By Diana Chandler
LYNCHBURG, Va. (BP) — In the span of a month, pastor and chart-topping worship leader Charles Billingsley celebrated 26 years of marriage and his wife’s birthday, released a new album, and was hospitalized with COVID-19.
Billingsley, teaching pastor and worship leader of mega Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., still had residual double pneumonia when he spoke with Baptist Press April 22.
“One of the things I’ve just determined in my heart from this whole thing,” he said through tears, “is that I don’t ever want to lead worship for the Lord in an inhibited way anymore. I just don’t care what people think. I just want to praise the Lord with a pure heart.
“I’ve had some of the most powerful moments of worship in the last three weeks than I have in my whole life, and that’s been so amazing,” said Billingsley, who leads thousands in worship each week and has released seven top inspirational radio hits. “I don’t know why I’m one of the few people in this whole region that ended up going through this, but if it will draw me closer to Him and give me a new depth of ministry, I’ll take it.”
In Lynchburg, with a population of 76,000, there were 68 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death through Thursday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The virus has sickened nearly 10,300 and killed nearly 350 across the state.
“This virus to me attacks the mind as much as the body because of the isolation factor and just the longevity of it,” Billingsley said. “You get seven or eight days into this thing and you think you’re done, but you’re really just getting started. … I said, ‘Man, when is this thing going to be over?'”
Billingsley thought he had the flu when he fell ill the very night of his 26th wedding anniversary dinner. Diagnosed days later with COVID-19, nearly two weeks of body aches and a 103-degree fever led to a three-day precautionary hospital stay at Easter. As coronavirus began to impact his lungs, doctors wanted to be certain he was near a ventilator if needed.
“The problem with corona is it can attack your lungs and if you’re not in a situation where you’re prepared,” Billingsley said, “you can in some cases be dead within a half hour.”
His latest album, “I Was Made for This,” was released April 10 during his stay at Lynchburg General Hospital.
“The timing of it could not have been worse,” Billingsley said. “Those were lonely days; those were hard days. But I spent a lot of time just worshiping and seeking the Lord. You know how it is. In the depths of the valley, sometimes you can have the strongest moments of worship. And that’s when you feel His presence even most. And I certainly did during those times.
“I never one time was fearful of dying. I felt like He was going to pull me through all along. I wish He would have done it a little faster.”
Admittedly, he grew frustrated and angry with God in the weeks-long battle with the illness. He relied on Scripture.
“Psalm 62 just kept speaking to me,” he said. “And then Philippians 4:6-7. That’s just been a real powerful passage where Paul says, ‘Be anxious for nothing, in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.'”
Songs on his album, which he’d been working on for months, took on new meaning.
“One thing I did in the hospital is I listened to this record, and the songs just took on a whole new depth of meaning for me, even though I co-wrote them months ago,” he said. “It just takes you to a new depth with the Lord, which, when you’re going through valleys like this, it’s what He’s wanting to do. He’s wanting us to go deeper with Him and grow closer to Him.”
The album helped comfort him.
“A lot of the songs on that new record were very timely that we wrote,” he said, “but we didn’t realize when we were writing them six months ago how timely they would be. Songs like ‘Sing for My Soul,’ and ‘Where You’re Supposed to Be,’ just several of those that are very timely for this day and age.”
One song on the album is titled “Kyrie,” which is translated from the Greek as “Lord have mercy.” Billingsley said the song is meant to plead for mercy “on the road that we’re traveling.”
“‘Sing for My Soul’ is a song about the intercession of the Holy Spirit, when we don’t know how to pray, that the Lord, the Holy Spirit, intercedes on our behalf,” Billingsley said. “And that’s been a very powerful song for me. And then the song, ‘Where You’re Supposed to Be,’ was remarkably timely for this day and age. And that’s just a song about being in the center of God’s will, even when you don’t understand why you find yourself where you’re at.”
On April 20, his wife Shae’s birthday, a follow-up test showed Billingsley is free of the virus.
“That was the best birthday present we could have gotten,” he said. “I got a report that I was negative and my whole family, her and my two boys [Caleb and Cooper], somehow, someway, miraculously stayed negative through this whole thing. I don’t know how that’s possible, but we just give all glory to God, and thank the Lord that they’re all coronavirus free.”
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.