A driver and monitor on a school bus in Dallas, Texas, helped save two children who were caught up and nearly swept away in the recent flooding in our area. The driver said later, “It had to be God to send me that way because I don’t normally go that way.”
As our schools open across the country, so does concern for our schools and students. After gun violence in schools tripled over the previous year, wearable panic buttons are being mandated or encouraged by multiple states across the country. Bulletproof backpack sales are on the rise as well.
School violence is not the only risk to our youth: self-harm claims among US teenagers increased by 99 percent during the pandemic, claims related to overdoses jumped 119 percent, and claim reports for anxiety and major depressive disorders rose 94 percent and 84 percent, respectively.
Unsurprisingly, a record 58 percent of Americans say our best days are behind us and three-quarters of voters say the country is heading in the wrong direction. United States Poet Laureate Joseph Brodsky claimed, “Life—the way it really is—is a battle not between good and bad, but between bad and worse.”
And yet, as theologian Teilhard de Chardin observed, “The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope.”
How can you and I offer hope most effectively?
A better way to change minds
Harvard professor Arthur C. Brooks writes in the Atlantic that changing people’s minds is extremely difficult, especially through argumentation that attacks the beliefs of others.
He notes: “When people fail to live up to your moral values (or your expression of them), it is easy to conclude that they are immoral people. Further, if you are deeply attached to your values, this difference can feel like a threat to your identity, leading you to lash out, which won’t convince anyone who disagrees with you” (his emphasis).
By contrast, Brooks observes, “Effective missionaries present their beliefs as a gift. And sharing a gift is a joyful act, even if not everyone wants it.” He encourages us to follow their example by offering our values “with love, not insults and hatred.”
To this end, we should “go out of your way to welcome those who disagree with you as valued voices worthy of respect and attention.” We should refuse to take rejection personally. And we need to listen empathetically: research shows that “listening and asking sensitive questions almost always has a more beneficial effect than talking.”
“Though I was blind, now I see”
Early Christians believed that the “gospel” (literally “good news”) was so valuable that many sacrificed their lives to share this gift with others. And their transformed lives were evidence that this gift works. What changed them could change others and, through them, the world.
The psalmist declared, “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul” (Psalm 66:16). The man born blind told the religious authorities, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). Paul never tired of telling the story of God’s transforming grace in the heart of the “chief” of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15 NKJV).
However, Satan knows the power of a changed life as well.
That’s why he is working to turn the culture not only against Christian beliefs but against Christians themselves. For the first time in American history, those who affirm biblical sexual morality are being branded as homophobic, discriminatory, and dangerous. Pro-life advocates are being castigated as part of a “war on women.”
Tragically, we cooperate with Satan’s strategy when our clergy abuse children and congregants, our churches and denominations go to war with each other over theology and buildings, and some of our leaders embrace unbiblical immorality while criticizing those who uphold biblical truth.
Following my guide through the jungle
The key to living a transformed life that draws others to Christ is practicing the presence of the transforming Christ. Jesus was clear on this: “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, my emphasis).
From our Lord’s statement we learn this fact: We experience God to the degree that we are surrendered to him. This is how all relationships work: a gift must be opened to be useful; a doctor must be trusted to be helpful.
When I served as a college missionary on the island of Borneo, our guide took us one day through deep jungles to a remote village. He could lead us only when we followed his path and not our own.
Oswald Chambers wrote: “We never know the joy of self-sacrifice until we abandon in every particular.” Paradoxically, many of us have surrendered just enough of our lives to Christ to miss both what the world offers and what God offers. Thus we forfeit the joy of the Lord that would draw the world to the Lord.
However, Chambers assured us, “As soon as we do abandon, the Holy Ghost gives us an intimation of the joy of Jesus.” The results will be visible to others: a life fully surrendered to Jesus is “unutterably humble, unsulliedly pure, and absolutely devoted to God.”
“In his will is our peace”
It is not easy to live a surrendered life. This is a death to self, but a death that leads to abundant life we can find in no other way (John 10:10). As Dante noted in The Divine Comedy, “In his will is our peace.”
World champion weightlifter Jerzy Gregorek observed: “Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.”
My dear friend and fellow minister Dr. Ron Scates puts it this way: “When Christianity is hard, it is easy. When Christianity is easy, it is hard.”
Which will be true for you today?