The Biblical Response to Disaster Requires Surrender

Christians can look to the example of Nehemiah to respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by disasters, but they must first “surrender all.”

More than one hundred years ago, Judson W. VanDeVenter and Winfield S. Weeden collaborated to write the Christian hymn, “I Surrender All.” The lyrics capture a most fundamental lesson of what it means to be a Christian. A song of commitment, the first verse claims, “All to Jesus I surrender, All to him I freely give; I will ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live.”

As one examines the state of the Christian Church today, one must wonder, do we mean it when we sing it? And, even if we don’t sing it in our churches regularly due to worship style changes, do we grasp the message as revealed in scripture? Paul wrote, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2b).

While we must surrender all if our Christian witness is going to be effective – especially in times of tragedy and terror – it is arguable that many in the church have not done so. Consequently, we are often unprepared to respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by the disasters occurring almost daily around the world.

While such a claim is a stinging indictment, the evidence is convicting. Researcher George Barna, through years of studies and surveys of the state of the modern Christian Church, has essentially discovered that many churches (and those within their pews) are failing Sunday School 101.

In August 2005, a Barna survey revealed that a vast number of American Christians acknowledged they lack a biblical worldview. In June of the same year, Barna noted that many Christians admitted being biblically ignorant. He reported in September 2004 that Christians were as likely to divorce as non-Christians. A few months earlier, a significant number of Christians revealed that their faith really didn’t impact their behavior. And in January 2004, Barna found that only half of Protestant pastors have a biblical worldview!

The evidence is clear. Far too many Christ-followers simply do not surrender all. Consequently, they are not equipped to respond to the challenges and opportunities that accompany disasters, for they are not equipped to deal with tragedy themselves because they do not take biblical precepts – especially complete surrender – seriously.

Consequently, before believers can share our hope, we must examine both our own hearts and scripture. In doing so, our godly repentance will prepare our hearts and lead us to a biblical response of prayer, care and share.

A Biblical Response
Nehemiah offers Christians a step-by-step process on how to respond to disaster in a righteous, godly manner that, despite tragedy, will lead to kingdom expansion. The first step, prayer, seems to be the hardest, especially when we are overwhelmed with heart-wrenching scenes and repeated appeals for help. Still, as with Nehemiah, our challenge is to acknowledge and confess, especially publicly, that we are unable to deal with the disasters (and opportunities they present for sharing our faith) without God’s guidance. In doing so, the honor and glory will go to God from the start instead of to people or the programs.

So then, acknowledging the power of unified prayer is the first challenge facing the Church. Indeed, it is the proper first response so that we can know how to care for those in need and earn the right to share the hope found only in Jesus. When we do pray in one accord we have an incredible opportunity to allow God to demonstrate his presence in the midst of the storm.

It was not until he totally and fully surrendered to God that Nehemiah was directed to inspect the damage of the walls or go about any business of doing anything (Nehemiah 2:11-16). Once he assessed the damage, he then asked God to show him what it would take to rebuild the walls.

Nehemiah offers an example we should follow. However, too often we do not follow it.  Instead we regularly rush to the work before God’s empowerment has come. When we do this, we do not deliver on our promises because we do not have the strength or the heart to follow through on what we said we would do. For Christians, a major challenge we face is uniting in one accord first and allowing God to use all parts of the body, rather than merely offering assistance on our own.

When Nehemiah received the promises of key leaders to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, the ink was not even dry before the grumbling started. He faced unrelenting opposition to holding them accountable for their word (Nehemiah 4:1-23; 6:1-14). He was faced with the challenge of leaders that had not counted the cost for themselves nor had sought wise counsel before they committed to the task. Ironically, Nehemiah was personally held to blame because others had not honored their commitment to surrender their lives to God.

How does this biblical account relate to Christians as we consider the challenges and opportunities that accompany disasters?

Before we rush off to care, we must heed the steps God has designed for his people to respond. This model will provide us with the opportunity to embrace and demonstrate the truth of scripture, namely, that no trouble can separate us from Jesus. Romans 8:35, 37 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Additionally, each Christian has a conversion experience that is personal and noticeable, as evidenced by certain characteristics, including love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Paul also pointed to the characteristics of love (1 Corinthians 13). It is these characteristics – patience, kindness, humility, truthfulness and hope – that we must embrace. When we do this, we grasp the opportunity to demonstrate the truth of the gospel in any circumstance.

Then, in times of trouble, when the inevitable question is raised of “Where is God in all this?,” Christians will have the opportunity to point to why there is calm in the storm. Our Lord himself explained, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

The Sacrament of Service
Oswald Chambers characterized the Christian life as “the sacrament of service.” In his book, My Utmost for His Highest, Chambers wrote, “Our Lord’s teaching is always anti-self-realization. His purpose is not the development of a man; His purpose is to make a man exactly like himself, and the characteristics of the Son of God is self-expenditure.”

Chambers added, “It is time now to break this life, to cease craving for satisfaction and to spill the thing out. Our Lord is asking who of us will do it for him.” Chambers effectively leaves us with only one answer – “I will!” That is the challenge and opportunity that is before us in the times in which we live.

Michael Barrick is editor of Christian Emergency Network. CEN was formed in 2001 by Mission America Coalition partners to respond effectively through a united pray-care-share media and ministry response to national disasters. CEN has over seven thousand ministry and media organizational partners and 47,000 church partners across the United States.