault of our own, into this present reality, this might be when we both seize the moment and cease some ministries. The Scriptures speak to this very truth, “Old things have passed away” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV). You need to make some room for the new. It is time to celebrate and to sunset ministries that have served their purpose in the past and look now to the future.
Second, Lord, what would you like us to start? With the road cleared of some of the past, we are ready to move into the future. For many churches, this was asked in haste last month when we all realized this wasn’t going to go away overnight, but the new shouldn’t just be dismissed. The Lord said to the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, I will do a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19 NKJV). It shouldn’t take a worldwide pandemic to get us to try something different. God already has in mind what He wants to do (John 6:6). We need to seek His mind to know it.
Third, Lord, what would you like us to strengthen? This is asking God what we are doing right now that He wants us to continue to do, just better and bigger. “Strengthen what remains” (Revelation 3:2 NIV). But don’t rush it. Don’t change for the sake of mere change. Do it with caution. People can only absorb so much. To quote Stephen M.R. Covey’s bestselling book, people accept change at the speed of trust.[i] You need to take what it is you do now, maybe what you just began during this pandemic, enhance and by default enlarge it because quality results in quantity. “God added” because they did it right (Acts 2).
Let us spend the rest of the COVID-19 confinement praying this threefold prayer:
First, Lord, what would you like us to stop? Second, Lord, what would you like us to start? Third, Lord, what would you like us to strengthen?
The mere existence of your church right now, when some churches will close because of this crisis, means God still has something for you to do if you’ll do it. You need to decide what makes your congregation different and distinct from every other church (if nothing else, just the people who make up the congregation that no other congregation has but yours alone). If being wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) is true of us individually, couldn’t that be, wouldn’t that be, also true of us congregationally?
I believe the prayer(s) must be done in this sequence. You cannot honestly ask God to do a ‘new thing’ if you are too encumbered with ‘old things.’ Sadly, some will simply wait out the virus. They are just biding time to go back to the way things have been. Ask yourself honestly, how effective was all that we were doing? You cannot ask God to stop if you aren’t open to new possibilities.
God has continued to be at work during this health crisis. This pandemic has not stopped the Lord, nor has this pandemic caused the Lord to kick into gear. God is at work always, all around us. The sheer number of people not infected and those who are, but not fatally, is a testimony to God’s grace.
Use this time proactively. Use this time productively (Ephesians 5:16). Before we know it, almost without thinking about it, we will be back into a routine, and as hard as it is to believe right now, the crisis of COVID-19 will be a memory and become a memorial. For heaven’s sake, don’t let your church become one.
Dr. Jeffrey A. Johnson is American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ national coordinator of Evangelism and New Church Planting. A version of this article first appeared in Notes & News, a publication of American Baptist Churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Used by permission.