The power of prayer to deal with coronavirus anxiety

Tony Perkins is Family Research Council President. This article appeared in USA Today on March 12, 2020.

The 24/7 coverage of the coronavirus on cable news spreads even more quickly than the virus itself, leading many to wonder if we’re facing a plague of perhaps Biblical proportions. In almost real-time, the world is giving the tally of confirmed cases globally, as well as the casualties. And as 22 nations have closed schools, including in the U.S., the United Nations is reporting that some 290 million children are home from school, giving parents a daily reminder of the fears of infection.

The news has people doing more than fighting over toilet paper. The stock market has responded with a sickness of its own, plunging as much as 2,000 points a day as businesses fret over interruptions in the supply chain. The airlines that fly more than 2 million people a day in the U.S. are panicked as people see airplanes as giant Petri dishes and are opting not to fly.   

Churches, where hugs and handshakes are frequent, have transitioned to fist and elbow bumps, and worshipers are avoiding the holy water and dipping the communion wafer into a communal wine. Pope Francis avoided the crowds by giving his weekly address and blessing over the internet from the Vatican library rather than his usual window where the crowds would gather below. 

The fear is palpable. The anxiety is real. And the future is unknown. But isn’t it always?

Prayer reduces anxiety

Writing to the church at Philippi, where he had once been beaten and imprisoned, Paul tells the believers in the book of Philippians not to worry or to be anxious about anything. Instead, Paul instructs them they should pray for God's blessing and make supplication for his protection and do it all with thanksgiving.  

Some reject the instruction of scripture to pray in times of need. Consider the media mockery of Vice-President Mike Pence for leading the Coronavirus taskforce in prayer to ask God’s help before they got to work. The New Yorker tweeted a cartoon of Pence calling for “handwashing and repentance” to deal with the virus.

This hostility or at best indifference toward prayer and faith is dangerous in a moment of crisis and dismissive of an important practice for millions of Americans. “More than half (55%) of Americans say they pray every day, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, while 21% say they pray weekly or monthly and 23% say they seldom or never pray. Even among those who are religiously unaffiliated, 20% say they pray daily,” reports Pew

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Studies show that prayer reduces anxiety and depression. A reduction in anxiety allows people to process and react to external events with a more cognitive rather than emotional manner.  And a time in which there is worldwide concern over a virus without a treatment, a strategic and peaceful approach to problem solving is a good thing.  

The facts make clear the coronavirus is potent and there is not yet a treatment or cure.

A good start

When faced with fear of the unknown, turning to an all-knowing God is a good place to start. And for people of faith, we know that God answers prayers and that, as it says in James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

That doesn’t mean we only pray; we act as well, but, calmed by the awareness of the presence of God, we can respond with clarity and direction.  

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To quote the late Dr. Billy Graham, “We are to pray in times of adversity, lest we become faithless and unbelieving.  We are to pray in times of prosperity, lest we become boastful and proud.  We are to pray in times of danger, lest we become fearful and doubting. We are to pray in times of security, lest we become self-sufficient.”

Amid crisis, whether coronavirus, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack or another calamity, we must not allow the mockery of the anti-faith crowd to drown out our prayers for the hurting, for the protection of our families, our communities, and our country. Let the mockers mock, but let the people pray to the great Physician first and then get to work helping the sick.