I watch the news and hear reasonable and well-educated people fearing that the possibility of a constitutional crisis in the upcoming election is growing with each passing day. I see a political system in DC that congratulates itself for delaying its vacation by a few days so that they can attempt save millions of Americans from eviction. I hear musings about delaying the election and obstruction of postal service funding at a time when, months in advance, its apparent that for many, if not most, the ballot will be in the mail. Ugh.
When we shrink our sphere a bit, there are friends battling cancer, friends losing spouses, friends losing jobs, friends feeling the loneliness of living alone in a pandemic closing in on them. Shrink our world a bit more to our own and we're staring our own anxiety in the face every time we cough or wake with a scratchy throat, not to mention that stresses and, possibly, unhealthy self medications that for too many of us have become new normals. We're sleeping poorly, worried about everything. It's wearing on us, and there's no light at the end of the tunnel.
In this present world of ours, anxiety is the default position, or so it seems, and then along comes Paul with this exhortation: "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts." It sounds like a fantasy. He might as well be telling me to run a marathon barefoot in the desert. We're at risk, then, of not taking seriously the notion that there's even a possibility of Christ's peace saturating our lives. (I'm not talking about medical anxiety here, so don't toss your meds - but this word is for you too). We become our own worst enemy when we discard these kinds of exhortations as fantasy, but it's understandable because we live in a culture where every single element is almost designed to induce anxiety. As a result, letting the peace of Christ rule isn't going to happen without a great deal of intentionality. So if you'd like a little help pursuing the peace of Christ, read on:
1. You need to dwell in three realms.
There's a sphere of concern. This is the upcoming election. This is the virus, and the fact that we've failed to take it seriously and are now paying a terrible price. This is George Floyd, and police de-funding, and climate change, and human trafficking, and the national debt, and oh so much more.
There's a sphere of kingdom responsibility. This is you, taking God-directed and God-empowered steps in response to your prayer that God's kingdom would be "made visible on earth as it is in heaven." For one individual, this may be protesting in the streets while another is doing reconciliation work with the Duwamish tribe. Yet another is teaching sustainable agricultural and empowering land ownership. Another is helping refugees, or serving in a food bank. Another is writing music, or making art. Another is leading a team at work, or throwing a party with their neighbors, who just happen to be of every political, ethnic, socio-economic, religious, and sexual stripe. But the point is clear: Each of us have stuff to do - ' (unique) good works for which we were created.'
There's a sphere of personal wholeness. This is you developing habits that care for soil that is your soul so that you are becoming filled up and fortified. It includes habits like prayer, holy reading, and meditation, of course. But it also includes eating well, sleeping, fasting (from both food and media), looking at the stars, living in the present moment fully. Slowing down. Taking a sabbath. The truth is this: You can't even know what kingdom stuff you, personally, ought to be doing, let alone finding the time, strength, and emotional intelligence and bandwidth to do them, unless you are full.
2. Each realm needs a proper proportion.
If you turned these three realms into a pie with three pieces, what would the pie look like? I ask because, without intentionality, what often happens is that you default into wrongly skewed proportions. For too many, the cycle of news and social media overwhelms the other two pieces of the pie. We see someone post a letter on FB and get really angry, or seethe over what POTUS tweets, or literally feel our blood pressure rise when we listen to parties blame each other for stalemates, or see a GDP shrinking in 'great depression' proportions.
So maybe you decide to pull yourself out of a funk by marching at the protest, or serving at the shelter, or whatever. You're going to shrink the "worry about the world" section of your pie by diving into activism. "We've got to do something," you say to yourself, but the problem is that you've maybe not considered whether the something you're doing is the something you're uniquely called to do. As a result, kingdom ethics rise and fall in waves as issues of the day gain notoriety and popularity, flaming like a comet, but flaming out like one too, when the next thing arises.
Ecclesiastes is helpful here. Remember that "there's nothing new under the sun." Political corruption, oppression and censure of women, poverty and hunger, nations rising and falling, wars driven by arrogance and greed, racism, human trafficking -- it's all happened before, and yes even after the next step forward, will happen again. I don't say that to depress you, but rather to note that you won't score the touchdown - you won't bring the kingdom of God into full expression. You'll likely die without seeing the fulfillment of promise, just as everyone who came before you died. If it's perfection or nothing, you'll get nothing every time. History is a marathon, and if this history of our species is 26.2 miles, we carry the torch for a few feet - each of us. Let's get over ourselves.
Still, we carry the torch. And if we're going to rightly use our "one precious life" as Mary Oliver calls it, we need to be doing THE thing(s) we're made to do and to be doing them out from the supernatural power source that is Christ. For that to happen, we need to essentially, and counterintuitively, do a major overhaul of our proportions.
3. Proportion and Power comes through intentionality, prayer, and practice.
Somehow, both the world and religious institutions have hijacked the "simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ" so that we find ourselves angry, combative, anxious, stressed, and frustrated. By the way, none of those states of being are called 'the fruits of the spirit' in the Bible.
So you need to invest some time in the things that matter. Take sabbath, holy reading, meditation, a good night's sleep, and even keeping your room decently uncluttered, seriously. Out from such habits, slowly over time, next steps, kingdom steps, will arise. They'll be your steps, not steps dictated by cultural anger and the issue of the day. You'll be purposeful, and as a result, both less anxious and more fruitful. Your time in making God's good reign visible will be bigger, and more effective, because it will come out from intimacy, and humility, and worship. And it will be good.
Take a minute today and draw your pie. If you're really courageous, share it in the comments section, and maybe a step you're taking to correct it.