According to research by Jeanet Bentzen, an economist at the University of Copenhagen, the COVID-19 crisis has provoked a worldwide interest in prayer.
In a report released online on March 30, which analysed data from 75 different nations, Bentzen found that Google searches on prayer greatly increased in March 2020 and appeared to be doubling for every 80,000 new registered cases of the virus.
Bentzen describes this as a “hunger for spiritual comfort” which will “increase as the pandemic intensifies and the death toll ramps up”.
Be wary of religiousness
It is probably the case that many people are turning to prayer or talking about prayer as a way of getting them out of the current crisis without their hearts really turning to acknowledge the God of the Bible.
It was said of King Zedekiah in Judah, “Neither he nor his attendants nor the people of the land paid any attention to the words the Lord had spoken through Jeremiah the prophet.” (Jeremiah 37:2). He had no intention of obeying the word of the Lord and yet he summoned Jeremiah to the palace and said, “Please pray to the Lord our God for us.” He goes on to make promises in the name of the Lord – and yet all the time he is not really listening.
God is very merciful and often hears the “prayers” of people in pain and desperation, but don’t mistake religiosity for real faith.
For real prayer to be happening – a genuine conversation with God and the cries of children to their Father – it needs to be made in the name of Christ and by the saving work of Christ and with Christ as Lord of the life. Many people desire to be saved from their current predicament, but not to be released from their sin; they want God as a saviour, but not Jesus as their Lord.
Be encouraged to evangelise
Nevertheless, this report signals to us an encouraging opportunity. We know that everyone has a sense of the eternal, and this is especially so as we contemplate our mortality. The global pandemic raises questions of what life is all about. It presents the world with the reality of its mortality; it causes people to wonder whether there is an afterlife and how to survive death and come out the other side.
This increased interest in prayer is a sign of a spiritual appetite that we should be addressing with the good news of Jesus Christ. We should always be confident in the truth and relevance of the gospel, but these seasons present special opportunities when God is “shaking the tree”.
So let us make the most of this occasion. May God grant us an eagerness to take the opportunities that will present themselves to us and may he lead us to good soil upon which to sow the seed of the Word.