Encouragement and Hope During COVID-19

From HBU President, Dr. Robert Sloan

*The below message was originally sent as an email to Houston Baptist University faculty and staff.Dr. Robert B. Sloan

“Lord, teach us to number our days.” That is the prayer of the Psalmist (90:12) who in difficult times exhorts the pursuit of wisdom and perspective, which involves honest reflections about life and its currently harsh circumstances, and also pleads for the Lord his God to rescue him and his people.

I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to work at a place like HBU, with colleagues who take seriously the calling we have to serve Christ through higher education. I’ve seen many examples of that in recent days and even today have heard several more heartwarming stories of commitment to our students. In gratitude to all of you, I offer these words of encouragement.

All of us are troubled by the circumstances around us and, as the Psalmist reminds us, we too need perspective. The pressure of unusual circumstances, sudden changes in our daily routines, and the necessity of developing new skills—all these things require reflection and the faithful (re)alignment of our thinking and work toward both the realities around us and the purposes of the God we serve.

Facing Fears about Health

To gain a wise perspective, we have to face our fears. Fears can be healthy or exaggerated—and sometimes paralyzing. It takes wisdom to admit that there are dangers around us that need to be properly, and fearfully, respected, and it takes wisdom to see through the exaggerations and fear-mongering of those who use the pains of others for their benefit.

The leaders of HBU (including especially the president) will not have all the answers we could hope for, nor will we fully anticipate all that’s going to happen in the coming days. We will make mistakes. But we are working earnestly, and we ask for your prayers. Circumstances change dramatically from day to day, so we must act based upon the best information we have. Indeed, all of us must accept the responsibilities we have in our given spheres of influence (home, work, church, community) where we are called upon to serve and to lead. We must seek wisdom and make the very best decisions we can as we all endeavor to act generously and selflessly, in ways consistent with all that we believe as followers of Christ, on behalf of others.

And we need to admit to certain specific fears—fears that relate to life and death. The virus that plagues the world is real. For many people it is life-threatening today, and for all of us it is a life-threatening prospect. No matter the motives of those who may exaggerate, we are better off by planning for things to get worse than being caught unprepared. We can always be thankful that the worst has been averted, but we will be worse off if we haven’t done our best to think through as many contingencies as possible, and thereby be prepared to face the risks.

All of us know there are basic health practices we must seriously follow, not only for ourselves but on behalf of others. People who are not in high-risk groups should not only set a good example for others, but be willing to share the burdens that others feel. Apparently healthy people, those with no symptoms and no awareness of having the disease, can nonetheless carry it to others. We owe it to one another to pay attention to each other, to advise one another, to check on one another, and serve one another. It’s what we believe and confess as Christians, and these days test us to live out our faith.

Facing Fears about Finances

There’s also a legitimate financial fear that goes with this crisis. It has already begun to produce financial havoc that has not only hit the stock markets but will have an impact on the underlying economy for months and months to come. We can be thankful that we’ve had a strong underlying economy, but it’s certainly going to suffer some shockwaves. The price of oil recently dipped below $30 per barrel, and Houston still is an energy city. We will feel the effect of that at HBU (perhaps in terms of donors and student numbers) as it ripples through the Houston economy.

We must be prepared to face up to these financial issues. First, we need to be alert to the needs of one another and be willing to share our resources. HBU as an institution will no doubt feel the negative effects for a significant amount of time, but we are committed to doing all we can for the health and other needs of students, staff, and faculty. We are committed to doing that first.

We will also work hard to be good stewards of the University, to protect its overall health and mission. We are committed to do that for the sake of all those who depend upon HBU now, for those like our alumni who rely upon us personally and professionally as their University, for our donors and friends who have invested so much time and treasure with us, and comprehensively, for HBU’s mission and everything we stand for in the world of higher education.

We can’t possibly know how significant this financial impact will be or how long it will last, but we are preparing for it, and we call upon ourselves to be good stewards and our friends to help us and pray for us as we do our best also to serve others in these days.

Facing Fears about Safety

Health fears and financial fears bring with them fears for safety. We have to protect our loved ones, our children, our parents, the elderly, and all those who fall within the orbit of our love and care. That’s true of every individual and family member among us, and it’s a mandate that all of us at the University feel as well for one another and for our students. We must be alert to the safety needs of those around us.

Fear can promote faith, but there are times when it challenges faith. Numerous places in Scripture set fear against faith, love, and trust, so we must frankly admit that the fears we’ve talked about above must (rightly) push us to examine our faith. This is God’s world. It is deeply flawed and broken, but it is still His good creation (Psalm 24). He has provided for the salvation of the world through Jesus Christ, and He has promised—and we know it is true—that through Christ we find forgiveness, peace, and joy; that one day the curse over this broken world will be lifted at the final return of Christ; and that God will raise the dead in Christ and create a new heaven and new earth, where there is no more mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:1-4).

People of Hope

We must face these days of fear and testing—not passively accept them or capitulate to them. These can and should be days of renewed worship, rededicated service, care, friendship, work, and love. We must be alert to the stranger among us, and we must love one another and be kind to one another as God in Christ has been merciful to us (Ephesians 4:32-5:2).

To follow Christ is to be a people of hope. And our hope is not in vain, because it is invested in the creator God of the universe, who has extended Himself lavishly on behalf of His children. He is worthy of our trust, and He can aid us in conquering our fears. “Be of good cheer,” our Lord said, just before his own horrific death on our behalf, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

One of my great privileges every day is praying for all of you.

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