For the past six months, cities across the United States have burned as violent rioters defaced historical monuments and federal buildings and destroyed businesses and police precincts. The daily barrage of chaos, anarchy and violence in the streets reminds me of Thomas Paine’s description of the days of the Revolutionary War when he wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
Two hundred and forty-four years later, Paine’s declaration seems an apt assessment of America in 2020. We’re in a time that’s trying the soul of the most blessed nation on earth. Consequently, I believe that Christians need to turn back to their first love. How do we do that? Look upward. Look inward. Look outward.
Jesus said in the last days there would be an increase of plagues, wars and rumors of wars, but the most important thing He said is that when you see these things begin to happen, look up, for “your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). Instead of perpetually looking down at the viral images of lawlessness on your smartphone, look up and remember that God is still in control. When we view the world from the perspective of Christ’s imminent return, the daily news should engender hope instead of despair while drawing us ever closer to God and stirring an urgency within us to share the Gospel with those far from Him.
Before I was a Christian, I hated authority. I hated police. I didn’t like people telling me what to do, so in some ways I understand this mindset. The rioters are actually not the enemy as much as they are under the control of the enemy. What they need is Jesus. And as Christians, our mission is always to build bridges and try to engage people in Gospel-centered conversations. Jesus says in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Remember that God keeps His Word. Oops is not in His vocabulary. He is not caught off guard or surprised by the chaos. So, keep trusting in God’s Word. Believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts. Prayerfully claim God’s promises and then live like you believe them.
And while we don’t like the uncertainty of the times physically, socially, politically and economically, the most important measure is, “What are these days exposing about us spiritually?” It’s been said that Christians are a lot like tea bags—you don’t know what they’re made of until you put them in hot water. For some Christ-followers, it feels like the temperature is scalding. Let’s not forget that the Bible says suffering or the testing of our faith “produces endurance” (Romans 5:3). God’s purpose for our trials is not to weaken us but to strengthen us. After all, a faith that cannot be tested is a faith that cannot be trusted.
Furthermore, God’s promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14—“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land”—remains the age-old answer for America’s ills.
The healing of our land always starts with God’s people. While some will point fingers at Hollywood, Wall Street, academia, the mainstream media, Congress or the White House, God is effectively saying exactly what He has always said in His Word, “the problem is in My House, it’s in the church.” And because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, His message remains the same for every generation.
The Old Testament Prophet Daniel provides us a convicting example of how looking inward in light of God’s holiness leads to contrition and humble repentance. While the Bible details the shortcomings of Moses, Gideon, Elijah and David, just to name a few, Daniel’s reputation as a godly man of prayer and faith is unrivaled. Yet in Daniel chapter 9, we read that the prophet confessed his sins first before interceding for the people of Israel in the midst of decades of Babylonian captivity. It’s very easy to point our finger at everybody else, but Daniel, who was clearly a very godly man, even saw his own need to repent. As we pray for a spiritual awakening across America, may it be birthed out of a revival in the churches rooted in individual repentance.
Instead of debating the efficacy of face masks as a deterrent to the spread of COVID-19 or trying to win a political debate, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). The Bible says “love is patient and kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4). But the Apostle Paul doesn’t just tell us what love is, he tells what love does. It’s one thing to tell someone, “I love you,” but it’s another thing to be patient and kind with someone who has offended you or with whom you vehemently disagree. Christians, of all people, should be modeling love, patience and long-suffering right now. The reality of love is not what we say, but ultimately what we do. May we not allow the enemy to divide us. We can disagree agreeably. And “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). The church’s mission is still to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. Our goal is to see people come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. And our enemy is the devil. We’re in a time that’s trying our soul in America. May we turn back to God as we joyfully and expectantly await Jesus’ return for His bride, the church.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
Greg Laurie is the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, Riverside, California. He has authored more than 70 books, including “Signs of the Times,” and serves on the board of directors with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Photo: AP Photo/Julio Cortez