Truth? I’ve been dreading this election year since the last one, not for political reasons, but social ones.
Listen, friends, if 2016 is any indication, things are going to get messy in the months ahead. Whether motivated by altruism, greed, arrogance, fear, pride, regret, empathy, anger, the need to impress, or something else, people are going to behave badly, and the chances are very good some of them will be people you know, maybe even love.
So what do you do about it? How do those of us who hate conflict with a heart-pounding passion and crave peace so deeply we ache make it through 2020 unscathed…or at least with our relationships intact?
This is what I’ve come up with so far:
Pray. Not that God will do what you want Him to do or fix so-and-so, but that He would bring your will in line with His and use you to accomplish His purposes His way (1 John 5:14-15). When you don’t know what to pray, pray what Christian author Liz Curtis Higgs calls “the prayer that never fails”: “Thy will be done.”
Keep your eyes on the finish line. Not the vote, not the inauguration, but eternity. No matter who serves as the next President of the United States, we are all still going to die someday and give an account for our sin. When that time comes, those who accepted God’s forgiveness from the consequences of sin made possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection by surrendering control of their life to Him while still alive will be pardoned (Romans 10:9-10). Those who didn’t will suffer eternal separation from God in Hell (Romans 6:23). Where people spend eternity is so much more important than who gets sworn in a year from now. This being true, please make so much more of the Gospel than your candidate in the days ahead.
Identify the real Enemy. When our faces are covered with the virtual spittle of people spewing verbal vitriol and/or we are nursing hearts wounded by their actions, it’s hard to remember our battle is not against flesh and blood, but we can’t ever let ourselves forget the real Enemy is Satan (Ephesians 6:12). A cruel liar, he uses people and discards them. Don’t take the bait and punish his victims, most of whom don’t even realize they are being used like suicide bombers or that the way which seems so right to them in the moment will ultimately lead to death (Proverbs 16:25). Instead, extend mercy. Extend grace. Build bridges of relationship able to bear the burden of Truth and help them and those whom they influence to eternal safety at the first opportunity.
Seek God’s approval only. You can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24), and you can’t please God while working to please people (Galatians 1:10). Considering the fact God holds eternity in His hands, we’d be foolish not to choose obedience to Him (Matthew 10:28). Considering the fact He sacrificed His sinless Son Jesus to rescue a traitor race, we’d be callous not to submit with enthusiasm.
Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19). It is God who works in us to will and to act according to His purpose (Philippians 2:13), but we are also broken vessels, prone to selfishness and rebellion (Romans 7:15-20). Sometimes—most times—it takes more than a split second to determine for sure where a present urge to act or speak is coming from. Follow Paul’s example. Beat your body and make it your slave (1 Corinthians 9:27). Seal those lips, tame that face, and quiet your heart until you are sure you have all the information you need to act in a way that both communicates the will and illustrates the character of the God you serve.
Check for planks (Matthew 7:3-5). As a general rule, we tend to notice in others the flaws we ourselves possess. Before you react to the words and actions of others, turn your gaze inward. Ask God to show you where you don’t measure up to His divine perfection, repent, and let Him fix it before you take any kind of action in His name so you don’t jeopardize your mission (Psalm 139:24, Romans 14:13, Luke 19:10).
Measure your words. A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1), and anger doesn’t bring about the righteous life God desires in you or anyone else (James 1:20). Not only should you not say anything if you can’t say anything nice, but you should also not say anything if you can’t say it nice-LY. As a general rule, you probably shouldn’t say what you are just dying to say until your pulse is regular, you are breathing normally, and you can smile a genuine smile. Even then, if your enthusiasm for correction isn’t balanced out by a measure of compassion for the person to whom you are speaking, you either aren’t the one to speak or shouldn’t speak yet because God is a God of compassion and doesn’t show favoritism (2 Kings 13:23, Romans 2:11).
Speak Truth. He who hurries his steps stumbles (Proverbs 19:2), and the end does not justify the means. Until you can back up your opinion with Scripture, keep it to yourself and let people who have spent time in prayer and study have the spotlight.
Remember social media paints an incomplete picture. That person you thought you knew—maybe even admired—until they said this or that? Maybe you do. Maybe you still can. Perhaps their motivation is the same as yours, but their methodology is simply different. Perhaps they aren’t great wordsmiths. Perhaps they don’t understand the medium they’re using and/or their audience. Perhaps they are hurting as a result of something they’ve experienced, or perhaps they’re running on empty after doing a lot of good and just had the kind of weak moment typical of human beings.
Yes, we should all be careful with our words, but we also have to remember that people learn things at their own pace and in different orders according to their individual experiences. Remember, youth doesn’t equal ignorance and age doesn’t equal arrogance. Resist the urge to stereotype and make an intentional effort to see people as individuals, seeing to their needs before you correct them if you are the person God has chosen for that job.
Forgive and apologize (Colossians 3:13, Matthew 5:23-24). Don’t hold the things people say and do against them. God says not to, and, honestly, we all do the same kind of stuff (Romans 2:1). The iteration might differ, but the classification is the same. If it fails to reflect God’s will and character, it’s sin, and if it’s sin, it’s against God, not us (Psalm 51:4). Our job is to let it go and make it easy for other people to let our sin go by apologizing so they can focus on God again.
Leave the Holy Spirit’s work to Him. The Holy Spirit convicts hearts of sin (John 16:8), draws people to repentance (John 6:44-45), gives them faith unto salvation (Ephesians 2:8), and transforms those who put their faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18). If/when we speak Truth and act in obedience to God’s will in a way that reflect His character, we assist Him in His work by giving Him something to work with. The moment we do more or less than what God asks or do what He asks, but in our own way, we render ourselves useless, getting in the way of what God is trying to do and often impeding the very progress we want to see.
Rest in God’s sovereignty. God is in control. We don’t always see it because we are selfish, limited people. We don’t share His purpose, His perspective, or His processes. Nevertheless, He continues to work all things (good and bad) together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose for His own glory (Romans 8:28, Ephesians 1:11). The fact that He doesn’t need us to believe He is capable for it to be true is a comfort, and the sooner we stop white-knuckling what we can’t control, the better.
Be encouraged, friends! This election year, too, shall pass, and God will still be on His throne when it does. Play by His rules now, and you’ll have no regrets then—pain, maybe, inflicted by those who insist on going their own way—but no regrets, and you’ll still be in a good position to advance God’s Kingdom, the only one that will last forever.