While the COVID-19 health crisis is impacting each of us in profound and unprecedented ways, one of the greatest consequences of this worldwide epidemic is anxiety and fear. The gripping anxiety of not knowing if we’ll get the virus and the anguish for victims here in the U.S. and around the world feels overwhelming to us. Couple that with the uncertainty of knowing when social distancing regulations will be relaxed, and we can return to some sense of normalcy. Fear and anxiety have moved in and are making themselves at home with each of us.
Thankfully, God’s people have dealt with fear before. Biblical stories about people who respond despite fear are powerful reminders for us in this crisis.
One powerful Biblical figure who stands as a godly example in dealing with this fear is a disciple from Damascus named Ananias. We’re introduced to Ananias in Acts 9 (this Ananias is very different from another man named Ananias we meet in Acts 5).
The scripture tells us that God came to Ananias in a vision. God tells Ananias to go and minister to a man from Tarsus named Saul. Ananias pushes back and reminds God about Saul’s reputation: “Lord,” he answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name” (Acts 9:13–14).
Up to this point, if ever the early church had an enemy it was Saul. Saul was there when Stephen was murdered, giving approval to Stephen’s death (Acts 8:1) and was passionately committed to destroying the church. Acts 8:3 says that Saul was, “Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”
We can understand why Ananias would be afraid of Saul. He knew that going to see Saul would put his life in danger.
What Ananias didn’t know is that Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus. Saul was knocked to the ground and confronted with the reality that he’d been working against God rather than helping God. Saul heard these words that would forever change his life and destiny, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). Saul would never be the same, and he would be God’s instrument to bring the gospel to the Gentiles.
God had chosen Ananias to be the instrument of healing to minister to Saul. After God hears Ananias’ fear, God tells Ananias, “Go!”
How would Ananias respond? He was afraid and in fear for his own personal safety. Acts 9:17 tells us how Ananias responded: “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it.” Talk about obedience in the face of fear! Ananias followed God’s command and went to see Saul.
An incredibly compelling scene unfolds as Ananias meets Saul for the first time: “Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord — Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here — has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again” (Acts 9:17-18).
This fearful Christ-follower was used powerfully by God to bring healing and the filling of the Holy Spirit to Saul. God called Ananias to respond in obedience despite his fear and anxiety.
This is a time for each of us when we’re confronted with fear and anxiety and also with our inability to predict what the future holds. Like Ananias we want to be people who respond in obedience in the face of our daily fear and anxiety.
Let’s prayerfully consider the following questions:
• How do the hurting people in your circle of influence know of your love and care for them?
• Understanding that God can handle our anxiety and fears, have you been able to express your current feelings to God?
• While being aware of the social distancing guidelines established for our protection and the protection of others, how may God be calling you to minister in new ways during this season?
• How has this time of being sheltered in place caused you to go deeper with God?
I’m so grateful for fearful followers like Ananias who remind us that this current reality doesn’t need to prevent us from accomplishing God’s purposes.
Bishop Matt Whitehead, D.Min., oversees Free Methodist ministries in the Western United States and also in Africa. He was elected the lead bishop of the Free Methodist Church – USA at General Conference 2019. He previously served more than 20 years as the superintendent of the Pacific Northwest Conference after 17 years as a local church pastor.3