The latest mass murders, the opioid crisis, and the dozen or so tornadoes that recently ripped through the area where I live seemed to objectify a growing, gnawing angst in our land. Notwithstanding the very good things many people are doing to counteract the damage and bring healing in the wake of these superhuman tragedies, fear and depression remain in the air. Some experts say that even if such horrifically destructive phenomena don’t directly impact everyone in the immediate vicinity, they do impact everyone indirectly.
Most everyone has been in a place like this. We know it is when, if our faith in God means anything, it would be a good idea to leverage it. Even Jesus had to turn to his Father in prayer while his earthly “friends” slept through his time of need, betrayed him to killers, and denied knowing him.
If we are unsure about how to proceed, this is one of those places where we would do well to imitate Jesus. By turning fervently to his Father for direction and comfort during his time of deepest distress, Jesus fashioned a powerful lifeline to his only source of hope, the Godhead of which he was part. In the end he acknowledged that the Father was working out a bigger plan that fully redeemed his own deepest suffering. “Not my will, but yours be done,” he surrendered. For Jesus, the worst was yet to come—when he perceived that even his Father had forsaken him to let him die the grueling death of a common human criminal. He got through those darkest days and nights knowing this was an essential part of a greater plan that would bless the world with God’s redeeming love.
Because of his faithful obedience, through Jesus’s time of greatest distress the salvation of humankind was realized. As a result, we can be assured that the Holy Spirit is still working in godly power to defeat sin and evil wherever they surface, to bring comfort and new hope, and to create something new in each of us in spite of anything the world may throw at us.
What specific steps can we take to become agents of hope in times of great distress? The grandest means of God’s grace and help, according to John Wesley, is prayer. What a concept—straight from Jesus. Unlike Jesus, we are not God. But we do have the same lifeline Jesus had, on his knees before the Father. We are children of the family of God who are loved and cherished so that we never need to suffer alone or be afraid. Our scriptures teach, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps 46).
Our lifeline to God is strengthened further by humble acts of piety and kindness, which we cannot do without God’s grace. It is not for nothing that Wesley emphasized regular participation in the means of grace: the sacraments, public worship, holy conversation, etc. These “acts” are things we can do to draw closer to God, to be filled with God’s grace, and to become more like God. Who doesn’t need all the grace from God we can get? With God’s prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace, we can get these good things done. Even small acts of kindness are a strong witness of the grace of God to others: a smile, a helping hand, a kind word, a prayer in Jesus’s name.
If public mass murders have become common enough that people avoid community gatherings; if fear, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide levels are growing, especially among young people; if church institutions are corrupted and crumbling before our eyes; if hate crimes increase; if public leaders of our land are obsessed with backstabbing and self-aggrandizement; what is a common, redeemed sinner like most of us supposed to do?
We make much, rightly, of the first responders who put their own lives on the line to save others. What? Isn’t that what we, redeemed sinners ought also to be doing? God directing and helping us, we can do something to offer some other people the love of Jesus and his amazing grace, hope, and kindness before they, too, are left to go off the deep end of a hurting, broken world.
Times of great distress are nothing new. At the same time, in the midst of these times, God is still doing something new and redemptive.
What’s our part in bringing hope and renewal? If we will secure our lifeline to God in prayer and become faithful in the small things, God will work hope, renewal, and even greater things in and through us.