“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) Thanksgiving last week reminded us that thankful is the opposite of stressful. To represent Jesus well, Christians should be joyful and peaceful at all times. Thankfulness is an attitude of gratitude for the Father’s faithfulness in blessing and rescuing us, the undeserving. Worry demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s love and His plan, disappointing a watching world wondering if Christianity could transcend the distress of a hopeless existence. Because most Christians appear just as concerned about life’s challenges and dangers as everyone else, those who don’t know Jesus look elsewhere for an escape hatch from reality – drug and alcohol abuse, avatars, affairs, or even suicide.
In other words, just as our division contributed to the fracturing of American culture, our consumerism exacerbated America’s overindulgence, and our stinginess made America less generous, our lack of faith has raised our nation’s collective stress level about…
America rejects our faith as the source of hope, taking extreme measures to blind themselves to the inevitability of death, when Christians act as if eternal life in heaven is not a certainty.
- Losing or not conveying the joy of salvation, distracted by anxiety when we should be sitting at the feet of Jesus
- Adopting an attitude of scarcity rather than abundance, confident God will provide
- Focusing on maximizing returns in this life, not content with reaping rewards in the next
- Looking forward to comfortable retirements rather than running through the finish line
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” (Luke 12:25) When Christ-followers strive and stress about growing careers, families, and churches, our fears devalue God’s provision and promises. Living for self, success or survival conveys the sufficiency of mankind and insufficiency of God, freeing secular observers to dismiss the Gospel and face the trials of life without peace – and eternity without Jesus. When churches and Christians exhibit countercultural reactions to adversity, the world will find the hope it’s desperately seeking.
America rejects the idea that the Holy Spirit lives in believers, writing off the supernatural as “fairy tales”, when Christians and churches don’t conduct themselves as if they were His temples.
- Damaging our bodies through anxiety and stress we shouldn’t be experiencing as acutely as those not indwelled by the Holy Spirit
- Becoming addicts to ease pain Christ-followers should endure more courageously knowing this world is not our home as citizens of an everlasting Kingdom
- Suffering as a result of unhealthy lifestyles, not understanding we, like Jesus, will be resurrected in physical form
- Humanizing church, making it seem like any other organization, by focusing excessively on how it appears on the outside versus who we are on the inside
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Matthew 6:31) The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the dearth of discipleship in America’s churches. Most Christians appeared more concerned with self-preservation than self-sacrifice, not personifying “church” when the buildings’ doors were closed. If we rested on the Sabbath, accumulated less “stuff” (since each asset we acquire adds stress), and trusted God to take care of us, imagine how much healthier Christians, churches, and our nation would be.
America rejects our churches as being necessary and relevant, turning to government and academic institutions for answers, when we don’t pursue biblical opportunities to remain integral in a post-agrarian society.
- Abdicating the front-line role in alleviating the pressure of poverty, leaving it to those who can only provide (transactional) handouts, not a (relational) hand up
- Imitating churches in worrying about having enough to pay the bills, only giving leftovers, not first fruits, to help struggling families
- Developing church strategies and programs to feel needed, wondering whether the community would notice if we shut our doors
- Wanting to return to a position as the “center of town”, as churches were for centuries in America, yet realizing post-agrarian culture now has other social, charitable, and educational outlets
“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34) Jesus was more concerned about growing disciples than growing churches. We’re the only light in a dark, anxious world – but our light dims if we’re not active in compassion and evangelism. Today, it’s not just secular media questioning the importance of churches. According to Lifeway, 1 in 4 pre-COVID regular churchgoers have not returned. Regaining reach and relevance requires following Jesus’ example – going out to care and share, not just inviting the “lost” to come in.
America rejects the (traditionally) positive public perception of churches and Christians, showing greater respect for resolute post-modernists who hold their ground, when fearful believers compromise to adapt and conform to culture.
- Protecting social and employment status by pretending to be who we aren’t, not taking risks like speaking out about Jesus or professing to hold Christian values
- Inviting accusations of hypocrisy when churchgoers live inconsistent with their beliefs
- People-pleasing, losing sleep over how others perceive us instead of how God sees us
- Attracting congregants by catering to their needs rather than challenging them, soft-pedaling the costs of discipleship and commands to keep the Church holy
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.” (Matthew 8:28) Jesus wasn’t concerned with being liked, nor should we. Our efforts to impress anyone but God has the opposite of its intended effect, causing anxiety for us and for secular observers by taking the spotlight off Jesus and shining it on our insecurities, making it less likely they’ll see Him clearly. If Christians and churches would focus on loving God and others, not being liked but respected, our faith would lower our nation’s collective stress level.
America rejects conservative values, gravitating toward those who don’t have their best interests at heart, when Christians and churches fret over gaining influence in society rather than electing to pursue Jesus’ path to prominence (caring for the “least of these”).
- Stressing about politics and elections when we’ve already read the end of the story (The Book of Revelation), knowing Jesus and His Church win
- Bemoaning the state of our world in this Age of Decadence as if the sky is falling when fulfillment of prophecy should increase our faith, not jeopardize it
- Seeking earthly power, scaling the tops of the 7 mountains rather than relying on God’s power, realizing Jesus walked away from every attempt to enthrone Him
- Centralizing into “skyscrapers” that don’t occupy much ground instead of equipping and sending disciples to engage those who would never darken the door of a church
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say.” (Luke 12:11) Quietly serving in obscurity or decentralizing church to occupy a larger footprint doesn’t create notoriety but expands the Kingdom exponentially. The Lord’s math is the multiplication of disciples making disciples, not the addition of Invite/Involve/Invest church growth strategies. There’s tension in the precarious task of trying to build a large platform, and it’s hard to compete for attention with secular, for-profit organizations. If Christians and churches were less concerned about size and influence, we would gain more of both, and Americans would be less stressed in trying to outdo one another.
It’s Your Turn…
Where have you seen a Christian’s or church’s faith in dire circumstances move the needle on a family’s or community’s sense of peace and hope in the midst of trials?