What a year huh? No doubt this will be a year for the history books. The medical, financial, and psychological implications of the COVID-19 pandemic will be far reaching. The important conversations about racism should be positive for our nation. But without the proper foundation they’re just as likely to suck us deeper into the toilet-flush vortex of moral relativism that we’ll already struggling to escape from. Oh yeah, I’ve also heard that there’s an election coming up that may have some important ramifications. Looking back on 2020, hindsight will certainly be 20/20. There’s going to be some decisions made now that will be laughable in the future. Uncertainty clouds the future like it always has, but the implications of our current decisions seem greater due to the gravitas of the moment. So what does chaotic uncertainty drive us to? We can either strive, give up, or rest.
Striving For Control
When we want control, we strive in a combination of frustration or fear. Think of someone stuck in quicksand. They say that if you fall into quicksand and struggle, you’ll die. Our current struggle is desire for control. James 4 identifies the source of wars, striving, and fighting as unfulfilled desires gone wild. He says earlier in chapter 1:14-15 that “each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.”
Pursuing our desire for control in our own way will ultimately be self serving and proud. This is bad news, because James warns us in 4:6 that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble”. If we fight, strive, and pursue selfish control, we’re bound to drown in our own deceitful desires that remain unfulfilled. We can’t exalt ourselves and fight God’s work in us and expect to survive. Real change only happens when we fully surrender to him and his work, especially in uncertain times.
Why Do We Strive?
Maybe we strive because we’ve received the message that God doesn’t care and we’re all alone in this difficult time. Maybe you don’t verbalize that, but your actions demonstrate that you have internalized the message that “I’m all alone”. What does someone do if they’re in an uncertain time and find themselves all alone? They strive to provide those core things that only God can give us. Thinks like love, power, meaning, and security can consume us if they become “the main thing”. Striving after those things by ourselves can lead to a striving that is isolating from God and others. It actually leads to the loneliness we were trying to avoid in the first place when we believed the lie that God doesn’t care.
However, God does care and is calling you to greater heights of intimacy with him and responsibility in his kingdom. Instead of striving to protect yourself and provide for yourself, see how you may be able to work for his kingdom. That can only happen if you’re in his word, in biblical community, and heeding the truths of God. He does care for his people, he will provide everything they need, and he will never leave. Being rooted in this truth will keep us from burning out and giving up, which is another option we face.
Hitting the Wall
If we can’t control life, we come face to face with our human frailty and give up. We believe we’re alone in this uncertainty or we can’t handle the uncertainty, and we’re overwhelmed and we despair. Depression, anxiety, and despair often accompany a soul that has given up in the face of chaos and uncertainty. Shame accompanies the messages that say “I can’t do it, I’m not enough, I’m a failure”. In a fallen world, this is where our striving will lead. It could take days, weeks or years, but it’s only a matter of time.
The reality is, striving and despair are often part of the same rollercoaster process. We strive, fail, give up, and strive again. One leads to the other in a perpetual cycle, until the highs get too high or the lows get too low and we crash. Is there a way off the ride though?
Repentance and Rest
James 4:7-10 calls us to submit to God, resist the devil, draw near to God, repent and humble yourself, and then, wait for it….you will be exalted. What does that mean? In pride we exalt ourselves above others, above our circumstances, and above the chaos. We want to “get a grip” and rage against everything and everyone until we finally collapse. According to James, “getting a grip” on our lives looks more like letting go, being humble and offering an open hand of faith and repentance. It looks like “striving to rest” in the hope of the gospel (Heb 4:11). Our hearts are lifted up and exalted when we internalize the gospel process of repentance and faith, which leads to rest.
I think right now we are in an ultimate teachable space, some call it “liminal space”, which comes from the Latin word for “threshold”. It’s a threshold we cross over into an experience that is different and outside the status quo. God wants to do work here. When Elijah despaired when he came to the end of himself in the wilderness, God still met him there. Just because we give up on God doesn’t mean he gives up on us. I know its not Christmas, but the truth of Emmanuel is still real. God is still with us, even in our despair, shame, and anger. Remember, the Man of Sorrows was acquainted with grief? He was filled with despair and cried out on the cross “My God why have you forsaken me”. He went to that deep depth of despair alone so that we would never be alone in it. He is always with us.
If we know that Jesus is with us, then we can rest with him in uncertainty. With an open hand of faith we can relinquish all of our expectations on the world and trust that he will provide. In quicksand, if you manage to relax, you can float and get out with slow deliberate movement and a little bit of outside help. We don’t have to strive to figure it all out or fix everything. We don’t have to give up either. With a grounded faith in the gospel, we can work for God’s kingdom with joy in uncertainty, knowing our work isn’t in vain. May we “strive to enter that rest” as the author to Hebrews calls us to, and may that be the only striving we do amidst the chaos of uncertainty.