Don’t Worry… Be HOLY…
Our best response to COVID-19: stay focused on God
by Ellsworth Johnson, Guest Contributor
Those of us old enough to remember the late 1980s can recall Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. In it, he urges the listener to stay positive and upbeat through a litany of troubles, yet offers no hope or framework to support this approach.
Additionally, many people, including Christians, have been heard to say “God just wants me to be happy.” The trouble is… there is no place in Scripture where this claim is made. Our happiness, arguably, is not one of God’s explicit priorities, but our holiness is:
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
In the age of Coronavirus, our heavenly Father wants us Christians to stop wasting time agonizing over things we cannot control, and instead turn to Him as our first response when faced with trouble or fear.
Worrying, Past and Present
“Worrying big” is nothing new.
King Jehoshaphat of Judah faced a joint invasion from Moab and Ammon, an attack he had no hope of repelling. Two centuries later Hezekiah took part in a celebrated encounter with the Assyrian army, the most advanced (and brutal!) military in the world at the time, which was massed outside Jerusalem, poised to strike.
Both kings did the best thing they could have done under the circumstances: they turned the problem over to God, and let Him fight the battle instead.
Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast and prayed before the nation of Judah, the essence of his prayer captured by this verse:
“For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”
Similarly, Hezekiah was terrified by the horde massing outside his gates, taunting the Israelite soldiers on the city walls with boasts about the superiority of the Assyrian gods, and gleefully recounting all the powerful nations they had defeated.
Hezekiah, too, went before Jehovah:
“Now, O LORD our God, I pray, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, O LORD, are God.”
God answered the prayers of these kings of Judah in powerful ways. In the case of Jehoshaphat, the attacking enemy was divinely confused and ended up killing each other. For Hezekiah, He released the Angel of Death, who “breathed in the face of the foe as he passed” ¹ and exterminated 185,000 soldiers in a single night.
Pandemic of the Century
Sadly, large-scale pestilence has an equally long track record. The Black Death, the most fatal outbreak of all time, killed up to 200 million people on three continents from 1347 to 1351. In 1453 Constantinople was decimated by the bubonic plague as rats carried the disease to the rest of Europe. More recently, the worldwide influenza outbreak of 1918 was characterized by the Center for Disease Control as “the most severe pandemic in recent history,” infecting one-third of the world’s population and taking an estimated 50 million lives, with about 675,000 of those casualties in the United States.
And now… this.
“Don’t worry” is the overwhelming message from the pulpit around the country as COVID-19 rages on around us. We get daily counts as to confirmed cases and fatalities, but, as during the Tenth Plague in Egypt, when the first-born of each household was killed, we are to trust God that those whom He has chosen to spare will be kept off those lists.
Oh, what miracles are possible if our leaders would only overcome their collective pride and arrogance, and lead us in bowing down in submission to the true King of the universe?
What does it even mean to “be holy”? When I was a kid attending Catholic Masses I thought it indicated you had a halo around your head, like in all the paintings and on the stained glass, which somehow marked you as “holy”… whatever that means…
There is no shortage of available answers; countless books have been written on the subject, and advice is all over the Internet – there is even a WikiHow page on the subject of holiness!
I have a feeling I am not the only one out here with a distorted idea of what holiness is. For all of us, that ends today, right here, right now!
Q: What does it mean to “be holy”?
A: Looking it up in the dictionary, and synthesizing from the many sources I consulted, I came up with:
holy: set aside by or for God, for Him and His purposes
So the holy water at Catholic churches is “holy” because it was blessed and set aside for its part in Masses. Similarly, the wafers and wine used at Communion, as well as the vessels which contain them, are “holy” because they are reserved specifically for use during The Lord’s Supper, and used only then.
Q: What can be holy?
According to Christianity.com, time, space, objects, and people—all can become holy if they belong to God. The temple in Jerusalem was considered holy space, and the objects used in worship holy objects. The Sabbaths and feasts of Israel were considered holy days or seasons. And the Israelites were called God’s holy people by virtue of belonging to [H]im. ²
Q: That’s all well and good, but let’s focus on people. What makes a person holy?
People can be holy when they are set aside by or for God. Samson was holy because an angel of the LORD told his mother “the boy will be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.” King David was undoubtedly holy because he was “a man after God’s own heart” and sought to do what God ordained. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was used mightily by God in spreading the Gospel and writing numerous letters to churches in Asia which became part of Christian canon.
Q: Why does holiness matter?
The main benefit of holiness is a close relationship with God, and the bounty which follows from it. Kathy Howard describes such closeness in her essay “5 Benefits of Living a Holy Life”:
Would you like to sit next to God and snuggle up against His side? To be so close you could hear Him
breathe? There would be no distance between the two of you, no barriers to prevent you from drawing
near. You could linger in His presence and rest in the circle of His embrace. ³
Howard’s list of those five benefits:
1. Holiness fosters intimacy with God and builds spiritual strength and stability (Psalm 15:1-6)
2. Holiness makes us useful and effective for God’s purposes (2 Timothy 2:20-26)
3. Holiness in your life causes people around you to glorify God (1 Peter 2:9-12)
4. Holiness builds peace with God (2 Peter 3:10-18)
5. Holiness pleases God and produces “fruit” (Ephesians 5:1-17)
Another aspect of holiness is that God gets rather protective of holy people and things, and visits vengeance on those who would attack, abuse and defile them.
God said to the Israelites in Leviticus 19:2: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” In turn, the Old Testament is replete with cases where foes like the Moabites, Ammonites and Amalekites are vanquished before the LORD.
In Daniel 5, King Belshazzar commanded that the golden vessels his father Nebuchadnezzar plundered from the temple in Jerusalem be brought forth so that he and his nobles, wives and concubines could drink from them while praising their false gods. God responded by bringing the Babylonian kingdom to an end that very night, and Belshazzar was killed by the conquering Medes.
Q: Well, I’m not one of those giants of the Bible, yet Scripture urges me to be holy anyway. How can I do that?
A sentence I found in an online commentary pretty much nailed it:
You are holy to the extent that your life is devoted to [H]im and your actions reflect [H]is character. ⁴
Yes, imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery! Perhaps the most profound way to glorify God (enhance His reputation) is by mirroring His temperament.
Q: So what can I take away from all this?
Holiness is how we manifest God’s nature in our own behavior. We make ourselves holy by setting ourselves apart for God and His purposes, and rejecting the way the world acts and thinks. It’s a “win-win” all around: God gets glorified (His reputation enhanced), we individual Christians enjoy a closer and protective relationship with Him, and the lost world witnesses His goodness and love through us.
While contemplating what it means to be holy:
1) holy: set apart for God
my mind drifted to this sound-alike phrase:
2) wholly set apart for God
Is this not a strong description of holiness? It’s also a great way to remember the definition given above.
Another good memory device for discerning holy behavior is an acronym popularized in Christian circles during the waning years of the 20th century. In a given situation, ask yourself:
WWJD → “What Would Jesus Do?”
The answer you get to that question will guide you toward an appropriate response.
What Did Jesus SAY?
Jesus eloquently captured this message on personal holiness during the Sermon on the Mount, specifically in Matthew 6:26-34:
“… do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?
And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!
Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
In other words: “Don’t worry… be holy.”
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.
Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:48 (NIV)
But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Hebrews 10:12-14 (NIV)
Yes, Father, those of us with ears to hear do indeed receive the loud warning You are proclaiming; You have our attention.
You have once more allowed pestilence and death to stand up against this world, to dim the distractions around us and focus our sights on our need for salvation, both physical and spiritual. For these, we look to You.
I believe You are showing us the cracks in the foundation of our way of daily life, as a first step in addressing and, hopefully, repairing them. You let us see our limitations and our biases, the gross inequalities which exist in our nation, and the stark choices we make when lives are at stake.
Shine a light on our corrupted values, and convict us where they have been compromised.
Bless and protect those who put themselves in harm’s way to safeguard our collective health and keep the essentials of this society functioning.
I pray that our leaders humble themselves, get the messages You are sending us through this pandemic and act on them; if they don’t, replace them with Godly men and women who will.
We fear not, because You promised to take care of us. “We are Your people, the sheep of Your pasture.” We remain set apart for You, a light by which this country and this world may navigate these dark times.
Our source and guide in all this is Your Son Jesus, the bright and morning star, in whose name I pray. Amen.
¹ Byron, Lord. “The Destruction of Sennacherib.” epic poem by Lord Byron, 1815.
² Christianity.com Editorial Staff, “What Is Holiness? How Can We Be Holy?” https://www.christianity.com/wiki/christian-terms/what-is-holiness-what-can-be-holy.html.
³ Howard, Kathy, “5 Benefits of Living a Holy Life” https://www.kathyhoward.org/ November 2, 2017.
⁴ Gumbel, Nicky, Bible in One Year, Day 58, February 27, “Six Characteristics of a Holy Life”,
All Bible verses come from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.
*The content of “Guest Contributor” posts are at the discretion of the contributor. While only those with similar beliefs are asked to contribute, their content may or may not represent the views of this website.