One winning ticket was sold in downtown Los Angeles for last night’s $1.08 billion Powerball jackpot. If you think being the Powerball winner would solve all your problems, however, think again. From lawsuits to demanding relatives, divorces, robberies, drug overdoses, bankruptcies, and even murders, the stories illustrate Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s maxim, “Money buys everything except morality and citizens.”
Americans are wealthier than we were fifty years ago, but we’re not happier. For example, in the last year, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline answered nearly five million contacts, nearly two million more than in the previous twelve months. In a recent poll, 69 percent of Americans said things are going either pretty or very badly in our country. Among the factors they cited are the economy, partisanship and political divides, violence, and immigration.
Anxiety is the most common mental disorder in the US. In my wife’s excellent recent blog on anxiety and thankfulness, she notes that “experiences of high psychological distress are especially widespread among young adults.” This is a problem for the rest of us as well: in a recent survey, 62 percent of respondents reported experiencing some degree of anxiety.
However, as we continue our emphasis this week on the urgency of spiritual renewal for America’s future, I’d like to shift from the negative to the positive, albeit in a way that may not seem obvious at first.
“A nation of Indians ruled by Swedes”
Walter Russell Mead begins his brilliant new article: “Referring to polling data indicating that Sweden was the least religious country in the world and India the most, sociologist Peter Berger used to say that the United States was a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes. It remains the case today that many members of the American intellectual, administrative, financial, and even creative elites are unengaged with organized religion on a personal basis and, more consequentially, are only dimly aware of the profound and pervasive impact that religion has on domestic and international politics.”
According to Mead, “That blind spot is exceptionally dangerous in the 21st century” as “the transformational forces of the Information Revolution shake the foundations of American life.”
The pervasive sense that American evangelicals are exiled from American culture can be profoundly discouraging. As we watch and read the daily news, it is easy to fall into anxiety and despair over our nation’s future and our seeming inability to make a meaningful difference.
Mark Twain observed, “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.” However, God said of his sinful people, “They were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall” (Jeremiah 6:15; cf. 8:12). We sense that the same is true of our country.
“What is it that you are carrying today?”
Here’s the counterintuitive good news: the burden we feel is not ours to bear.
The worse things get, the more we need to remember this fact: Jesus is the world’s only Savior (Acts 4:12), our only hope for life “to the full” (John 10:10 NIV). The future is in his hands, not ours (Proverbs 16:9). Our job is not to save or even change the world but to be faithful to the only One who can, trusting him to use us for his eternal purposes in ways we may not see until we enter eternity with him.
So name your anxieties today, then accept Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
Commenting on this promise, Br. David Vryhof of the Society of St. John the Evangelist asks: “What is it that you are carrying today, or that you have been carrying for weeks or months or even years? What is it that weighs so heavily upon your heart? What is it that fills you with anxiety and fear, that exhausts your mind and binds up your emotions? What burdens or cares are sapping your strength, day after day after day?
“Take a moment now to identify and name them, and then picture yourself handing them over to Christ. He offers us his yoke, which is easy and light. He assures us that we need not carry life’s burdens on our own. He is ready to shoulder them with us, to make light whatever it is that is weighing us down.”
“There is something you can do better than another”
Here’s the balance, a mantra I repeat to myself often: As I work, God works. When I give God my best, he gives his best to me and through me. Ralph Waldo Emerson was right: “Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something which you can do better than another. Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that. Do the things at which you are great, not what you were never made for.”
Then, as we “fan into flame the gift of God” in our lives (2 Timothy 1:6), we can serve our risen Lord and our broken culture with full confidence that God’s Spirit is working redemptively through us.
Henri Nouwen observed: “All Christian action—whether it is visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, or working for a more just and peaceful society—is a manifestation of the human solidarity revealed to us in the house of God. It is not an anxious human effort to create a better world. It is a confident expression of the truth that in Christ, death, [the] devil, and destruction have been overcome.
“It is not a fearful attempt to restore a broken order. It is a joyful assertion that in Christ all order has already been restored. It is not a nervous effort to bring divided people together but a celebration of an already established unity. This action is not activism. An activist wants to heal, restore, redeem, and re-create, but those acting within the house of God point through their action to the healing, restoring, redeeming, and re-creating presence of God.”
Will you act “within the house of God” today?
NOTE: Great news! An additional $25,000 matching grant has been released for our current summer campaign. This means your gift today will be DOUBLED. Why is this important? The summer months can sometimes be challenging for ministry nonprofits like ours due to many factors. However, through generous supporters like you, we have seen God move time and again to provide for the needs of our ministry. Will you consider donating to our summer campaign today, especially knowing that your gift will be doubled?