Christians Living in Uncertain Times
Have you ever known more uncertain times? We look at the domestic front and problems abound. Almost every week there is a new crisis whether in government, a health scare, tension within communities, crime, poverty and economic insecurity. Just as unstable is the condition of our world from the troubles from North Korea to terrorism in the Mideast. Many don’t have to look beyond their front door to find uncertainty brought about through joblessness, marital difficulty, child abuse or good schools for children to get an education just to name a few.
Many people see faith as a means of escape from uncertainty assuming that if a person is a “good Christian,” those kinds of problems will disappear. To them, believing is somehow supposed to produce an umbrella of protection from the difficulties of the world. Sadly, such misunderstanding, even if out of the best of intentions, will always lead to disappointment.
As we are entering a new year, it seems to me we should give some thought to how we will approach a new year which holds yet unknown challenges. I have no doubt all of us will have some unexpected pleasures. But just as surely there will be corresponding difficulties. Most anyone can enjoy a party. Few know how to cope and successfully negotiate the uncertainties of life.
Let me interject a thought and flesh it out with you in some detail below. Most of what was written in scriptures was written in an environment of uncertainty. Take almost any character or event in the Bible you wish to recall and you will find it is in the context of uncertainty. This book is not filled with feel-good messages for a world we don’t live in. Whether it is Abraham following God to a new land, Joseph being sold by his brothers, Daniel and his prayer life or people like Peter or Paul in the New Testament. Life was no piece of cake.
God was not absent in those trying times and He is not absent in yours either. I suggest to you that the Bible is not an instruction book on how “to get you back in control of your life” or how “to get life back to normal.” Do you know why some people say that Christianity or the Bible does not make sense to them? It is precisely because they are determined to keep control of their lives. This book is filled with stories of people facing uncertainty and discovering that not only is God not absent, but he is often diligently at work accomplishing his will in this world and in the lives of those he loves. It is about how very much God is in control and how very much we are not. The problem too many of us is that we try to control our own life and make a mess of it and haven’t understood that “normal” is how unbelievers live. God wants believers to experience a different life in the context of challenges in order to learn dependence and to discover His sufficient grace. From God’s perspective, uncertain times are opportunities for God to do something for us, not God doing something to us.
In order for God to accomplish something great in and through us, we must respond correctly in those times of challenge. I want to suggest three urgent steps you need to develop the spiritual discipline to do in times like these.
Rather than panic, worry, become afraid or seek unhealthy solutions to difficulty, Christians need to remember the resource of prayer. I’m not talking about the usual quick prayer of thanks at a meal, the oft repeated request to “bless all the missionaries and sick people” before going to sleep or the desperate need when every other answer seems to be inadequate.
Instead we need to remember the admonition of Paul as he wrote from the prison cell of Rome hundreds of miles from his friends and in imminent danger of death. He wrote to the Philippians in the fourth chapter, “Rejoice for the Lord is near…” Isn’t that interesting given his situation? I think he says, “don’t get sucked into the same sense of gloom and doom as everyone else…God hasn’t gone anywhere.”
“Be anxious for nothing,” Paul says. It seems easier said than done. Paul gives further help. The way to avoid anxiety is “in everything with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” I can hear some responding with “I’ve already tried that and don’t have a good answer yet.” Have you tried the “thanksgiving” part yet? It takes recognition that God would not let you be there if He did not have a plan for you.
Furthermore, we must be careful to assess the situation in terms of responsibility. God never promised to rescue us from the result of every earthly calamity much of which is our own doing. The idea is not to inform God, but to discover what it is you are really after and verbalize that to God. Learn and unearth what it is you fear and what it is you desire and talk to God about it. The focus here is on revealing what’s on the inside of us. Pour out what is in you to God.
When we are able to discover and give to God those deep, otherwise unknown desires, something happens.
The rest of Paul’s well-known word to the Philippians is that the “peace of God which passes understanding will be yours.” It really can be if you learn to pray with faith. The situation may not change, but you will. Prayer doesn’t change things. Prayer changes people.
A second help in uncertain times is to remember. I would hasten to say that for all of us there are some things in life we would love to forget. There are also things we can’t afford to forget. “Uncertainty has a way of focusing us so exclusively on the mystery of what lies before us that we forget what lies behind.” If you have been a Christian for any length of time, God’s faithfulness to you in the past casts a shadow on your future. God’s faithfulness to us in the past should shape our assurance and perspective about the future.
I remind you of the story of Elijah. This great servant performed one of the most astounding feats in the Bible as recorded in I Kings 17-19. You recall how he showed up the prophets of Baal as phonies and called upon the Lord to demonstrate His presence by burning up the altars of Baal and slaying the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. If anyone could be described as a believer and in touch with God, it would be Elijah.
Yet you also remember how he fled in fear of the threat of Jezebel, wife of the king and worshipper of Baal. He went and hid under a juniper tree and told the Lord he was ready to die. Here was Elijah’s problem. There were some things he forgot about. Because he forgot God’s past faithfulness, he had a difficult time factoring in his future faithfulness. He could see no light at the end of his tunnel. Because he didn’t know what was going on, he assumed nothing was going on.
All believers are subject to difficulty from time to time and could have a response of fear, even if not so dramatic as to pray to die. When we lose sight of God’s past faithfulness, we don’t consider Him in our future either. And our fear can drive us to places we have no business going relationally, financially, and emotionally. As we remember Him in our past, we will see Him in our future.
God knows exactly where we are! It’s for times like those that I think God gave us personal verses like this one in Isaiah 41:10. “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you. Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
Not only did God know where Elijah was, He knew where Elijah was going. Guess what, He knows where you are going. There is no need to fear the future if we believe God is there and knows exactly our needs.
A third urgent need for believers in times of uncertainly is to follow. Consider again with me the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. “Seek first His Kingdom and all these things will be added unto you.” In times when you do not know what to do, follow the light you have. Seek what God is doing and you have the best chance of finding your way again. It’s logical in thought but harder to practice. Yet we must work at it. If we truly trust a God who cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, would He forget about us, lead us in a wrong path or intentionally harm us? I think not.
You must decide God can be trusted in uncertain times. “Uncertainly, like physical pain, has the potential to drive us to self-centeredness.” When we worry more about ourselves than pleasing God, the ability for faith to do us much good other than seeing our friends at church on Sunday, has gone out the window. It takes downright stubbornness to tackle our insecurities when trouble abounds. Perhaps the Lord is telling us not to worry about how we will sustain blessings, but seek His Kingdom and trust that He will bless us. If your only worry is about earthly matters you will never enjoy the fullness of how God wants to bless you.
I wish each of you a happy and prosperous new year not only in earthly success but even more so in the spiritual economy of life. When uncertain times come, and they inevitably will, your best resources will come from a vibrant prayer life, a rich spiritual bank account of memories of God’s sustaining power and putting His will above earthly priorities. Don’t forget, our difficulties only serve to create enormous opportunities for God to bless and use us as witnesses of His grace and power.