In the Coronavirus pandemic, how might we best pray for local businesses, and particularly for those in leadership in business who belong to PCI congregations?
The impact of coronavirus on our national life has been unprecedented, with nothing that bears comparison in any of our lived experiences. Covid-19 has put the NHS under astonishing pressure and we all admire and are grateful for how our healthcare sector is doing everything in its power to treat the sick and save lives. The societal consequences in terms of social distancing and limiting our trips out only to absolute essentials have also been striking, and all our families have been affected by the closure of schools and our inability to meet for corporate worship.
The other area of national life to be very materially impacted is the economy. At the time of writing, commentators estimate that Gross Domestic Product could drop by as much as 20% in a single quarter, and many expect the fallout of Covid-19 to be more akin to a depression than a recession, a concern heightened by the prospect that we could have up to a year of moving in and out of levels of lockdown.
The impact varies widely by sector. Some businesses (e.g. the food industry and companies in the ‘knowledge’ economy) may prove relatively coronavirus-resilient, but others are facing extreme difficulty. Many of us will know from friends and family the impact on businesses in non-essential retail, hospitality and tourism, and construction and engineering. Some businesses have seen their demand-side fall off a cliff in a matter of weeks, for others the impact has been on their supply-side. Many have seen both dimensions of their enterprises affected.
So how might we best pray for local businesses, and particularly for those in leadership in business who belong to PCI congregations?
Here are six prayer pointers.
1. Integrity under pressure
None of us really know how we will react under extreme pressure until we actually find ourselves in certain situations. We want to pray that followers of Jesus will be able to be gracious and fruitful in these toughest of times, and that we will have opportunities to demonstrate kingdom based values and share the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.
We must also be realistic about the dark side of human nature and pray that under pressure, no Christian will be tempted to cut moral corners to achieve the outcome they want. We would add to that a prayer that Christians would also know God’s protection from ‘sharp practice’ on the part of others.
We should be mindful also that many of the schemes designed to help businesses have been put together very quickly and won’t be perfect. There are going to be times when accessing help may prove frustrating, and we pray for an ability to be gracious and patient with those trying to process assistance, who will themselves be under enormous pressure.
2. Doing right by workers
As followers of Jesus, we want to do the best that we can for our employees, and first and foremost that means balancing demands for business continuity with ensuring that the workplace environment is safe, with appropriate measures around PPE and social distancing.
While government support for furloughed workers is hugely appreciated, we recognise that not every business will be able to afford to make up the balance of salaries. We should pray for wisdom and sensitivity to support workers as best we can, many of whom will have unique family pressures and will often want clarity in these circumstances that may be hard to provide.
3. Resilience for leaders
We have all become more aware of the importance of good mental health in recent years, and we want to pray that those leading businesses will have clear heads, an opportunity to talk about their problems, healthy and constructive outlets for their pressure, and ability – by the grace of God – to bounce back.
For those who own and lead businesses – perhaps that they personally built up over decades, or that have been passed down through family generations – the sense of personal identity attached to those companies, along with responsibility for customers and employees, can be hard to put into words. To feel that decades of progress have been robbed from them in a matter of weeks, for reasons completely unforeseen and beyond their control, is very difficult for anyone to process.
4. Making the right decisions
Many will be familiar with the business adage that ‘cash is king’, and right across our economy many will be dealing with difficult choices about how they can get money in and who they can pay, working with customers, suppliers and their banks, and trying to forecast cash flow on a weekly or even daily basis. It is hard to put into words how stressful that can be.
We should pray that people will be able to make good decisions in short timescales, particularly about how fast and deep they should cut costs to safeguard their businesses. And as we pray, it is recognised that this need to make good decisions will be required for months and years to come. Government assistance has been generous but support such as loan schemes, VAT deferrals, and rates holidays all have to be paid back at some future point, and it will take some businesses years to trade out of their problems.
5. Ability to look ahead
Confidence is intangible but essential for every economy. Consumers need confidence before they go out and spend and businesses need confidence before they will invest. While as followers of Jesus we hope and pray that coronavirus and the events of early 2020 will lead many in our society to re-evaluate their lives and what matters most to them, we recognise also that a healthy demand side is essential to the functioning of any economy. And as we pray for confidence, we ask too that Christian business leaders would have ability to look ahead and discern how their sectors and markets will change in years to come, and how to adapt and innovate in light of their evaluations.
6. Wisdom from Government
Finally, it is recognised that even before we’d heard of coronavirus, 2020 was a year of much uncertainty for many in business in Northern Ireland, given that the UK has left the EU and the transition period will conclude at the end of the year. Businesses don’t yet know what exactly the outworking of the NI Protocol will mean in terms of friction in NI-GB trade (in both directions) and extra bureaucracy required, but as things stand there is no indication the transition will be extended, and many businesses that may be struggling to get back on their feet after coronavirus could face a whole other set of additional changes and costs to work through. Pray that those in government will be wise in the decisions they make in this area of national life.