While babysitting recently, my wife prayed with our 11-year-old grandson. Asked what he wanted to pray for, he replied “Ukraine”. When Lesley asked if there was anything else, he said “the president of Brazil”, who was destroying the rainforest and affecting the whole world.
Our grandson had put his finger on two global anxieties: the destruction and economic consequences of widespread war, and the slower-burning impact of climate change and environmental degradation.
How can we Christians face these deep anxieties? Perhaps we can ignore them, going on with life as if these things were not happening, but this is as effective as a cancer patient ignoring symptoms, and fails in our calling to live and speak truthfully. Or maybe we can say “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”, joining those who live for the moment with no hope for the future.
Certainly we can show compassion and generosity to those affected by wars and climate change; we can appeal to political leaders for wise and just actions and for effective responses to the environmental crisis; we can change our own lifestyles to reduce our impact on the planet. All these are good and important, but in themselves they do not touch the roots of our anxieties, which mainly arise from fear of how we and those we love may be affected personally: loss of safe environment, hopes dashed, shortage of food and other necessities, societal disturbances, even death.
Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Ultimately, our peace can only be found in Jesus and the gospel. As we face these massive challenges, I believe there are three main strands for our hope, three deep roots we can put down to hold us firm.
Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). Through his Spirit within us, we can know his peace even in great difficulties, knowing that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).
In recent months, I have had regular contact with some Ukrainian church leaders. Amazingly, they have remained outgoing, purposeful and positive, surrounded by the devastating losses of so many people, and experiencing non-stop pressures, uncertainties of supply, and daily threats of destruction. At the same time, many around them have lost all their previous material securities, and in some cases have also lost loved ones. This has led to a new spiritual openness in which people are coming to Christ. Light is shining in the darkness. The presence of God with them is real and powerful.
Truly, God can sustain his people, enabling them to live in peace and be light to the world, whatever they may face. As Paul wrote again, in Romans 8:38-39,
I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Whatever we are going through, it is possible to live in peace. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
One of our fundamental needs is food and clothing. This can be a cause of much anxiety, whether because of immediate shortages or through fear of the future.
Jesus told us:
Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…. Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:25-28)
He repeats and amplifies this:
So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” Or “What shall we drink?” Or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (Matthew 6:31-32)
He concludes with a final instruction about how to avoid anxiety:
Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)
At this very basic level of human need we have our heavenly Father’s commitment to provide what is needed for those who put him first. Our responsibility is to seek his kingdom and not to be anxious about our material supply. That will include putting him first in our daily work, which is his usual way to provide for those needs, but even if this normal way of living fails, God’s promises remain.
During the early years of our family, Lesley and I often found ourselves close to the edge financially, but we were committed to seeking God’s kingdom first and held on to this promise. During that period we had many wonderful provisions, from the small cheque arriving in time to stop us being overdrawn to the large cheque for a new car when our old one gave up the ghost.
More recently our financial situation has been much more comfortable but without the joy of God’s amazing supply like this. In our relatively stable and prosperous society, including welfare benefits, many of us have not needed to put God’s promises to the test, but perhaps new challenges will give us fresh opportunities to experience his supply and enjoy freedom from anxiety.
Paul wrote, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19). For many of us, this present life has been so comfortable and stable that our hope for the life to come has often been side-lined. We find it hard to grasp some of Paul’s other challenging words: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” and “My desire is to depart and be with Christ for that is far better.” (Philippians 1:21, 23).
At the very heart of the good news is the promise of eternal life in a resurrected body, in the presence of the Lord. The current world order, whether comfortable, difficult or traumatic, is not the end. We will be set free from the impacts of sin, to rule with the Lord forever in the new heavens and new earth, where righteousness reigns. Whatever pain and loss we experience now cannot be compared with the glory we shall receive.
This is our hope as individual believers and the hope of “the creation itself [which] will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21). In safety and comfort, it is easy to ignore these things, but in times of danger this hope becomes precious.
Now in my 70s, I am becoming more and more aware of my mortality, as friends die and my own body tells me my days are numbered. Increasingly I must put my trust in the firm hope of the resurrection. Yet this is not a hope just for older people; it is for my grandchildren as much as it is for me. It holds true for everyone who trusts in Jesus. Facing dangerous times, this is where everyone can place their hope and find peace.
Peace and purpose
With the real strength of Christ’s presence with us, the promise of provision for our material needs, and a firm hope beyond death, we have the basis to overcome anxiety. Though we will need to keep bringing our anxieties to the Lord, we can face the world’s challenges in peace:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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)
Rooted in his love for us, secure in his peace, we can seek first God’s kingdom. We can speak and act boldly in Jesus’ name, showing his compassion, pursuing justice and bringing good news of God’s salvation. If the world becomes darker, then our light can become stronger.
Perhaps the present troubles give us a wonderful opportunity to see beyond superficial comforts and help us to “live a life worthy of our calling”, as we hold fast to our hope in Christ.