Like me, you hear the stories of a jet blown out of the sky, bodies falling and bloating in the Ukranian sun. No one allowed to gather them and send them home to their grieving families. In Europe. And you sense that some line has been crossed. Christians flee Mosul, Iraq, their community’s home for thousands of years, with only the clothes on their backs (see Gwen's post below). Another line crossed.
Maybe also like me, the churn in the world amplifies the churn of bad news in your own family and friends–careers disrupted, separation–news that has you "writing the book" with heartbreaking storylines. Do we let the dread overwhelm us? Or do we take action to dispel it? Here are five things we can do to live from a confident faith:
• Dial down the cable news.
I’m pretty fond of my cable news but I continually remind myself: Cable news is not driven by what is truly important. It is generally absent a Kingdom perspective. It is a business driven by ratings.
The way news gets good ratings is by being as entertaining as possible. The word “entertain” comes to us from two Latin words: “enter”=between and “tener”=to hold. To entertain=to be able to hold people’s attention “between” your hands. Grab it. Keep it.
What grabs and holds our attention best? A little reflection and reams of research tell us it is fear and pleasure. So news is delivered to rivet our attention through unrelenting fear seasoned with plunging necklines, short skirts and occasional funny stories.
If it bleeds it leads. We can’t help it…we always slow down for car wrecks. Even commercials capitalize on the dangers of ageing and falling apart, burglars breaking in or “financial craziness.” The good, the true and the beautiful?….uhm not so much.
It’s so easy to let CND (Cable News Dread) creep into our lives. You can have cable news on in the background with the volume turned down. But producers get paid millions to catch your eye and prompt you to turn it up. They often earn their pay.
When our screens drip constant danger it cycles into generalized dark clouds of dread that drizzle vague fears across our imagination. The fine mist and news noise make it harder to discern the presence of Jesus shimmering through the glass darkly. What if the more overwhelmed we feel the more we dial the news down to focus on the main thing?
I gave up cable news for Lent this year. A little withdrawal…then so much more peace and productivity. I felt more relaxed, less jangled. Both in a sensory and a spiritual way. It helped me to reset my habits and my heart.
• Name the dread.
Webster’s defines “dread” as “a great fear in the face of impending evil.” What exactly is the “impending evil”? Is it real?
I think it’s more real and more “impending” than ever. We need to “understand our times” so we know what to do (1 Chron 12:32). We are living in a time of unprecedented global instability that makes our cultural pressures pale in comparison.
Zbigniew Brzezinsky, National Security Advisor to Jimmy Carter, and considered one of the world’s most strategic thinkers, was interviewed in last week’s journal of Foreign Policy: “There is enormous turmoil and fragmentation and uncertainty — not a single central threat to everybody, but a lot of diversified threats to almost everybody.
“This is historically unprecedented, in the sense that simultaneously huge swaths of global territory are dominated by populist unrest, anger, and effective loss of state control…we [the US] are losing control of our ability at the highest levels of dealing with challenges…that are fundamental to our well-being. And yet we cannot muster the forces or generate the leadership to deal with them. So that makes us, the preeminent power, increasingly devoid of strategic will and a sense of direction… I think we're sliding in an era of great confusion and prevailing chaos.”
We were attacked on 9-11. We responded with force and nation building in the Bush administration. With decreasing force and diplomacy in the Obama administration. Neither has proved sufficient to secure an Iraq or Afghanistan that can defend itself against Muslim radicals. And we are not prepared to permanently defend states whose Islamic values we cannot change. Millions of dollars and thousands of lives later we now have another radical Islamic state in Iraq and the Taliban back on the rise.
An ancient Christ-hating enemy gathers strength to oppose us in Africa and the Mideast. Instead of Russia pulling back from Ukraine, chastened after the downing of the Malaysian jet, it is ramping up, taking another bite out of a European country with mere slap-on-the-hand sanctions from Europe and the US. China unleashes cyber-attacks of greater and greater cunning and intensity. The headlines can hardly keep up with the chaos. Just yesterday we had to pull our embassy out of Libya. We clearly have lost the ability to dominate and influence the way we used to.
To understand this is to understand our times. No wonder my friend Julie Barnhill posted on Facebook last week, “Israel moving in and against Gaza by sea, air, and land. Given world events (pick one) and their increasing frequency & intensity, I sat down with one of my children today and reminded him of what he has been taught regarding Scriptural prophecy: When and if you witness a man bringing about peace with Israel and her enemies; when and if you witness a man bringing peace where is none; when and if you witness the World, by and large, throw all their chips in with one man…be wise, for you may be witnessing the rise of the Anti Christ."
This is “impending evil” we face in macro. There are others. In micro I have my own list of deep concerns about friends and family, including my Dad in hospice. I’m sure you do too.
• Pray Psalm 64:1
This past week, as I felt dark clouds gathering, I came before God. Quieted myself. Opened his word. Okay, I confess…it was a lucky dip into Psalms. But this time I got really “lucky”…
“A psalm of David. Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy.”
This was different from so many prayers for deliverance from enemies. This is a prayer to preserve my life from the dread of the enemy. David, pursued off and on by Saul’s armies for ten years, prays not to live those years in dread. He believes God’s promises. He knows how the story will end. He still fights the dread of what may happen along the way.
Constant foreboding robs us of the life God wants for us. We get cranky. We don’t bear fruits of love, joy, peace, etc. We pull back and hunker down. We don’t take risks to love God and people that might mean more exposure. David chooses to name the dread and lift it up to God in prayer. And continues to love and lead with courage.
I named the dreads on my heart, adding my two most favorite, longstanding dreads—ageing with RA and the prospect of financial meltdown. I prayed that God would deliver us from these enemies. Which I often do. But this time, like David, I also prayed that God would “preserve my life”—my joy, my fruitfulness, my strength—from the dread of these enemies.
• Thank God for his sovereign rule over the world and our lives.
We struggle in part because we think we are losing control. Losing influence is not the same as losing control. America has never been in control. In a recent call to prayer Anne Graham Lotz called for repentance of dread, “We repent of complaining as we wring our hands in despair, thinking our nation and our world are falling apart when they are really falling into place—right at Your feet.”
Thank God that he is in control of America, Ukraine, Russia, Gaza, Israel, Isis, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Honduras, Boko Haram and the rest. The list literally gets longer every day. Thank him that he is sovereign over my family and yours. My church and yours.
Right after I wrote this I read what Anne LaMott shared on Facebook yesterday, “I have long since weeded out people who might respond to my condition by saying cheerfully, "God's got a perfect plan." Really? Thank you! How fun.
"There is no one left in my circle who would dare say, brightly, "Let Go and Let God," because they know I would come after them with a fork.
"It's not that I don't trust God or grace or good orderly direction anymore. I do, more than ever…It's just that right now cute little platitudes are not helpful.”
This blog is not offered as a “cute little platitude.” It’s offered in the spirit of God drawing near to Job. Job, you are feeling overwhelmed? Feeling like things are out of control? “Brace yourself! Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? Can you adorn yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor?
"Pour out the overflowings of your anger…Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. Then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you” (Job 40:9-14).
We need a redeemed imagination of a God who is totally in control of evil. Mighty to save. Saving is what he does. Saving is who he is.
At the end of his life, in chains in Rome, Paul wrote Timothy, “At my first defense…all deserted me. But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (2 Tim 4: 16-18).
God is standing by you. God is strengthening you. He will rescue you to proclaim what a great, saving God he is. Look at Meriam Ibrahim. God will also bring you safely into his heavenly kingdom.
• Get serious. Live on mission.
One more note here…Serious times call for serious living. Not focusing on the “impending evil.” Not focusing on fun. Looking to Jesus. Bringing his kingdom rule into our homes, churches, schools, businesses…into this confused and chaotic world.
In the same passage Paul also wrote Timothy, “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (2Tim 4:13).
Above all bring parchments. Paul could not bog down in dread over the lions mouth. He had writing to do…