Let’s start with some good news: Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s daughter, Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor, was added to the royal line of succession yesterday. Here’s some more good news: an asteroid the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza missed us when it flew by our planet Sunday.
Here’s my guess: you find the second story a bit more relevant to your life than the first and thus the better news of the two. That’s understandable. Lilibet is now eighth in line to the throne currently held by the queen, which means a great deal would have to go wrong before she ascended the British throne. And unless you live in the UK, the inhabitant of that throne is probably less relevant to your daily life than missing a collision with a massive asteroid.
American optimism fell twenty points since May
One of the consequences of living in a consumer-driven economy is that consumers believe we drive more than the economy. We are given to think that it’s all about us, that we should have what we want when we want it. We assume that what we believe is best for us is best for us.
This fact helps to explain why optimism is down nearly twenty points since May. A majority—55 percent—of the public now say they are pessimistic about the direction of the country, a marked change from the 36 percent who said the same in a May 2 poll. According to ABC News, the drop “likely reflects the growing concern that lockdowns could be reinstated and already vaccinated Americans could need a booster shot” for COVID-19.
Americans are also experiencing a major decline in friendships. In 1990, 33 percent of us said we had ten or more close friends; in 2021, that number had fallen to 13 percent. Only half of us (51 percent) say we are very or completely satisfied with the number of friends we have.
This at a time of skyrocketing gun violence in recent months. Between July 17 and July 23, the Gun Violence Archive tracked at least 915 shooting incidents, which averages to one every twelve minutes. At least 430 people were killed and 1,007 wounded.
One more cultural fact: US population growth has ground to a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic and a decade-long decline in birth rate.
God “alters the mainspring”
What are you to do about pandemic threats, relational challenges, rising violence, and declining population growth? Your answer is probably, “very little.” Unless you have a way to stop the pandemic, encourage relationships, and end violence, these stories may frustrate you more than they inspire you.
This is because, despite what we think, it’s not really all about us. Even if you’re the president of the United States, there’s only so much you can do about the problems we face. We cannot legislate to produce morality (though we can and must legislate against immorality, of course).
But God can do what we cannot.
Oswald Chambers observed, “Jesus Christ does not give us rules and regulations; his teachings are truths that can only be interpreted by the disposition he puts in. The great marvel of Jesus Christ’s salvation is that he alters heredity. He does not alter human nature; he alters its mainspring.”
Chambers noted that the Sermon on the Mount, for example, “is not a set of rules and regulations: it is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting his way with us.”
This is a massive insight. We can regulate external behavior but only God can change human nature. We can act in godly ways to impress others and seek God’s blessing. But measure your heart—do you secretly still want to do what you know you should not do?
Imagine being so free of addiction to sin that we no longer suffer from its cravings. Obviously, we will act in godly ways and will draw others to Jesus as a result, but this will be true joy for us as well.
Our “mainspring” will be different.
“Let me use success as material for thankfulness”
Our part of the equation is to be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), to yield to God’s sanctifying Holy Spirit every moment of every day. When we “submit yourselves therefore to God,” we can “resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
Our culture teaches us that we can do anything if we just try harder. However, holiness is not trying harder to do better. It is being so “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), so humbled and surrendered before God, that he can make us like Jesus (Romans 8:29). Then we can join him in turning the challenges of our day into opportunities for the godliness that glorifies our Lord.
The Scottish minister John Baillie prayed:
Teach me, O God, to use all the circumstances of my life today to nurture the fruits of the Spirit rather than the fruits of sin.
Let me use disappointment as material for patience;
Let me use success as material for thankfulness;
Let me use anxiety as material for perseverance;
Let me use danger as material for courage;
Let me use criticism as material for learning;
Let me use praise as material for humility;
Let me use pleasures as material for self-control;
Let me use pain as material for endurance.
Will you make his prayer yours today?
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