Anxiety and depression were experienced by roughly 10% of adults in the U.S. in June of 2019. That number has increased dramatically to 40% in June 2020. We are worried about the pandemic, divisive politics, economic downturns, cultural decay, racial strife, or all of the above. What should we do when the world is turned upside down?
Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world”. How can people of faith “take heart” in this world of trouble? Our church is beginning a study of the Prophet Daniel in September to learn how people of faith can walk with God when everything goes wrong. Daniel and his friends were exiled to Babylon and were learning to obey the instructions God gave through the prophet Jeremiah (in Jeremiah chapter 29).
Jesus says in Luke 13 that a disaster does not prove that the victims are any worse than other sinners, but that all of us are sinners who should repent. In Romans 1-3, Paul explains similarly that we all deserve judgment, whether we are romantic or conservative in our sin. So regardless of how we got to this place, we are broken people in need of directions from God. The instructions for 6th Century BC exiles apply just as well to 21st Century AD strugglers like you and me. Jeremiah points out three important things that we can do when our world falls apart. We should listen to God’s word, build a normal life, and spend because of God’s grace.
Listen to God’s Word
First, Jeremiah encourages us to listen to God’s word. We live in a world of competing and divisive voices. This lesson is dramatically illustrated in Jeremiah 28 when a false prophet named Hananiah competes for the attention of the people of Judah. Are you listening to God’s word, or all of the other prophets of our culture? Brett McCracken wrote recently that a typical Christian devotes 2 hours a week to instruction in faith, and about 90 hours per week to social media and entertainment. (Gospel Coalition, August 18, 2020) At our church we like to say that “the Bible speaks with the authority and relevance of Jesus”. I wonder how many of us budget our time with that same conviction? Broken routines and soaring anxiety are the perfect time to develop new habits of listening to God’s word. I’ve never regretted listening to God’s word.
Build a Normal Life
Secondly, Jeremiah encourages us to build a normal life. He tells the exiles in Jeremiah 29:5-7 that as they build houses and settle down, they will also seek the welfare of their pagan neighbors. Let’s remember the quiet simplicity of investing in work, loving our family and friends, planting trees, and improving our city. (1 Thessalonians 4:11) Then, “taking care of our own business” naturally leads to praying for and caring for our community. The disruptions of 2020 have certainly made things more difficult, but we can re-build normalcy through simple daily obedience and “seeking the welfare of the city”. (Jeremiah 29:7) God designed us to work and spread paradise (Genesis 1:28&2:15), but we have brought sin and selfishness. This leads us to the last point.
Spend Our Resources
Because of Grace
Finally, Jeremiah says that we should spend our resources because of God’s grace. In the midst of pain and struggle, we will be tempted to doubt God’s intentions and turn inward. We will be tempted to act like misers instead of sons and daughters of the king. Saving is not wrong but saving everything is. Jesus dramatically illustrates this in his parable of how to wait for his return in Matthew 25:13-20. If we trust our Master as gracious, we will spend our resources for his glory and the blessing of others. If we bury our talents, it is a sign that we see God as harsh and unfair. Jeremiah reminds the exiles of this principle in Jeremiah 29:10-13. The exiles are experiencing hard discipline from God for their sin. They will be displaced for 70 horrible years. However, God reminds them of his grace, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”. (v.11)
Can we be the people who see God’s heart of welfare and blessing even when our world is turned upside down? We can see it most clearly in the way Jesus spent everything on us. Jesus was a voluntary exile from the comforts of heaven. He came to earth to live the perfect life, die a sacrificial death, and rise from the dead. Even when we were in rebellion, God sought the welfare of our city. He now asks us to trust him and share his grace.