We hum a song while washing our hands to make sure we’ve hit the twenty second mark. We move right to the edge of the footpath when somebody passes us. A simple shopping trip makes us mask up and slather on sanitiser like we’re going to Bondi Beach in the peak of summer. The COVID-19 pandemic has made us a hyper-vigilant society.
Some people live like this all the time if they have severe allergies or chronic conditions. But for most of us, our busy lives keep us happily distracted. Maybe this is the first opportunity you’ve had in a long time to give careful thought to your behaviour and habits. Puritan writer Thomas Brooks would say we’re poorer for this. He is concerned about a different spreading contagion: “Sin is a plague, yea, the greatest and most infectious plague in the world; and yet, ah! how few are there that tremble at it, that keep at a distance from it!” (31)
I’m not as watchful as I should be about the creeping sin that infects my heart. Too often I dabble in it, play around as if it won’t have deadly consequences. And there’s someone who loves it when I do this, who does anything he can to nudge me further into that pit. This pandemic may feel like unchartered territory, but we’re blind to the invisible threat that has been stalking our steps for all our days: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
In Brooks’ Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, he gives us a handbook to use against the great enemy of our souls, who wants to entice us to sin, keep us from communion with Jesus, and make us doubt God’s goodness and power. We need to be vigilant every day of our lives, not just during a pandemic. But Satan is also crafty to use any circumstance for our ill. How might Satan be particularly tempting Christians to sin during COVID-19?
What we need most to counter our fears during this time is Scripture and prayer. But spending time with God might seem like the hardest thing to do right now—and not just because your house is filled with noisy family members. Even in times of outward quiet, I’ve found it harder than ever to concentrate amid my persistent feeling that I should check the news just one more time. Some of our anxieties are undoubtedly justified, but Satan will seize the opportunity to keep us away from communion with God:
“I have no heart to hear, nor no heart to pray, nor no delight in reading, nor in the society of the saints. Satan doth so dog and follow my soul, and is still a-casting in such a multitude of vain thoughts concerning God, the world, and my own soul, that I even tremble to think of waiting upon God in any religious service.” (135)
As a remedy against this kind of attack from Satan, Brooks urges us to remind our souls about the greatness of God: “There is nothing that will contribute so much to the keeping out of vain thoughts, as to look upon God as an omniscient God, an omnipresent God, an omnipotent God, a God full of all glorious perfections, a God whose majesty, purity, and glory will not suffer him to behold the least iniquity” (135). I’ve found it so helpful to read books about God’s character during this pandemic, including Knowing God by J.I. Packer and None Like Him by Jen Wilkin. Great crises require great books.
When we remember who God is, awe of him will drown out our vain thoughts. Brooks also assures us of God’s grace and help in this. Keep persevering in the means of grace even while your mind is wandering; let your distraction make you more resolute in calling upon God for help. Satan will flee when he sees that he cannot draw us away from our Father.
As we batten down the hatches and retreat into our family units, no longer gathering in person for worship, it’s easy to stop looking outward. Satan whispers the lie that this is the time to be taking care of ourselves first and foremost. But other people still need us, and we need them.
Let’s keep reaching out to our unbelieving friends, and people in our church family who are lonely or suffering. Take any opportunity to serve others, even when it’s costly. If you’re fortunate enough to have extra time and energy because your regular activities are cancelled, consider how you might use it to serve others. Don’t let the enemy turn your gaze inward. Serving others will involve suffering, but Brooks reminds us of the great joy that also accompanies following Jesus:
“Christians that would hold on in the service of the Lord, must look more upon the crown than upon the cross, more upon their future glory than their present misery, more upon their encouragements than upon their discouragements. God’s very service is wages; his ways are strewed with roses, and paved ‘with joy that is unspeakable and full of glory,’ and with ‘peace that passeth understanding.’ Some degree of comfort follows every good action, as heat accompanies fire, as beams and influences issue from the sun…” (121)
Whenever our lives aren’t going the way we hoped or planned, Satan loves to cast seeds of doubt in our hearts. Why isn’t God stopping the pandemic? Is he really good or powerful? These are good questions to grapple with, but we must bring them to the Lord rather than allowing Satan to drive a wedge between us and God.
In Precious Remedies, Brooks points us to numerous examples from the Bible where someone’s great suffering led to good:
“Abraham, Jacob, David, Job, Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah, and Paul, met with many things that were contrary to their desires and endeavours, that were not contrary to their good; as all know that have wisely compared their desires and endeavours and God’s actings together. Physic often works contrary to the patients’ desires, when it doth not work contrary to their good.” (152)
We may not be able to see exactly how the COVID-19 pandemic is working for our good, but we can cling to the promises of Scripture and reject Satan’s lies that God is not good or powerful.
All these remedies against the devices of Satan are indeed “precious”. We ought to be thankful for them and dutiful in applying them. This requires intentional prayer and meditation. Throughout the book Brooks offers remedies for us to “seriously consider”—we must turn these truths over in our minds; ask the Spirit to apply them to our hearts. When the battle is hard, take comfort from this: whatever devices Satan might employ against believers during this time, God is sovereign. His purposes for this pandemic will always triumph over Satan’s underhanded schemes.