My wife Dina and I just returned from eight days on the ground in Israel. We were with a tour group and each morning our leader and teacher would ask for prayer requests. Please forgive my, perhaps glaring spiritual weakness, but I rapidly lose interest praying for someone’s aunt’s best friend in Indiana, who is going through a hard time.
There, I said it.
The coronavirus had prevented us from visiting Bethlehem. Reports stated there were several unlucky Americans quarantined for two weeks in a hotel room because they had visited Bethlehem – stuck in their rooms for fourteen days.
I felt so sorry for them, and, was just so glad we were not in their shoes.
Oh, how little did I know, and how little did I know I was about to fail a big test.
It was early morning of our last day in Israel. We fly out in twenty-four hours. I was ready to get home! We were gathered at the entry gate to the Temple Mount. I was so very excited to actually walk around this ancient site that Herod the Great had built during Jesus’ lifetime. Jesus would have walked around these very grounds many times.
I am feeling very spiritual and in the moment, when our leader says, “Since we have a bit of a wait before we will be admitted to the site, are there any prayer requests?” I took a deep breath and hummed a few Zen notes, bracing for the “please pray for my aunt in Idaho’s sister’s marriage problems,” when the lady next to me started sobbing and blurted out, with tears flowing and nose running:
“My parents’ best friend died last night of the coronavirus, and they think my parents gave it to him. And my grandchildren live next door to my parents and visit and play with them all the time. I am so worried for them!”
Okay, that is a serious prayer request, worthy of compassion and care and love. But before I could fully process her words she continued:
“And … I visited my parents right before I came on this trip.”
Group silence. Hearts sinking. Slowly her words, and their implication, dawned on me. I put my head in my hands and thought to myself, “She didn’t just say what I think she just said, did she? She didn’t just rat us out to the world that we may have all just spent eight days – on a bus – with a coronavirus carrier?”
Our American and our Jewish leader conferred, and then said, “We have to report this. It would be unethical not to.”
At that moment I was all for being as unethical as necessary.
The response of the Israeli government: Two week quarantine. Fourteen days. (No exercise, run out of books to read, terrible beds, terrible food.)
Now I am sure Jesus would have wanted me to love on this lady, and hug her, and tell her she is not to blame, and that we care for her and stand with her, and we are all brothers and sisters in Christ –and all that.
I failed that test with prejudice.
There was not a loving, Christian bone in my body at this point. I tried to talk to Jesus. I tried to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, and love and compassion. For a soft, forgiving heart. But my heart was so hard my prayers felt like they were rattling around inside a dark, stone cavern.
Our leader then said, with conviction, “Friends, either God is in charge or he is not.”
Well my friend, I teach this all the time. I believe it. I live by it. You’ve heard me many times: “God is in the details – your details. He loves you perfectly; he is perfectly present; he is perfectly powerful. Jesus will never forsake you.”
But for the next several hours I was a practicing atheist – not in my head, but in my heart. I failed on every level: as a Christian, as a follower of Jesus, as a teacher and a minister of the Word.
Perhaps you have had a similar experience?
I could only find comfort in the Holy Spirit’s words through Paul:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1)
I failed, but I am forgiven. I failed, but I am still loved – adored, actually. I failed, but I am still in the Kingdom and still in the Family.
No condemnation, only conviction. Conviction from the Holy Spirit that, “Sam, you can and you must do better next time.”
Oh, by the way, after six excruciating hours, we were told that since our friend had no symptoms, and it had been fourteen days since her visit to her parents, we could go home.
A miracle? Certainly not because of my prayers, we can rest assured of that!