We just completed 21 days of prayer for the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone (and Liberia and Guinea). If you are reading this blog post, you most likely prayed with us for at least some of those days. We’ve prayed for those in quarantine, for those working with patients, for those who have lost loved ones, for aid workers trying to mitigate the secondary effects of the virus, for leaders and governments, and so many other things. And that only scratched the surface of what we COULD HAVE prayed for.
We chose 21 days because it is the “magic number” for Ebola. If you have been directly exposed to the virus (usually through the death of a family member), you have to be quarantined for 21 days to see if you will develop symptoms. 21 days is the longest it has ever taken for symptoms to appear after an exposure to the virus. That is not the “usual” number, it is the outer extreme. Most people develop symptoms in 7-10 days. 21 days is playing it really, really safe.
I have to admit, I came to a point during this 21 Days of Prayer for Ebola that I just gave it up. I’ll be honest – I have prayed my little heart out over this tragedy, and with every prayer, the situation grows worse and worse, affecting more and more people, people I actually know. People with faces, names, personalities, and families. And most of those people who die of Ebola are entering a Christ-less eternity. I just got mad. Mad at God. “Look, I’m down here praying, and praying, and praying – and you aren’t doing ANYTHING!! Since you don’t seem to be listening, I’m going to stop talking.” And I did. So while some of you faithfully prayed through those 21 days (and I’m grateful that you did), I was giving God the cold shoulder.
My heart was saved by a somewhat off-handed comment by my pastor last weekend. He was answering a question from someone else about the purpose of suffering, and the tough questions in the midst of it. He brought up Job 13:15, the most oft-repeated verse on suffering. “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” You know that one, right?
Or do you?
Did you know that’s only half the verse? There isn’t even a period at the end. (Yeah, I know, Hebrew didn’t have punctuation marks. I concede that. The point is it isn’t the end of the thought.) The verse goes on “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.”
Thank you, Job, for being so real. Thank you, GOD, for being so gracious and merciful to our humanity! Indeed He remembers that we are merely dirt. (Psalm 103:14) I realized that it was absolutely BECAUSE I trust Him, BECAUSE my hope is in him, that I CAN argue to his face! You can really only do that well with someone you trust, right? I have a friend who knows me inside out, as I do her. When all seems lost, and everything is going wrong, and frustration rises in me over any number of a myriad of things, she is one that allows me to argue to her face. Why? Because of trust. Even if she is taken aback, or even if she mistakenly takes my passionate tirade personally for a moment, it will be well – because of trust. When you trust someone, you know you can throw anything at them, and they will read your heart, not your words. God does that. He reads our hearts, not our words when we argue to his face in the frustration of unanswered prayer.
When we started the 21 Days of Prayer for Ebola, I think that at some deep, unspoken level, we hoped that like a 21-day incubation period, things would magically begin to resolve in that 21 days. That didn’t happen. In fact, over the past 3 weeks, the situation in Sierra Leone has gone from really bad to a whole lot worse.
Do you know what happens when you are in the middle of a 21-day quarantine for direct exposure and then you become exposed all over again by the death of yet another family member?
The 21 days starts all over again.
Let us not grow weary in well doing. Let’s continue to pray. Knowing that we are praying – deeply and fervently – is all that is keeping some of our brothers and sisters on the front-lines encouraged in the midst of the battle. Don’t let them down. Keep praying. Keep doing what you can to end Ebola and its death grip on these people. And if you are in the midst of praying endlessly for something that doesn’t seem to have an end, argue your ways to His face. Trust Him. Look deeply at his character, and keep leaning into that unchangeable Truth. And remember that ultimately, at the end of the day (whenever that is), He wins.